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Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) was founded in 1987 and is supported by Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire in the UK. It is held every November showing about 300 commercial and independent films, in various formats, from around the world. One important category of the festival is Fanomenon, a collection of screenings that present cult and fantasy cinema at LIFF. Since 2001, Fanomenon has hosted the Night of the Dead, a programme of horror films screened throughout the night. 

Queer Fear, which aims to chart queer communities’ lasting association with the horror genre, has been included in the Festival since 2021, previously screening The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963 ) and The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932).  In 2022 Queer Fear chose to screen a 4K restoration of Daughters of Darkness (1971) at Vue cinema. When the film had finished there was an opportunity for the audience to discuss, “its enduring impact and legacy of LGBTQIA+ representation and female empowerment within horror, as well as its iconic brand of European erotica”,1 with the film’s director and co-writer Harry Kümel.

Stuart Richards argues that film festivals that serve minority communities and their interests are a major means of showing films that would otherwise struggle to be seen.2 Joan Hawkins noted that Daughters of Darkness was poorly received by art cinema or horror genre audiences when it was first released in the 1970s and, as a result, did not receive much critical attention.3 However,  the film has since been so successful on the festival circuit, as Kümel commented at the screening, that he is often in demand to present it at such events.  Although it is possible for 21st century audiences to see Daughters of Darkness in DVD format and through streaming services, Queer Fear enabled a viewing of the restoration on the big screen that allowed its formal qualities, such as colour contrast and tactile surfaces, to be appreciated. 

Queer Fear not only exhibits films that may not be easy to access at the cinema but it also ‘reframes’ them. Richards argues how paratexts (trailers, posters, marketing interviews with cast members and press-releases) construct cultural meanings. They control and position audiences’ expectations and readings of the film.4  An example of this framing can be seen in 1971 upon the release of  Daughters of Darkness when The Daily News, New York, sought to obscure the lesbian content by describing the film as a story about a Countess who preyed on young men to sustain her youth and beauty.5 Queer Fear in the LIFF guide foregrounds queer content of the film positioning it is an enduring contribution to queer film history. 

During the Queer Fear discussion Kümel resisted any interpretations related to the political or radical readings of Daughters of Darkness. It was his intention to be ambiguous rather than to overtly represent engaging, homosexual relationships on screen. He talked about the cinematic aspects of the film – how the story is told visually rather than literally. For instance, he commented that technical effects, such as a scarf filtering red light as a transition, could only be fully achieved much later through remastering.

I suggest that the experience of viewing the remastered film in the cinema enhances the visual and haptic qualities that contribute to how the film’s narrative is read and understood by the audience. Costume rather than schlock gore is used to evoke the blood-lust of the vampire. The fabrics, surfaces and textures are important elements that construct meaning and support narrative pleasure.  The works of Jennifer Barker6 and Lauren Marks7 provide a lens through which Daughters of Darkness can be analysed in regard to how the eye can become an organ of touch. In particular, the Queer Fear screening of Daughters of Darkness opened up opportunities to view its narrative, visual and haptic pleasures that underscore how integral queer discourses are to its meaning.  


Daughters of Darkness is situated in a desolate off-season hotel in Ostend, Belgium where two newlyweds, Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and Stefan (John Karlen) stop off on their honeymoon before travelling to England. They first appear as a stylish, young heterosexual couple excited to be married and looking forward to a conventional life together. At the hotel they meet the beautiful and charismatic Countess Báthory (Delphine Seyrig), and her companion, Ilona (Andrea Rau). Báthory is immediately attracted to the couple, and to Valerie in particular. 

Ilona seduces Stefan so that Báthory can draw the new bride away from her husband and recruit her to the delights of vampirism and lesbian desire. Unfortunately, IIona is horrifically killed by Stefan as he drags her into the shower.  The realisation comes too late that she is a vampire and is destroyed by water. During IIona’s burial scene, Stefan is coerced into burying the body, while the Countess spreads her black bat-like cape around Valerie’s shoulders joining them together as a couple.  

In a subsequent altercation between Báthory, Stefan and Valerie, a crystal is broken over Stefan’s wrists, resulting in a feeding frenzy where the two women suck hungrily at his wrists, ultimately killing him. The new vampire lovers drive away together. A dramatic car crash, however, leads to Báthory being impaled on a tree branch. This is not the end, though, as Báthory’s spirit is now part of Valerie’s persona. She returns months later to a different hotel to seduce another willing victim. In the film’s final shot, Valerie raises her arms revealing the shape of the Countess’s bat-wing cape.

Daughters of Darkness

Daughters of Darkness is often presented as a key example in the literature about the sub-genre of lesbian vampire films.  Ten years after the film’s release, Bonnie Zimmerman explained the phenomenon of lesbian vampire films as resulting from the emergent international women’s movement; that the lesbian vampire is constructed to allay male fears about female empowerment, as the vampire is often destroyed in the film’s conclusion.8 In her analysis, Zimmerman offers an alternative feminist reading of Daughters of Darkness that identified anti-male as well as anti-bourgeois political meanings. It is suggested that although the lesbian vampire trope is generally misogynistic and anti-lesbian, feminists can revise, reinterpret and reclaim the narrative. Jay Daniel Thompson develops this argument by conceptualising Daughters of Darkness as a type of revenge film where the female protagonists avenge their terrible treatment by men with the aid of a powerful lesbian vampire.9

‘Lesbian’ vampire films often represent the interrelated themes of sexuality, gender and social class. Kat Ellinger’s seminal study of Daughters of Darkness initially focuses its analysis on the creation of the film (the acting, filming, locations, and the score), supported by two interviews carried out specifically for the book (with Harry Kümel and Danielle Ouimet, who played Valerie). Ellinger then contextualises the film in the mythologies related to vampirism, Dracula and Countess Elisabeth Báthory. In the sixteenth century Báthory was supposed to have tortured and killed 650 young women so she could bathe in their blood. Daughters of Darkness represents a power relationship between the vampire and victim based on maturity, social class, and gender. Ellinger claims that the rise of the erotic female vampire in the 1960s and 1970s was a reinterpretation of the Gothic.10 The history of the ‘lesbian’ vampire film can be charted from the 1930s (Dracula’s Daughter, Lambert Hillyer, 1936) to the present date.11 However, there does seem to have been an explosion of these films in the early 1970s. Many ‘lesbian’ vampire films were released in 1971. Examples include Vampyros Lesbos (Jesús Franco, 1971), Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel, 1971), The Velvet Vampire (Stephanie Rothman, 1971) and Hammer’s Twins of Evil (John Hough, 1971). 

Andrea Weiss asserts that the plot of the lesbian vampire film often employed a theme of bisexual triangular desire where a heterosexual relationship is endangered by a lesbian vampire’s cravings.  Patriarchal norms tend to be re-established at the end of the film, by the destruction of the vampire and the couple reuniting.12 I argue that Daughters of Darkness disrupts this narrative, as the man, Stefan, is killed and the vampire Countess is reincarnated. Nicole Richter is critical of the focus on lesbianism in films such as Daughters of Darkness, pointing out that bisexuality operates invisibly within these films. Bisexual erasure is further perpetuated through film scholarship that does not acknowledge the representation of bisexual desire.13 

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas introduces the notion of seductive kindness into the discourse around ‘lesbian’ vampire films.14 Daughters of Darkness is given as an example of how place, hospitality and power underpin many vampire films’ narratives. Heller-Nicholas explores the intersections between sexual identity, seduction and the spatial dynamics where acts of both welcoming and accepting entry into literally or symbolically personal spaces are central in creating meaning.  This is a useful concept when considering Daughters of Darkness, and the many signifiers of kindness such as a soothing caress or a calming stroke of the hair.  

I consider the notion of Countess Bathory’s ‘seductive kindness’ through touch as part of the narrative, visual and tactile elements of the film, focusing on hair, skin, and costume. I argue that meaning is enhanced, and new meanings are discovered when the eye lingers on the film’s surface and the textures it renders. These tactile qualities are made available to us in the most effective manner through the larger projected screen at a film festival event.

Theories of the gaze and visual analysis have been a dominant frame through which film, art and philosophical analysis have been undertaken, rather than considering other senses such as touch.15 The conceptual approach I apply to Daughters of Darkness involves the collapsing of the haptic and scopic field.16 Jennifer Barker has written about the importance of the haptic as a means of creating connotations within a film, where the eye can be an organ of touch as well as sight.  Barker argues that texture is an important consideration in film analysis. Barker draws on the seminal work of Laura Marks,17 where haptic encounters are a mode of looking that lingers on the surfaces and textures of a film. “Haptic images,” Marks writes “are erotic in that they construct an intersubjective relationship between beholder and image”.18 This approach is relevant when considering costume, fabric, and materials. Kümel in the Queer Fear screening described how much attention and resource was given to the costumes, hair and makeup when creating the film. Doy has commented that the scent, touch and sound of cloth is important in its cultural meanings.19 When considering the notion of the feminine fetish, Steele has suggested the importance of the adjectives that relate to the touch of a fabric such as fluffy, frilly, fuzzy, furry, silky and so on.20 Similar adjectives alluding to texture aid the analysis of Daughters of Darkness

Colour, fabric and costume

The colour, style and fabrics of costume greatly inform the viewer’s reading of a film. The choice of wardrobe for Daughters of Darkness  supported the mise-en-scene that was evocative of the Art Deco style popular in the 1970s. Delphine Seyrig and Andrea Rau were coded through costume, makeup and hair style to evoke actresses Marlene Dietrich and  Louise Brookes.21 Dietrich is known for her androgynous performance in the film Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) where she wears a man’s evening suit and kisses a woman spectator on the lips, an iconic example of on-screen intimacy between two women. Brookes took the lead in Pandora’s Box (Wilhelm Pabst,1929), a film that was significant due to the unconcealed lesbian overtures between the Countess Geschwitz and Brookes’s character, Lulu.  

Báthory is visually striking with her high-gloss red lips and nails along with her blond, immaculately coiffed hair. She is always dressed in beautiful couture clothing, whereas Valerie, Stefan and Ilona are sometimes filmed nude or partly dressed, suggesting Báthory’s superior status. Seyrig’s vampire is highly seductive, mesmeric and desirable. 

Many, if not all, of Báthory’s dresses include a high collar that focuses on her neck. These gowns also cover most of her flesh, drawing attention to her hands with red talons and the lustrous red lips set against her pale face. Valerie is also tied to the Countess as she receives a black beaded choker, which Báthory fastens around her neck. This mirrors Báthory placing a string of pearls around Ilona’s neck as she sends her to seduce Stefan. Both jewels are a sign of ownership and attachment.

The red chiffon scarf, such as the one worn by Ilona, is a motif in the film used to symbolise the blood on a victim’s neck. This is a device also used by Franco in Vampyros Lesbos (1971). Red chiffon has the intensity of colour and fluidity to represent the flow of blood without the need to be literal, it perversely evokes both vitality and death. One of Báthory’s costumes, worn as she recounts her horrific stories about torturing young girls, is a gown of beautifully pleated red chiffon. She is symbolically dripping in blood. This is offset by a lurid verdigris cocktail that she holds but does not drink.  Again, her neck is encapsulated in red chiffon (see Figure 1).  Ilona and Báthory are figuratively tied together by fabric that denotes their relationship, vampirism and blood lust. 

Visually Báthory is often aligned with Stefan. He is linked to her through the colour red, his pullover is the same red as her chiffon pleated dress. They are also joined in their merciless taunting of Valerie as they talk about the heinous crimes of the historical Countess Báthory, enjoying her severe discomfort as details of torture are graphically described. In actuality, Báthory and Stefan are in competition for the possession of Valerie. 

Figure 1. Daughters of Darkness

Texture and touch

Stefan’s red pullover and bathrobe associate him with the Countess, but this is as a victim rather than an equal. His clothes are soft and fluffy whereas the Countess’s dress is sharply pleated and diaphanous. They mark him in a state of vulnerability as they frame his body when he is shown partially or fully nude.  After the killing of Ilona, Báthory throws the bathrobe at him in contempt, as he lies naked on the floor. The red bathrobe is a sign of his submission. 

Fur and feathers are elements of sensuous costumes that also evoke glamour and death.22 Báthory’s face is often framed by a high black fur collar from a 1970s couture mid-length A-line coat. It is created from panels of soft fur and polished leather. Valerie’s white long-line coat is fashioned to mirror that of the Countess. It is lined with white curly fur akin to the fleece of a sheep suggesting  her vulnerability as prey rather than a powerful predator. Her animalistic associations change when the Countess embraces her in the black cape, signposting her transformation into the eternal lesbian vampire.  

Adornments, such as sequins, fur, feathers, and chiffon create a range of sensual textures that delight the viewer’s eye and are part of the film’s seductive qualities. By noticing the tactile fabrics in a film, a complexity of meanings can be gleaned which are lost when focusing only on visual, audio, and narrative analysis.23 The importance of touch is instilled in the viewer’s mind through the sensual caresses with which Báthory controls the other characters in the film (see Figure 2).  She stealthily slides her red fingernails down Stefan’s shoulders, driving him to describe the terrifying crimes committed by the historical Countess Báthory. Similarly, she strokes Valerie’s shoulders, or she gently touches her face as she seduces her. Báthory repeatedly touches and rearranges Valerie’s hair. Simultaneously, these are acts of care, desire and control. As Báthory strokes and kisses Valerie’s palm, she comments that it is as soft as silk encouraging the audience to imagine the feel of her skin. 

Figure 2. Daughters of Darkness

Concluding thoughts

The Queer Fear screening enabled the audience to view the enhanced colour and textures of the film, particularly through its costumes. Báthory uses touch to control the other characters, and this is reinforced by an array of tactile fabrics in the film. The colour and texture also denote characters as predators, prey or objects of desire. Heller-Nicholas’s notion of ‘seductive kindness’ can be implied in the acts of hospitality that are integral to many vampire narratives. Kindness, seductive and dangerous, is also inferred from the vampire stroking and touching their prey. The touch was a means for Báthory to secure Valerie as her paramour. Desire was signified by Báthory’s caresses and embraces that appeared to feign concern and care. 

At the same time the mirroring of Valerie’s and the Countess’s clothing textures reinforces the sensual and sexual interest Báthory and Valerie had in each other. The bat-wing cape metaphorically and literally joins them together as a couple. 

Queer Fear enabled the audience to see the Daughters of Darkness in its remastered form on the big screen thus allowing an enhanced experience of its visual and haptic qualities, but it also framed the film as an important contribution to queer film history.


  1. “Daughters of Darkness + Harry Kümel LIFF X Queer Fear,” LIFF 2022 Guide, 03 November 2023, https://www.leedsfilm.com/media/12769/liff2022_guide_aw_dps_onscreen.pdf
  2. Stuart Richards, “Proud in the Middleground: How the Creative Industries Allow the Melbourne Queer Film Festival to Bring Queer Content to Audiences.” Studies in Australasian Cinema 10, no. 1 (2016): 129–142.
  3. Joan Hawkins, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-Trash and High Art” in The Cult Film Reader, Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, eds, (Maidenhead and New York: Open University Press, 2008), pp. 119-132.
  4. Stuart Richards, “Overcoming the Stigma: The Queer Denial of Indiewood Author(s).” Journal of Film and Video 68, no. 1 (2016): 19-30.
  5. Wanda Hale, “Rugoff to Run: A British Love Story,” Daily News, New York, 23 May 1971, p.233.
  6. Jennifer Barker, The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009).
  7. Laura Marks, The Skin of Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).
  8. Bonnie Zimmerman,  “Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampires.” Jump Cut 24, no. 1 (1981).
  9. Jay Daniel Thompson, “Revenge is a Dish Best Served Sapphic: The Lesbian Vampire Film as Revenge Fantasy.” Colloquy 31 (2016): 4-15.
  10. Kat Ellinger, Daughters of Darkness (Liverpool: Devil’s Advocates, Auteur, Liverpool University Press, 2020).
  11. Swapnil Dhruv Bose, “Six Definitive Films: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Lesbian Vampires,” Far Out, 01 September 2022,  https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/lesbian-vampire-guide-six-best-films/
  12. Andrea Weiss, Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in Film (London: Penguin, 1993).
  13. Nicole Richter, “Bisexual Erasure in ‘Lesbian Vampire’ Film Theory.”  Journal of Bisexuality 13, no. 2 (2013): 273-280.
  14. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, “Seductive Kindness: Power, Space and “Lesbian” Vampires” in Hospitality, Rape and Consent in Vampire Popular Culture: Letting the Wrong One in David Baker, Stephanie Green, and Agnieszka Stasiewicz-Bieńkowska, eds. (Cham: Springer, 2017): 201-218.
  15. Jennifer Barker, The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009); Tina Chanter, The Picture of Abjection: Film, Fetish and the Nature of Difference. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008).
  16. Catherine Dormer, “Skin: Textile: Film.” Textile 6, no. 3 (2008): 238-253.
  17. Laura Marks, The Skin of Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).
  18. Laura Marks, The Skin of Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999). P. 183.
  19. Gen Doy, Drapery: Classicism and Barbarism in Visual Culture. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001).
  20. Valerie Steele, Fetish: Fashion, Sex, and Power. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,  1996).
  21. Kat Ellinger, Daughters of Darkness (Liverpool: Devil’s Advocates, Auteur, Liverpool University Press, 2020), p.22.
  22. Catherine Dormer, “Skin: Textile: Film,” Textile 6, no. 3 (2008): 238-253.
  23. Jennifer Barker, The Tactile Eye: Touch and the cinematic experience (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009).