Interview: Actress Danielle Ouimet Remembers 1971’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS

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SHOCK talks to French Canadian actress Danielle Ouimet about her role in 1971’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS.

Some weeks ago, I used my SHOCK TREATMENT column to discuss and appreciate a picture I have long considered a masterpiece of erotic, European fantastique cinema, the sensual 1971 vampire melodrama-cum-dark-satire DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (aka LES LEVRES ROUGES).

And international production directed by Belgian filmmaker Harry Kumel, DAUGHTERS rode the then hot torrent of films that riffed on J. Sheridan LeFanu’s story “Carmilla” and brought its suggested lesbianism to the forefront, allowing a more permissive decade to drift through exotic locations and lush interiors with equally dreamy European actresses pressing their flesh together whilst simultaneously biting and bleeding.

Films like Hammer’s R-rated “Karnstein Trilogy”, Jess Franco’s VAMPYROS LESBOS and FEMALE VAMPIRE (the former more of a femme-centric quote on DRACULA, in fact) and Vincente Aranda’s THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE.

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But DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is something else. Something delicate yet fierce, perverted yet restrained, morally complex and sumptuous to behold. It’s like a 90 minute make-out session with oneself without climax. Frustrating, intense and unforgettable.

Again, the movie was financed via many international sources. Its star, French legend Delphine Seyrig who plays the purring vampire Elizabeth Bathory, arrived via the French money. Her familiar was played by porn star Andrea Rau who was brought in by the Germans. The male lead, DARK SHADOWS vet John Karlen, came from the Americans and the central female lead, Danielle Ouimet, was cast at the insistence of the the French Canadian financiers, legendary exploitation production and distribution house Cinepix, run by John Dunning and Andre Link. Cinepix gave the world David Cronenberg’s first two features, SHIVERS and RABID, but first found fame making a soft-core porn picture called VALERIE.

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VALERIE starred lithe Quebec born actress Oiumet as a woman who follows her insatiable libido on a series of freewheeling adventures. The movie was controversial at home and of course, a huge commercial hit.

So, at Dunning and Link’s suggestion, DAUGHTERS brought Ouimet on board to star as, naturally, Valerie, making the movie a kind of bizarre, accidental sequel to that sex film classic. Here, Valerie is a trusting and sensual woman who is abused by her shady, closeted new husband Stefan (Karlen) and manipulated by Bathory, who uses an insidious female-empowerment diatribe to snare the girl in her web.

Ouimet is wonderful in the movie, but the perpetually grumpy auteur Kumel didn’t think so. The two of them notoriously butted heads and, depending on who you believe, assaults both verbal and physical played out on set.

Ouimet would go on to become a major name in French Canada broadcasting and a major pop culture figure.

In this interview, Ouimet tells tales about her life in the opulent world of DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS.

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SHOCK: You’ve been very vocal about the problems you had with Harry Kumel on the set of DAUGHTERS and yet, when I spoke to Harry, he seems to think you may have exaggerated things…

OUIMET: I can’t believe this guy…that’s his problem.

SHOCK: Can you tell me about working with Harry, then?

OUIMET: Working with Harry wasn’t that bad, but I think because I was new and because he had no say in my casting, that it bothered him from the start. He didn’t take care for (John Karlen and I), we never got approval for what we did. He was very nervous, insecure and afraid that he wouldn’t be good enough in front of Delphine. I think he decided to target me, used me to take the pressure off. He was always yelling at me, telling me I was always late – which I never was – and that everything I was doing was wrong. Once, however, I was late due to a costume problem and he – like he was every day – was edgy and he said to me that I was impossible to work with and berated me in front of everyone. So I took my hairbrush and I warned him to stop, not to talk to me like this and…he hit me in the face! Hard!

So I jumped at him and we fought and I had to be pulled away and put into another room. But I was still angry and I started to yell and then he hit me again so I jumped on him again and we had to stop the production. The producer ,Henry Lange was called in from Paris and after talking to everyone, he determined that Harry was in the wrong and he made Harry take some pills and said if he didn’t take them he’d be fired.

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SHOCK: What did Delphine think of all this?

OUIMET: She wasn’t there but she was told what happened. So the next day Delphine and I were doing a scene together and she said aloud that “When actors like us have talent, a director is totally unnecessary”. After that remark, Harry was much calmer.

SHOCK: Calm enough to shoot those super hot sex scenes?

OUIMET: Listen, Harry had no idea how to stage love scenes. He had a Norwegian book about sex and he had to show me with pictures from the book to tell us how to do the positions he wanted. He was like a child!

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SHOCK: The chemistry between you and John Karlen in this film is intense. What are your memories of John?

OUIMET: John and I were very friendly. You know the first time Harry hit me, it was a scene where John was naked under a bathrobe and he came into the makeup room and I was crying.

He said “Baby, baby, baby what’s wrong?” and I said ‘Harry HIT me!”. John said “ He HIT you?” and I said “Yes! He HIT me!” So he sat me down and he was very excited and he said “Danielle, I want to know the TRUTH….did you hit him first or did he hit you first?” When the story was confirmed by me and the crew, John got incensed and ran down the hallway yelling for Harry and I was trying to pull him back and his robe came off and he was naked and shouting. Then he came up to Harry and he hit him in the face! It was crazy!

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SHOCK: My goodness! Such turmoil behind the scenes of such a controlled film. Looking back on DAUGHTERS as both a movie and an experience, what are your thoughts?

OUIMET: I often wonder that if it was made today if it would be much different. I think it would be. There’s something special about the movie’s texture. It was a moment in time, a place and it was very sensuous. John and I were so close, he was very sweet and very protective of me and I think this intimacy shows on screen. I loved Delphine. I stayed friends with her right up until her death.

It was a wonderful time and very fun to do. I’ve done other films afterwards and none had this feeling. And if it was done today, maybe you wouldn’t have that kinky scene with John’s “mother”…

SHOCK: I LOVE that scene. Was it in the original script? Was there a subtext in the script about the Stefan character being bisexual?

OUIMET: No, I think that’s just some of the imagination of the director and I think it was a little part of himself that made its way into the film….

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Weekend: Jan. 24, 2019, Jan. 27, 2019

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