Written and directed by: Jess Franco
Starring: Christina von Blanc, Britt Nichols, Anne Libert, Paul Muller, Howard Vernon & Jess Franco
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“... and these flowers, these plants are so full of life. And yet, their colors seem off. And their scent – surprising and unrecognizable. Where are we? What is this world of shadows and silence? As sad as a cemetery in the autumn dawn.”
If there is one thing that makes Eurohorror so refreshing to its new fans and those who continue to sing its praise is that it’s a very different breed than American offerings that many of us grew up with. Be it good or bad, Eurohorror has blasted onto the scene and firmly left a massive footprint in the garden of horror, especially since DVD finally allowed for all of its many wonderful talents to be showcased. For those who were lucky enough to be exposed to the classics, sub-classics, mediocrity and lovable trash on VHS, they relived it again for the first time digitally when the films were released uncut and with stunning transfers that could only have been dreamed of years ago. As every review of Jess Franco must point out, his films are an acquired taste and it’s just a matter of how your taste buds will react to these unique and oftentimes sleazy visions portrayed on the screen. It sounds cliché, but I’ve always enjoyed the phrase because, in a nutshell, it says that two different (or even similar) people are most likely to take the exact contents of the review in two very different ways. A Virgin Among the Living Dead is one such movie that is very, very different from the norm and a flawed, yet welcomed vision to this blossoming Francophile.
Christina (Christina von Blanc) has never known her parents. Her mother died when she was just a baby and now she has received a letter from her uncle, Howard (Howard Vernon), stating that her father has passed away. After spending years in a boarding school, she makes the trip back to where she was born for the reading of her father’s will. After arrival, Christina checks into her hotel where she asks the innkeeper about the owners of the Monserate castle, the former home of her father. The innkeeper seems baffled and tells Christina that no one lives there or in the valley where it stands. Mr. Basilio (Jess Franco) will be picking Christina up from the castle the next day and she heads up to her room for a rest, which isn’t a pleasant one. She has a nightmare (which disturbs her so much that she leaves her room in wonderful sheer underwear!) and the next day is en route to the strange castle.
Everything about the area is strange, yet mother nature is stunning and the valley is a beautiful place. It’s here that Christina continues to have strange dreams and the odd actions of her family members aren’t helping, either. In regards to her father’s wishes in his will, Christina now owns every earthly possession of his, including the castle. The strangeness has only begun, as she begins to hear her dead father calling to her and having nightmares one more ghastly than the next, from erotic blood drinking to seeing her own father hanging dead from a tree near the castle. As her father begins to communicate from the world beyond, Christina is informed that the Queen of Darkness is on the hunt for her soul and this accursed family will not rest until all the pieces are in place.
A Virgin Among the Living Dead is every bit as poetic as it is strange and emits striking visuals with a haunting soundtrack that is at times as bizarre as the movie itself. The film’s gathering of speed down the runway has its share of sputters, but it never falls apart at any one place. The question is, will it ever take off and make it into the sky? As the end approached, I had my doubts, but in the last minutes the film had me in a dreamy trance elevated by the lighting of the scene combined with the music that surmounts to pack quite a wallop of the surreal. At that moment, the film took off never to look back. Those looking for a linear plot and a film consisting of normal standards shouldn’t bother with Franco’s work, but this one in particular is sort of out there. Those unwilling to let the film build in its own bizarre way to the finale will no doubt be unimpressed. The ending pretty much makes or breaks the film.
With a title such as A Virgin Among the Living Dead (not to mention the zombie-laden cover art), you would expect some zombies shuffling about and those that go into blindly on the title will leave disappointed, there’s not a gut-muncher in sight. At least not in this Image DVD version, which is actually Franco’s director’s cut. Somewhere along the line, zombie footage (basically just a mucky step up from its Wizard brother, Zombie Lake) was added into the movie for the home video release. Supposedly shot by director Jean Rollin, with doubles rather than original actors. Of course, this film does indeed delve into the world of the living dead, just not in the way this beautifully ghastly example of 80s cover art fibs would lead you to believe. Christina is the central character and the film completely revolves around her and her experiences in this valley of death. From the castle to the pond to the abandoned chapel on the property, the film reminds you of a graveyard; disturbingly beautiful in a way, yet haunting above and below the surface. And in the film, the valley is just that, a lush spiritual resting place.
Christina walks through the valley of the shadow of death, and that is the whole point of the movie. A horror fan will figure out where everything is heading right off the bat with a title like this and no zombies or vampires stalking about. If the lady at the inn’s statements weren’t obvious enough we’re dealing with some kindred spirits here. Everything about the film just reeks oddity and death, from a lady putting on toenail polish at a funeral to the erotically charged drinking of blood scene which really has no bearing on the poetic force the movie pushes. And then there’s ‘The Great Phallus’, which is a rather large sex toy that just seems to come out of nowhere. It doesn’t really make sense and it doesn’t really have to. The Euro-babes are on full display here as most every lovely lady in the cast has a full frontal scene, even the interesting and underused Queen of Darkness, who is essentially the role of death. Albeit a much better looking version than we normally see. Sadly, the gore takes a hit and this one offers little but some blood here and there besides a really cheesy severed hand.
Image presents the film on DVD in a director’s cut that thankfully contains footage from the Wizard release and a trailer in the special features. So, those who want their mildly entertaining zombie attack will get it, and those who want the film to get that much sleazier can rejoice as there is also a deleted rape scene which exposes all of an actress’s assets yet again. The zombie attack actually wouldn’t have hurt the film too much, but seeing old Uncle Howard (wouldn’t you love to know about the actor who doubled for Howard Vernon for additional scenes put into a Euro movie for its video release?) rape his niece is just strange; even in the world of Jess Franco. The DVD is in 1.85:1 widescreen and there are blemishes along the way, but for the most part really showcases this moody and richly photographed title from 1973 well. The audio is clear and is spoken via an English dub or in French with subtitles and you’ll get something different out of each of them. I’m not sure why the hell her family members were so hell bent on torturing poor Christina, or why the family was accursed, but I sure liked the ending and the wandering poetic trance-like feeling the film somehow pulled off. A Virgin Among the Living Dead isn’t one of a kind, but one of its kind, a great stroll into the offbeat world of Jess Franco. Rent it!
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