Sunday, July 4, 2021

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

Christine is a sweet young woman, going to her old family home after her father dies in mysterious circumstances. Her bizarre extended family wait around like vultures for the will to be read, and as the days march on, an oppressive feeling grows and grows, until their malevolent intentions are revealed, and Christine must escape this house before she is cursed forever...

A Virgin Among the Living Dead is a Spanish-French co-production, helmed by schlock-meister Jess Franco. His filmography contains many classics, and a lot of trash, and I was curious to see where this film lay, and if it'd live up to its sensationalistic title. It was originally titled The Night of the Shooting Stars, but the movie faced a lot of studio meddling. Not only was the title changed, but some X-rated material was added to boost the runtime and spice things up. This was cut for a later release, and some new footage commissioned from Jean Rollin was added.

With all that out of the way, how does the film fare? It will depend on the viewer. Some may find this an evocative masterpiece, others as boring trash. I feel it's somewhere in the middle. It's got some interesting visuals, a spooky atmoshpere, and touches of surrealism, but for the most part I found it all a bit dull. Not enough happens, and the story felt too thin. It was just an excuse for sexy or spooky things to happen, and even then the movie wasn't all that interesting.

The plot ultimately amounts to nothing. Christine's father stayed at a house he shouldn't have and was killed, he begs his daughter to leave, she doesn't, and is also killed. That's it. There isn't even anything happening on the side to keep our attention.

Christine is a truly oblivious heroine. I understand her not immediately concluding her family are undead monsters determined to take her soul, but take a hint lady, they're crazy! The family are never anything but open about how catty, negative, and malicious they are, openly insulting each-other, sexually harassing/groping Christina, and even carrying around severed body parts! The bimbo doesn't even leave when when the ghost of her father tells her too.

It feels like she has consistent amnesia too. When the will is read and Christine is declared the sole beneficiary, the others say they want to leave, but she begs them to stay, because they're such kind, loving relatives, and she couldn't manage without their affection. What affection, you dimbulb? You've known 'em for less than a week and they've been hostile lunatics the whole time!

This misplaced attitude results in a funny scene was when the family snidely laugh at Christine, and not really getting the joke, she laughs along anyway, before launching into a longwinded story about her childhood and life struggles. You can see the faces of the family just drop, as if they can't even believe she's this drippy.

In one scene Christine is stripped and watched as she sleeps naked, by her equally naked relative, who comments "Your hips were moving in such a fascinating way", and says she has a right to watch. Ummmm, ok.

As the movie progresses, the family get more violent, with dead bats being strewn on Christina's bed, and a sick blood-fueled encounter that she walks into. Despite all this, she does not immediately flee in terror, into the arms of the handsome young neighbour, but instead figures she may as well stay. Honey, I'm sure you can get your dad's will anywhere. Vamoose!

The movie's perviness does get in the way of believability at times. Christine is supposed to be a very modest and demure girl, yet she also wears no underwear, goes skinny dipping in the open, and even in the hotel she casually strolls down in only a loose shirt and transparent pair of panties, showing off herself to the random lady below, and to a messenger!

The actors all do decent jobs, although they might be a bit too successful at being assholes. Something that made me laugh was one bit that reminded me of the prolonged whisper scene in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Christina von Blanc is a nice enough lead, and certainly great on the eyes! Franco also has a role, as a mute and slightly deranged manservant, and is entertaining. This is probably incredibly insulting to him, but I thought he looked kinda like David Spade! If he was a dark haired Latino, but still!

Depending on which version you watch, Virgin Among the Living Dead could be anywhere between 78 to 90 minutes long. A short length really is ideal for a movie like this, but the Jean Rollin section is perhaps the best part of the film for me. It's surreal, effectively spooky, and has no dialogue, but fits extremely well, practically seamlessly.

The score is very good! The opening credits are filled with a pretty unique barrage of tunes. The first sounds like a radio backfiring, and like the weird 'Radio Espanol' theme to Vampyros Lesbos it has a disquieting charm to it in a way. The second is more traditionally atmospheric, while the third is faster paced. The rest of the movie is full of spooky and atmospheric tracks, which greatly add to the action, even in the more boring scenes.

A Virgin Among the Living Dead had a lot of promise, and others might enjoy it more than I, but I found it to be one of Franco's less enjoyable outings. He on the other hand found it one of the most enjoyable experiences of his career, which makes me happy to hear. Even if it was boring to me, at least he and the cast/crew had some fun...

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