Newlyweds Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) are on the train to the coast, spending their wedding night in the confines of the compartment but not allowing that to dim their passion. After lovemaking, she asks him when he is going to call his mother, but he is reluctant for some reason and fobs her off with going to see why the train has stopped. As there has been an accident up ahead, they decide to check in at an Ostend hotel that is empty thanks to the season being the dead of winter, but it is there they will meet a Countess (Delphine Seyrig) who will change their lives...
One of those vampire films where nobody says "vampire", director and co-writer Harry Kümel's film is an elegant, chilly horror that centres on an unhealthy set of relationships. The wife is sadistic husband Karlen's doormat, something we can tell early on thanks to Stefan's menace bubbling under his personality (those familiar with Karlen as Hawv from Cagney and Lacey won't know what to think), and the Countess has what can best be described as a lesbian life partner in the verging on the unwilling Ilona (Andrea Rau), but has her eyes on the innocent wife as a replacement.
Men, according to the Countess, want women to be their slaves, so are only good for sucking the blood from (or burying bodies for you), yet while male sexuality is denigrated as aggressive and duplicitous, the female equivalent is no less up for criticism. With Valerie one of life's victims, a tug of love, or lust more appropriately, takes place between the Countess and the husband over who gets to claim both her body and soul. In contrast to the unsavoury Stefan, Seyrig makes a wonderful vampire: classy, arch and slightly sickly, so if we may be balking at her possessiveness and possible guilt over a spate of local murders, we're reluctantly on her side as she seems to truly appreciate Valerie.
Whether that's a healthy appreciation or not is questionable, however. There are many weird scenes, such as the Countess and Stefan rhapsodising over the Countess Bathory's crimes (Seyrig claims to actually be her) and working themselves up into an ecstasy in the process, finding out what the husband's mother looks like (yet more proof that the main male character is not to be trusted), the wrist-slashing death near the end where the battle of wits reaches its climax, and the eerie shot of Seyrig wrapping her bat-wing cloak around Ouimet on the crest of a sand dune in the dead of night. Strangely, all of those death scenes are almost farcical, yet not humorous.
You can soak in this film's sensuality, but the queasiness of being owned by someone else is not something that lends itself to much enjoyment, and so Valerie seems to be swapping one demeaning relationship for another. The car crash finale seems almost to come as a punishment for the Countess, in spite of Kümel appearing to be backing her all the way, as if he had a change of heart and thought, wait, I cannot allow her to get away with this. What comes across as a Van Helsing character in the early scenes is rather ignored after being run off the road at one point halfway through, so the director is the only one left to administer justice, though that does not last long - the cycle continues. Probably the only vampire movie that shows its vampire knitting. Haunting music by Francois de Roubaix.