Sunday, August 23, 2009
A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973, Jess Franco)
I know what you're thinking. Another stupid Zombie film ripping off Romero's Dead films. The cover sure looks that way, as does that title. When I first heard of the film and saw that Jess Franco directed it, I assumed the same thing, except that it was more of a Romero ripoff filled with pointless lesbian scenes. Then again, is there really such a thing as a pointless lesbian scene? Anyway, you know what I mean. Well in actuality, this film couldn't be farther from a Romero Zombie film. Sure it involves the living dead...well sort of. Read on to try to make sense of this babble. Oh and please note that there have been a million different cuts of this film (including one with scenes added from Jean Rollin's abysmal Zombie Lake). The one I watched was the Image Entertainment Euroshock Collection DVD, which is supposedly the most complete version of Jess Franco's original vision.
A Virgin Among the Living Dead begins with Christina Benson (Christina von Blanc), a young woman who recently found out that her father, whom she's never met but who has been supporting her, has died. She receives a letter from her Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon) inviting her to his castle in Montserrat, where he resides with some other relatives. After arriving, a lawyer will come to read her father's will. While waiting, Christina is introduced to the other inhabitants, including a mysterious woman named Carmence (Britt Nickols) who has no shame in making passes at Christina and their mute manservant Basilio (played by Jess Franco himself, under his real name Jesus Manera), who talks (or rather grunts) to severed chicken heads. Christina is repeatedly warned by a blind woman and eventually the ghost of her dead father to leave because of the evil that dwells in the castle.
What a weird one this was. I'm sure by the synopsis, most people would probably pass but this film is really hard to describe in a few sentences. Though I'm sure many people would hate this film, or just not get it, I "got it" and loved it. The few Jess Franco films I've seen, I've been indifferent about at best, but this one struck a nerve with me. I'm glad I chose to watch it in French with English subtitles (actually I didn't choose to watch it this way but the battery in my portable DVD player remote died so I couldn't change the settings) because it allowed me to absorb the dialogue, which was more like poetry. One of my favorite examples is:
"Where are we?
What is this world
of shadows and silence?
As sad as a cemetery
in the autumn dawn"
Not really what you'd expect from a film called A Virgin Among the Living Dead. Franco's films definitely have a unique style, usually dream like which is certainly the case here. I was thinking about it and I guess the best way to describe it is an X rated version of Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (which regrettably I haven't seen for about 10 years). Though that may be unfair and it makes it sound cheap, and this film definitely has it's exploitative qualities including lesbianism, severed limbs (and chicken heads), oodles of nudity and then there's "The Big Ebony Phallus", which is actually one of the DVD chapter titles. I guess I'd say this movie is like a fever dream; one where nothing makes sense, which you know should scare you but at the same time, you see beauty in the darkness and you feel at home.