A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971)
By: Mr Intolerance on May 3, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Image (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 79 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Jess Franco
Starring: Cristina von Blanc, Howard Vernon, Jess Franco
Screenplay: Jess Franco, Paul D'Ales
Music: Bruno Nicolai
Country: France
I'm not saying this film is complete crap, but I am saying it's a rich tapestry of atmospheric nonsense held together by boobs. Look, I like Jess Franco's films – there, I said it – but I honestly think this one is just taking the piss. Apart from anything else, I've dated European girls before, and generally speaking, they wear more underwear than this film would have you believe.

So then, the plot: beautiful young Christina turns up at her family home in Monserrat and some spooky stuff happens and she takes her top off, or otherwise nudes up, with an amazing frequency. That's what I could understand, anyway.

I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm not the dumbest either – there were characters who made little, if any, sense in terms of furthering the story (eg the two old perverts ogling Christina skinny-dipping – I fail to see any real purpose to these characters in the broader scheme of things). Some of this film simply struck me as arch and pretentious – weird for weirdness' sake.

The acting is not the greatest – Howard Vernon hams it up like nobody's business, in particular. And while our heroine looks like a million bucks, she's terribly wooden. Apart from maybe a half dozen or so sequences where the atmosphere is created and successfully maintained, this movie bites the wiener. The dialogue is simply abominable, and the supporting cast aren't helping anyone with their "talents". And what was all that malarkey about the Queen of the Night?

Okay, okay – I do realise that any film featuring the line: "How could you shatter the Great Phallus?!" should be taken with a grain of salt, but this film is slipshod in the composition of shot, too random in its plotting, too flawed in its characterisation (Jess Franco as the gibbering imbecile Basilio is especially grating). I can't stand lazy film making, and to me, that's what this is – I've seen enough Franco films to know he's capable of far better than this – a single viewing of Female Vampire, Vampyros Lesbos, Eugenie or Justine would convince you of this.

I'm not the kind of viewer who needs (or even particularly wants) things spelt out for them - linear, non-linear, I don't care which I get, just give me something I can hang my hat on - but the film lacks a coherent narrative. I've made more sense out of David Lynch short films. What's even more confusing is the question of what Christina's family actually are. I don't quite get it – there are intimations of vampirism, or maybe ghosts.

Want more confusion? Watch the zombie insert footage in the special features, shot some time after the whole affair by Euro-hack Jean Rollin for his craptastic Zombie Lake, nearly ten years later. Makes no sense at all, especially when taken in the context of the original story. What's that? A dream sequence, you say? Okay – explain to me its relevance to the film, or indeed what it means in the grand scheme of things. Not so much a dream sequence as more simply cynical fashionable exploitation drivel churned out and foisted upon the work of a director capable of stronger fare. Talk about kicking a man when he's down…

And by the way – just in terms of the ridiculous amount of names it possesses; can someone explain to me how it's possible to be a "virgin" and a "princess of eroticism" at the same time?
Video
A Good quality anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer considering the source material – but that just means you're watching good quality rubbish. You've really got to wonder about the wisdom of that.
Audio
Always a bit difficult to judge with 100% accuracy when watching a foreign language film, but it seems quite crisp and clear, even if most of what's being said is vaguely enigmatic waffle.
Extra Features
Well, I've already mentioned the zombie footage filmed by Rollin and later inserted into the film (if you've seen Zombie Lake, you'll already know the quality to expect), featuring a different actress WITH DIFFERENT COLOURED HAIR playing Christina!!! Did he think we wouldn't notice? These zombies have absolutely NOTHING to do with the rest of the film. Like I said above, they get explained away as being part of a dream sequence – this is lazy, lazy stuff – but at least we can't blame Franco for this. By the same logic, we could have had Christina dressed as a pirate executing perfect cartwheels on the back of a woolly mammoth in a field of cactus. Wouldn't relate to anything else in the film, either. Anyway, you also get the theatrical trailer, and for some reason the subtitles and language selection are also listed as extras. I don't see how a feature that is intrinsically essential to the whole viewing experience can possibly be classified as an extra. Go figure.
The Verdict
If you haven't seen a Jess Franco film, do NOT start with this one. Go and find any of the ones I mentioned above instead. He is a much better director than this film would lead you to believe. Okay, so there's an undeniable dream-like atmosphere that's kind of neat, but it can't drag this film out of the gutter it has collapsed into. If, like me, you check this out believing it is meant to be a zombie-thon, then again like me, you will walk away sadly disappointed – ignore the front cover with its pictures of zombies, people.

All in all, a rankly disappointing affair. For Franco completists only.
Movie Score
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