Thursday, January 28, 2021 12:23

Daughter of Darkness (1948)

What an unusual film! This was bought for me a couple of months ago and a cursory glance at the cover might suggest that this is a vampire film. This isn’t the case – although there are some similarities between Daughter of Darkness and the vampiric – rather, this is a subtle, almost gentle obscurity and its horror is very understated.

The film begins in a small village in Ireland. The women of the village have an undisguised loathing of a young girl, Emmie (Siobhan MacKenna) who they consider to be a threat and a lure to their menfolk – although Emmie seems quiet and pious, and our first glimpse of her is her at prayer. Despite her seeming innocence, Emmie does seem to attract the men of the village through no fault of her own, and when a fair comes to town she is literally pursued by Dan (Maxwell Reed), a man who boxes as part of the fair’s attractions. After repeatedly petitioning the local priest – under whose shelter Emmy lives – the village women are finally successful in getting Emmy sent away, and she is sent to a farm in England (owned by the Tallent family) to work as a servant. Again, the women of the household are distrustful of her, and although she seems to do her best to tow the family line, the arrival of the same fair in town threatens to complicate her life irrevocably. But is Emmy as innocent of her powers of attraction as she pretends? Dan’s body is found dead and soon other men in the area disappear…

Siobhan MacKenna does a great job of first winning our sympathies and then, slowly – ever so slowly – making us wonder if she is so deserving after all. She acts very well, and there’s a real sea-change in her eyes and facial expressions which works brilliantly in terms of revealing her character – better perhaps than acres of dialogue. The film is shot very cleverly and makes use of some great Gothic backdrops and devices: the church organ music is a great soundtrack to all the dark deeds going on. Also, for an early film it manages to create the suggestion of sexuality or violence through subtle means. You don’t really see so much as a kiss in the film but MacKenna still manages to come across as a femme fatale!

This is an intriguing lost gem of a film which, although not a lost classic per se, certainly deserves to be seen more. I really felt as though I was having my expectations challenged again and again during the course of the film, and I really enjoyed the atmospheric layering which the film made sound use of throughout. One complaint would be that some more plot exposition at the end of the film would have made the film more satisfiying: what was she doing to her victims and how? – But, ultimately, Emmy retains her mystery. Definitely worth seeing, Daughter of Darkness makes an interesting comparison to other horror/suspense films of the same era.

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