The Living Dead Girl is likely Jean Rollin’s most accessible and most popular film in his entire catalog. This is due to the fact that it is a more straightforward horror picture than most of his other films and included plenty of gore and nudity which is what the early 80’s film market wanted most. It was never an easy thing for Rollin to finance his pictures, so when he found funding for his next entry after 1981’s disastrous Zombie Lake, it was mixed news: at least he had funding; unfortunately, the financial backers insisted on the inclusion of blood and gore, something Rollin was never terribly fond of. He had tried that formula before (1978’s Grapes of Death) and found it wasn’t to his taste. He much preferred his fantasy world of nubile vampires with hints of eroticism. Ironically, while The Living Dead Girl wasn’t Rollin’s cup of tea, it was his greatest horror success abroad, if not in his own French homeland.
A beautiful young woman, Catherine Valmont, is accidentally raised from the dead by a chemical spill. More by instinct than anything else, she makes her way to her childhood home, a castle on the outskirts of a small village. While there, she sees and hears things (pictures from her childhood, a music box) that kindles more memories. While a member of the living dead, she must feast on the blood of the living in order to stay the physical pain of a living death. However, she is horrified to learn that the longer she remains conscious, the more "alive" she becomes. She can speak, she has memories, and she experiences both physical pain as well as human emotion. She eventually reconnects with a childhood friend–the two had made a blood oath to follow each other to the death–who helps her obtain fresh victims. But the more blood she drinks, the more she realizes she is a monster. She begs her friend, Helene (Marina Pierro), to kill her, but Helene has already lost Catherine once and is reluctant to do so again. Meanwhile, some typically irritating American tourists have stumbled upon Catherine’s secret and inadvertently threaten to expose the entire sordid truth to the village. Helene takes it upon herself to stop them.
While The Living Dead Girl is atypical of Rollin in that it has a relatively straightforward and coherent plot as well as buckets of low-grade gore effects (by a then-17-year-old Benoit Lestang, who skipped high school classes to work on the picture), it doesn’t mean that Rollin completely abandons his usual filmmaking techniques. The Living Dead Girl is a tragic and poetic morality tale with a dreamy, Rollin-esque quality. Takes are long, there are plenty of gorgeous shots of the French countryside and ancient chateaux–some of Rollin’s favorite canvases–and the story moves more slowly than one might hope for in this type of film. Even with the copious nudity (Blanchard is quite lovely, as are all the other women) and bright red streams of blood that squirt from the many wounds inflicted by Catherine Valmont, the film takes its time as it builds towards a powerful ending, one that Tim Lucas describes as "incendiary", for both girls finally realize there is only one way to end the agony they both feel. And in the ultimate act of devotion and friendship, Helene allows Catherine to take her life while Catherine agrees to this final act of murder though she knows it is morally wrong. At heart, The Living Dead Girl is simply a tragedy about two friends who cannot be separated by the constraints of mortal life.
The special effects contained in the film are bloody without being stomach-churning, perhaps because Lestang literally had pennies for the effects. By today’s standards, the effects are a bit cheesy even with blood shooting from the wounds. Nevertheless, the effects are both varied and fun. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is its soundtrack. Philippe d’Aram, who worked previously with Rollin on 1979’s Fascination, was tasked with creating a soundtrack with no money at all. The orchestral scores and funky, jazzy soundtracks that punctuated Rollin’s earlier films were out; now it was stripped down to the bare essentials: percussion, synthesizer, zither. Regardless of the lack of money, d’Aram does a superb job with what he had to work with and the result is a minimalist but effective score.
The Living Dead Girl is a markedly different Rollin film but manages to retain many of Rollin’s traditional uses of imagery. It also manages to be perhaps the most accessible as well as successful of Rollin’s films. Kino-Lorber have again teamed with Redemption Films to bring you a nearly pristine and gorgeous print of the film in standard DVD or Blu-Ray format. There is a plethora of extras, including a short introduction to the film by Jean Rollin himself, a substantial Q&A with Rollin at the 2007 Fantasia convention, yet another short interview with Rollin, and four featurettes about the film. These include an interview with Philippe d’Aram about the musical score, an interview with Benoit Lestang about the special effects, an interview with friend and frequent Rollin collaborator Jean-Pierre Bouyxou about the film, as well as a short feature about a "lost" American version of the film. Also included is the original theatrical trailer along with nine other Rollin trailers as well as a very nice 12-page booklet about this film and Two Orphan Vampires (also released this month by Kino-Lorber) written by Video Watchdog Tim Lucas.
The package is superb and the film is terrific. For more information, go to www.kinolorber.com.