A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) – By Duane L. Martin

Christina’s mom died when she was six months old, and when she was older, her father had her shipped off to a boarding school in London. She was so young that she doesn’t even remember anything about him other than photos that her aunt had sent to the school and what the headmistress had told her about him. Now she’s returning home for the reading of her father’s will…but something is off. People keep telling her that no one lives in that mansion anymore and others say that the whole area reeks of death, but when she gets there, her rather odd family that she’s never met is there, including her uncle, her aunt, their somewhat retarded servant Basilio (played by Jess Franco himself), a blind girl named Linda, and another girl named Carmenze who’s like the hot, horny one that’s just plain old weird.

There are a few others around as well, like a couple of creepy old guys who watch her skinny dip, and another young guy who’s actually normal, but is only in the film for a very short time before he’s chased off by Christina’s uncle Howard.

The long and the short of it is, everyone in her family has been cursed and they’ve all been taken by the Queen of Shadows. Big chunks of the film play out like one big nightmare, and in the full length edit, there are even additional zombie scenes that were filmed by Jean Rollin. Christina spends most of the film blissfully unaware of anything that’s going on, but as the weirdness piles up, she gets more and more frightened, until the whole thing finally comes to a head, and her dead father is allowed by the Queen of Shadows to come back to tell her about the curse and about what’s happened to them all.

So, I’ve been thinking about what I could say about this film. I guess I’ll start with the very beginning, which is the opening menu. This release actually contains two different versions of the film. The original director’s cut is called Christina, Princess of Eroticism. Why is it called that? I have no freakin’ clue, because aside from a sex scene that didn’t involve Christina, and another sort of a vampiric scene between Carmenze and Linda that Christina only witnessed with disgust, there’s not much in this film that could be considered erotic, and certainly nothing much that involves Christina. The extended version is called A Virgin Among the Living Dead and includes extra scenes shot by Jean Rollin that include Christina encountering zombies. The problem with this is that we don’t actually know that Christina is a virgin, and the condition of her hymen is never actually mentioned in the film. Both versions are included and the primary title on the case is AVATLD, but if you just click play on the menu, it plays the director’s cut rather than the extended version. It’s not actually specified in the menu which version will play if you click play. You have to go into the Extras section and select the extended version of the film there, and then when you do that, it brings up a chapter menu rather than just allowing you to play it straight up. It would have worked better if a sub-menu popped up when you clicked play that would allow you to choose which version you want to watch. I watched the extended version for this review.

To be honest, I’d suggest watching the director’s cut. Jean Rollin’s zombies suck. Yes, every single one of them. It doesn’t matter what film it is…they always suck, and they add absolutely nothing to the story of this film. Why do they suck? Because the make-up is always horrible and he doesn’t know how to direct them to act like the living dead. His zombies usually either act like cardboard cutouts or like spazzy drunk guys. In this film, we get the spazzy drunk guy variety.

As for the main body of the film, much of it plays out like a nightmare, and many times, Christina will wake up in bed, implying that she’s having nightmares, but much of it isn’t actually nightmares, it’s really happening, which leads to some confusion for the viewer, making you wonder what’s real and what isn’t. That’s actually not so bad if the story is written well enough to support that type of film making, but in this case, mostly the film mostly just plods along in a rather boring way, not delivering any real shocks or scares, and even delving into illogic at times. For example, when Christina brings that normal guy back to the house with her and her uncle chases him off, after the guy is gone, the uncle yells at Christina for bringing him there and then slaps her hard…twice, and she runs off crying. Later in the film after the will is read and the other family members are planning to leave so they’re not imposing on her, she tells her uncle she wants them to stay because they’ve all been so kind to her. Wait…what? Since when does getting yelled at and getting pimp slapped upside the head twice equate to kind treatment? Apparently she’s got an incredibly short memory.

This release from Kino Lorber’s Redemption label includes, as stated already, both the director’s cut and extended versions of the film, remastered in HD from the original 35mm negatives, audio commentary by Tim Lucas, optional English subtitles, an optional English dub audio track, alternate erotic footage, a 16 minute interview with Jess Franco, a short documentary on the various versions of the film, an eight minute homage to Jess Franco including interviews with his friends and collaborators, a photo gallery and theatrical trailers.

In 1962, Jess Franco made a film called The Awful Dr. Orloff, which was an excellent film. I don’t know what happened to him, but at a certain point, he started making films like this one and Nightmares Come at Night (also reviewed in this issue). This film is nothing but a plodding exercise in boredom and confusion. The girls are really attractive, there’s a little creepiness thrown in here and there, and there’s a very macabre atmosphere at times, but that’s really about all I can note about the film that’s any good. I actually found it more entertaining than Nightmares Come at Night, but if you really want to see a great Jess Franco film, then you need to see The Awful Dr. Orlof, because it would be kind to even rate this one as average, but for the purposes of this review, I guess I’ll be kind and say it was average at best.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out it’s page on the Kino Lorber website here. If you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.