Judge Gordon Sullivan has hallucinations during family dramas in remote locations, too.
Christina, Princess of Eroticism
IMDb credits 199 films to Jess Franco as a director, so it's a bit hard to completely pigeonhole him. However, his most famous films generally follow a recognizable formula: young girl goes to remote location, having dreams and/or hallucinations while being enmeshed in some kind of family drama. There's lots of excuses for nudity, maybe even some sex, and an ambiguous ending is usually on offer. The big way to distinguish his films are by the standout elements (This one has vampires! This one has lesbian vampires!) or their tortured history of re-cuts and/or re-titling. Virgin Among the Living Dead is distinguished by the latter. Though in many ways a prototypical Franco film, A Virgin Among the Living Dead is probably most famous because fellow vampirophile Jean Rollin shot some zombie footage that was edited into Franco's film for much of its distribution. Now the Redemption line of Blu-rays offers us a release that restores Franco's original film while offering Rollin's contribution and the some of the erotic content shot for yet another distribution ploy. A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Blu-ray) is a triumph for Franco fans, though unlikely to appeal outside that demographic.
Facts of the Case
Christina (Christina von Blanc, Virgin Report) goes to the Montserrat mansion to find out about her inheritance. Once there, she meets members of her family while being plagued by dreams of her father (Paul Muller, Lady Frankenstein) and the "Queen of the Night" (Anne Libert, The Demons).
I won't pretend to be an expert on the films of Jess Franco, but I've seen more than most viewers. A few things help A Virgin Among the Living Dead stand out. The first is the way that the film's general technical indifference is occasionally broken by an absolutely striking image. Sure, most of the film looks like the low-budget erotic-horror film that it is, but once every few minutes Franco will surprise viewers with a beautiful composed shot that rises above the level of catch-as-catch-can low-budget filmmaking. The second thing that distinguishes the film is the actresses. Christina von Blanc and Anne Libert are both the typically attractive Franco-femmes, but both are also excellent in their roles. Von Blanc plays an excellent innocent, and Libert is quite hypnotic as the Queen of the Night. Sometimes it seems that Franco casts for looks more than acting ability, but that's not as much the case here.
Aside from these two standouts, A Virgin Among the Living Dead has all the usual hallmarks of a Franco film. There's the exotic setting, a lovely house in Portugal. There's the copious nudity, including a skinny dipping scene. Also, there's the usual odd-looking brutes (one of whom is Franco himself).
A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Blu-ray) is pretty much everything a Franco fan could hope for short of the discovery of a pristine set of prints or a massive restoration project. First, we get two distinct versions of the film. The first is Christine, Princess of Eroticism, which is basically Franco's director's cut of the film. The second is the film distributed under the title of A Virgin Among the Living Dead, which includes the Rollin-shot zombie scenes and a few other tidbits and cuts. The sources used for these 1.66:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfers are definitely in so-so shape. Expect a lot of speckling and the occasional line. With that said, this is as good as this film is going to look without more TLC than most viewers, even fans, would be willing to pay for. The color scheme of the early-seventies film stock is well-represented, and black levels are surprisingly consistent. Detail isn't always strong, but that seems to be a function of the cinematography rather than the transfer. Overall, fans will be pleased, but not blown away. LPCM stereo options are available for both cuts, in French and English versions. They're not amazing or anything, except for the odd, experimental soundtrack, but get the job done.
Extras start with a commentary by Tim Lucas, expert in all matters Franco. He places the film in the context of Franco's work, offering several interpretations of the story and imagery. It's a solid track that gives viewers a lot of interesting information on the film. We then get three featurettes. The first is an extended interview with Franco, who discusses the numerous benefits of the Portugal location. Another featurette spends 12 minutes look at the three different version of the film, detailing their origin and reception. Finally, we get a tribute featurette that talks to some of Franco's friends and admirers. Though we don't get a complete cut of the erotic version of the film, we are presented with 5 minutes of erotic footage from that cut. A photo gallery and trailers are included as well.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Coherent plots, three-dimensional characterization, and a fast pace are not the hallmarks of a Jess Franco film. Though Tim Lucas does a fine job teasing out some (possible) personal meanings for Franco as well as how consistent his imagery can be, the average viewer might have a hard time seeing these elements without his help. Instead, what might stand out is the slow, methodical way that Franco seems to push us from weird set piece to weird set piece with little in the way of logic or characterization. Nude scenes slow down the pace further, offering lots of skin but little more than spectacle that keeps the plot from moving forward. Finally, lots of viewers will no doubt be turned off by the surreal, hallucinatory quality that Franco brings to his films. He likes to create a dreamlike atmosphere where the boundary between dream and reality breaks down. What that means in practice is not everything in the film makes sense.
A Virgin Among the Living Dead is one of the better, more interesting Franco films. It's not quite up there with his Soledad Miranda collaborations but it offers enough weird imagery and atmosphere to keep fans satisfied. For those with well-managed expectations, A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Blu-ray) is a triumph. A solid transfer combined with numerous bloat-free extras means this one is easy to recommend for purchase to fans; it's unlikely to be topped any time soon.
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