Does Judge Gordon Sullivan prefer zombies or vampires? Actually, he'd prefer not to choose.
"Bloodier and more violent than his own tastes preferred."—Tim Lucas on Jean Rollin's The Living Dead Girl
Novelist Vladimir Nabokov once said, "Derivative writers seem versatile because they imitate many others, past and present. Artistic originality has only its own self to copy." That might be the only defense to offer up in favor of Jean Rollin. No matter good or bad you find his films, everyone must admit that he has been most single-minded in his pursuit of a particular aesthetic. Though not every one of his films fits perfectly, it's pretty easy to say that he's obsessed with beautiful women (often lesbian or bisexual ones) who get naked. Vampirisim, and blood lust in general, are essential parts of his cinematic vision, as are isolated European locations like castles and small villages. For fans, these have all become touchstones in surreal journeys through the suggestive mind of Jean Rollin, while others remain mystified why 80 minutes of half-dressed women wandering through a crumbling castle could possibly be entertaining. The Living Dead Girl is another example of Rollin's genius (or lack thereof). Though it throws in the twist of a toxic spill rather than a heavily mythologized vampiric motif, the film still features a scantily clad woman living off the blood of others. Though it doesn't move Rollin's aesthetic forward, the release of The Living Dead Girl (Blu-ray) is beautiful.
Facts of the Case
A toxic spill in a family crypt mysteriously raises Catherine (Francoise Blanchard, Sidewalks of Bangkok) from the dead. Not only has she returned, but now she has an insatiable bloodlust. Her friend discovers her, and helps her procure victims in the local village. Meanwhile, an American photographer takes a picture of Catherine, only to discover she's been dead a year. She and her boyfriend investigate.
If Living Dead Girl is known as a name at all, it is almost certainly for the Rob Zombie single of the same name. Reportedly, the lyrics are based on Rollin's film. Whether or not that's true, the song is in the same spirit as Zombie's music. It's a little bit creepy, a little bit sexy, and a whole lot gory.
Unlike Rob Zombie, though, Jean Rollin pretty much owns the adjective "slow." His shots are carefully composed, and scenes start earlier and end later than in most films. That means that the film's 86 minutes feel more like 126. For some, that dreamy feeling is one of the chief appeals of Rollin's films, and Living Dead Girl offers it in spades. Also contributing to the dreamy feeling are the locations, especially the chateau that Catherine's family owns. Much like her, it is rundown but full of life.
Rollin plays the game of contrasts, not just with beautiful young women in old buildings, but in punctuating his serene compositions with violence. Most of the story focuses on Catherine and her friend Helene interacting and deal with Catherine's condition. However, part of that means dealing with her taste for human flesh. These scenes of violence will be familiar to Rollin fans. However, there seems to be something a bit more extreme about the gore here. Part of it is that there is just more of it than many other Rollin films. Another part is that the effects are so over-the-top that they leave the realm of reality and could even be seen as silly. In either case, there's quite a bit of blood throughout the film.
The Living Dead Girl (Blu-ray) from Kino Lorber does a fine job updating the previously available DVD release. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks great. Despite being low budget in origin, the print used is remarkably free of damage. Compared to previous editions, this transfer is a little darker but more natural-looking. Black levels are appropriately deep and consistent. Colors are richly saturated, especially the reds, and grain is appropriately rendered. The lossless LPCM stereo track is in the original French language. It was obviously recorded on a small budget, as there is often an imbalance between sonic elements, dialogue doesn't sound consistent, and spatial cues are often lacking. With that said, the film's score sounds good here, and any flaws are the fault of the original source, not this audio track.
Extras start with a short introduction by Rollin himself. Four short featurettes on the film follow, covering information on things like the score and the film's American version. A short interview excerpt is also included. Both Living Dead Girl and Two Orphan Vampires get the same ten-page booklet that includes a nice contextual essay on the films. Trailers round out the disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Rollin's cinema is certainly not for everyone. It's slow, can seem poorly made (especially where acting and dubbing are concerned), and those waiting for the inevitable gore and violence may be disappointed by its infrequency. Because of its shorter running time and (barely) more traditional story, Living Dead Girl (Blu-ray) may be a good place for those unfamiliar with Rollin's films. That said, it's still going to be a boring watch for lots of viewers, whether they like horror films or not.
Also, there are more extras out there. There's a region 0 DVD out there with more Rollin introductory material, as well as pieces featuring actress Francoise Blanchard and composer Philippe d'Aram. That release also included the film's score on a separate CD. Though what's here is good, diehard fans of the film are not going to want to get rid of that release if they have it.
The Living Dead Girl isn't the best Jean Rollin film, but it is a pretty good entry into his strange little world of half-naked women and vampires in crumbling castles. The hi-def improvement makes this disc worth the upgrade for those who have the previous DVDs. For those unfamiliar with Rollin's work, this Blu-ray is an excellent candidate for rental.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.