Saturday, 16 April 2011

Daughter of Darkness (1990)

Made-for-TV horror movies can be a mixed bag, and Daughter of Darkness is a 1990 example that falls into that category. But it does have some interesting ideas.

It belongs to the small but interesting sub-genre of horror movies that address the question - exactly how would vampires cope with the modern world? The 1979 ozploitation classic Thirst is probably the most interesting member of this sub-genre, but Daughter of Darkness is a brave attempt.

Katherine (Mia Sara) is a young American woman who has just lost her mother. This leaves her with no family at all, apart from a father she’s never seen. Her mother had been on a study trip to Romania, had fallen in love with a mysterious local, and had then found herself deserted before the resulting baby was born. While dear old dad doesn’t seem likely to be winning any Father of the Year contests any time soon he is all she’s got, so she sets off to Romania to find him.

It’s not just the desire to find a lost father that motivates here however. There are also the dreams, dreams that she believes are connected with her father.

The movie is set in the mid-80s, and Romania under the Ceauşescu regime was not the most advisable travel destination for young American women whose knowledge of the world is limited to the middle-class Chicago neighbourhood where they grew up. Luckily she meets a friendly elderly Romanian taxi driver named Max, and a helpful young embassy official named Devlin at the US Embassy. Devlin wouldn’t ordinarily spend so much time helping someone on what appears to him to be a wild goose chase, but Katherine is pretty and it makes an interesting break from routine. And he’s basically a nice guy. She also meets a hunky young Romanian musician who seems very interested indeed in her. Perhaps too interested.

Initially it seems that Katherine’s quest will be in vain. She meets a man who claims to have known him, and she is informed that he was killed in a car accident many years earlier. Katherine has her suspicions there may be more to the story. It was her dreams that led her to this friend of her father’s, and other odd things have been happening. An old woman sees the medallion around Katherine’s neck, a gift from her father to her mother. The old woman reacts with horror, mumbling about vampires and about a cursed noble family. And why are the secret police taking an interest in her?

I’m not going to give away anything about the increasingly complicated plot other than to say it involves an interesting mix of traditional and non-traditional vampire lore.

Mia Sara is likeable enough as Katherine. Anthony Perkins, in one of his last roles, plays a very ambiguous character and does so pretty well. The supporting cast is adequate.

It has a bit of a made-for-TV look but it’s enlivened by some location shooting (in Hungary rather than Romania). And it has one impressive horror movie credential (apart from the presence of Tony Perkins in the cast) and that’s the fact that it was directed by Stuart Gordon. I have mixed feelings about Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraftian movies but they certainly have their moments. Daughter of Darkness has some similarities to his Lovecraft adaptations in that it also deals with a vast hidden world of horror beneath the surface of everyday life.

I picked this one up on DVD in a secondhand bookstore. The DVD unfortunately lacks extras but it does include a second horror TV movie that I haven’t yet watched (Blind Terror starring Nastassja Kinski). The transfer of Daughter of Darkness is reasonable enough for a TV movie.

I’m not suggesting this is a neglected horror masterpiece, but it is worth a look. Especially if you’re a fan of vampire movies. Don’t set your expectations too high but it’s reasonably entertaining.

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