Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Virgin Among the Living Dead – review

Director: Jess Franco

Release date: 1973

Contains spoilers

A suggestion by Ville, I had never considered looking at this movie as I had got it into my head that it was a zombie film. There is a version with additional footage shot by Jean Rollin that features zombies but the version I watched for review was not that one.

The version I watched was on Arrow Film Distribution. It was in French with English subtitles (hard-coded) and looked like it had been dropped onto disc from a VHS source. The film maintains a lot of nudity, it does not have the hardcore scene that one version does nor did it have the rape scene that is in other versions.

starting when the castle is mentioned
It begins with the camera panning across scenes of Honduras (according to the DVD blurb) and it is typical Franco fare. Then we meet Christina (Christina von Blanc) a young woman who has just travelled from London to meet her family and hear the reading of her father’s will. The woman at the inn starts when Chrstina mentions Montserrat Castle and tells her that no-one lives there or the surrounding valley. She dismisses this as she has been in correspondence with her family there, indeed she has a letter telling her when she’ll be picked up.

Christina von Blanc as Christina
The close atmosphere interrupts her sleep and she heads down from her room, where a female doctor (Nicole Guettard) is writing notes. They speak briefly when the door opens and the mute Basilio (Jess Franco) is there with a note from her Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon). As they are driven to the castle Christina is filled with thoughts of foreboding. They arrive and she finds Uncle Howard playing the piano. He suggests that he is her eternal uncle and when she kisses his cheek she exclaims that it is ice cold.

Christina with Carmencé
When she asks about Herminia she is told that she is on her death bad. Christina doesn’t understand why Uncle Howard is playing waltzes at such a time but he retorts that Herminia likes them. Also in the room is Carmencé (Britt Nichols, Tombs of the Blind Dead, Daughter of Dracula & Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein). When Christina goes to kiss her cheek the woman deliberately turns so they kiss lip to lip. Christina takes her leave and goes to see Herminia, who grabs her and tries to say something as she dies. Christina’s Aunt Abigale (Rosa Palomar) is by the bed side.

Jess Franco as Basilio
The film descends into a nightmarish landscape. Christina hears arguing between Howard and Carmencé and we see him slap the woman but the violence seems to be more like foreplay for them as they come together carnally. A blind woman, Linda (Linda Hastreiter), suggests that she can see souls and Christina’s is good so she should leave. During this sequence we hear that Christina’s mother died when she was a baby, her father (Paul Muller, La Vendetta di Lady Morgan, I Vampiri, Count Dracula, Nightmare Castle, Fangs of the Living Dead & Vampyros Lesbos) was always away on business and so she went to a boarding school and later he remarried, Herminia being Christina’s step-mother. Later we see Linda with Carmencé; both naked, Carmencé has cut the other’s breast with scissors and drinks the blood from there.

desiccated bats
When out walking Christina decides to skinny dip and is watched by two creepy guys (until a young man intervenes) and one says he would like to bite her to the bone. When she walks with the young man they find the closed chapel of St Cecilia and a man, waiting outside, states again that the castle is empty but is haunted by its former owners. Again Christina dismisses this and persuades the young man to come to the castle. Howard chases him off and slaps her for her trouble. There are moments with desiccated bats on the bed and Christina starts seeing her father, a suicide, with a noose around his neck and blood at his mouth. He is enslaved to the Queen of the Night (Anne Libert, the Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, also Dracula Prisoner of Frankenstein and Daughter of Dracula).

Christina's father
This one has me torn. It is, in parts, one of Franco’s better efforts. It carries the themes of nightmare and the merging of dream and reality forward really well. However it struggles, as ever, to build a strong narrative and whilst there are psychosexual moments (such as Carmencé drinking Linda’s blood) that work well Franco fails to capitalise on them. Of course multiple edits don’t help for we are never sure whether we are seeing a definitive version or not (if there are zombies, however, the answer is not). Perhaps vampires (they are dead and drink blood, not eating mortal fare) maybe vampiric ghosts, I think one can look ahead from this to the spectacular La Maison Nucingen for a vision of how this might have been more competently drawn. Nevertheless, it is on the better end of Franco’s vampire films. 4.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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