Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Jess Franco, 1973)

AKA Christine, Princess of Eroticism, AKA Une Vierge Chez les Morts Vivants

This tale from Jess Franco, with a sequence by Jean Rollin, is possibly my favorite of Franco's films. I bet I have said that about other entries, but as my exposure to Uncle Jess grows my horizons broaden in kind.

This is the story of Christine Benson (Christina von Blanc, The Dead are Alive), a young girl who has never known her family as she was sent to boarding schools at a young age. When her father dies, she is recalled to her ancestral home for the reading of the will and to meet her extended family. Guess what? They are nuts. Worse than nuts, in fact. They are a cabal (if you will) of the living dead.

Christine learns quickly that things are not normal. She can't quite put her finger on what, and it is hard to blame her. The family does not conform to most of the standard definitions of "the living dead." Are they vampires? Ghouls? Ghosts? What about zombies? It is hard to tell.

The family is comprised of her uncle Howard (Howard Vernon), aunt Abigail (Rosa Palomar), Carmencé (Britt Nichols, Mark of the Devil 4, The Demons, La Fille de Dracula), Linda (Linda Hastreiter) a blind servant, and Basillo (Jess Franco) a mute and/or mentally handicapped man-servant. Christine quickly learns that the entire area is full of weirdos, all in the thrall of "The Queen of the Night" (Anne Libert, La Fille de Dracula, Q, Lovers of Devil's Island). It is The Queen of the Night, apparently, that sent for Christine. She has already taken her father (Franco regular, Paul Muller), and wants the girl as well.

From a cinematographic standpoint, this film is beautiful. Franco's penchant for the "zoom in to create tension" is either more conservative than usual or more effectively executed. The locations are impressive and are used to great advantage.

The most interesting characters, or perhaps portrayals, are
Carmencé and Linda. I wish there had been some expansion of their relationship, as Carmencé feeds off of Linda. Linda is blind and knows the secrets of the family. She is not a willing member of the group, and is likely not undead. She attempts to warn Christine from staying with the family. Carmencé is played nicely by Britt Nichols (pictured right), who has this beautiful evil Bond Girl quality. She is constantly smoking, though she does not appear to enjoy it, and oozes sexuality. If she has more clothes than the tiny robe she wears, I don't remember them. Carmencé is also the first to show Christine that there is something very wrong with the family, as the young girl accidentally finds Carmencé cutting Linda and feasting on the blood.

If you like a good, creepy horror movie, then you should check this one out. The pacing is good, and the story is surprisingly cohesive for a Franco film. The Image Entertainment DVD has soundtracks in French and English. The French sound quality is better, but I think you get more from the film's visuals when you do not have to read the subtitles. Of course, if you speak French... all the better.

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