• Living Dead Girl, The (Blu-ray)



    Released by:
    Kino/Redemption
    Released on: August 28, 2012.
    Director: Jean Rollin
    Cast: Francoise Blanchard, Marina Pierro, Mike Marhsall, Carina Barone, Fanny Maiger, Patricia Besnard-Rousseau, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou
    Year: 1982
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    The Movie:

    One of the more commercial and accessible of Jean Rollin’s films, La Morte Vivante (better known outside of France as The Living Dead Girl) is as close to a straight horror film as anything Rollin has made, the zombie opus Grapes Of Death notwithstanding. It actually begins in a way that isn’t too far removed from the way that Return Of The Living Dead starts off – a group of men are trying to get rid of some toxic waste. Rather than dispose of it properly and pay the accompanying disposal fees, they instead opt to dump it into an old tomb where they assume that no one will ever find it.

    When the men are done in the catacombs, they figure why not make the most of it and see if the corpses have got anything of value they can swipe. Well, that proves to be a very bad idea indeed as the chemicals that have been dumped down there somehow manage to reanimate the corpse of a beautiful blonde girl named Catherine (Francois Blanchard) recently deceased. The resurrected woman gouges out the eyes of one of the men and gorges herself on the neck of the other, while the third man is laid to waste by the noxious chemicals in the room.

    From here, things become more languid in terms of pacing and more dreamlike in terms of atmosphere as Catherine, more or less a really pretty zombie at this point, wanders the area clad in her white burial gown looking for her home. She finds the old mansion she once lived in up for sale and, after chowing down on the real estate agent who is using the facility for a romantic rendezvous with her boyfriend, we find out that when she was younger she swore a mutual oath to her best friend, Helene (Marina Pierro) that she would never leave her no matter what. It would seem that the chemicals that spilled into Catherine’s tomb have given her the chance to live up to that promise, albeit in a slightly more sinister tone than it was probably meant in those childhood years.One thing leads to another and before long, Helene returns to the house herself, knowing that something is amiss.

    She finds Catherine there in her current state and soon wises up to the fact that in order to remain animated, she must feed on the blood of the living. Helene cares enough about her childhood friend to willingly appease her sinister urge, but will it be enough and how will she get away with it?

    While all of this is going on, a pair of engaged American tourists named Barbara (Carine Barone) and Greg (Mike Marshall) are running around photographing the area when they two become aware of Catherine’s existence. Barbara becomes obsessed with her subject and, through a little sleuthing, sets out to uncover her identity and her story.

    Arguably Rollin’s goriest picture, The Living Dead Girl doesn’t skimp on the poetic cinematography and strange, surreal air of sadness that permeates much of the man’s horror filmography (not surprisingly, those qualities are often times absent from his XXX output, which he mainly took on to pay the bills anyway).

    Catherine is a tragic character in the truest sense of the word, she’s unable to fully understand how she got where she is and why she needs to feed the way she does, she only knows that Helene left her and now she’s in pain. Francoise Blanchard does a remarkable job with a character that really doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue or spoken lines and in turn delivers a truly remarkable and almost purely physical performance. She’s just as good walking slowly through the French countryside in her long white gown as she is tearing open the necks of her prey, and the fact that Rollin continually reminds us of her human past with little moments like when we see her playing the piano really drive home the sadness of her dilemma similar to the way we feel sorry for the monster in James Whale’s Frankenstein.

    As good a movie as Living Dead Girl is, it does have a couple of obvious weak spots. The inclusion of the subplot involving the American photographers might sound like an alright idea on the surface but the poorly rendered English dubbing slapped over top of these characters is sloppy and unrealistic. Rollin’s films don’t really have a lot of tight dialogue and the fact that these characters are as chatty as they are demonstrate why he plays to his strengths in terms of mood and visuals more often than not.

    Likewise, the low budget really hinders some of the effects work that Benoit Lestang conjures up for the film, the most obvious example being the eye gouge effect in the opening scene. It doesn’t look realistic now, and I find it hard to believe that it ever did, even when the movie was brand new back in 1982.
    Even with those problems, Living Dead Girl stands as a near masterpiece of gothic horror filmmaking. It combines just the right amount of horror, sexuality and sensuality, and social commentary overtop of a few bookends that tie everything into a sense of childhood naivety which does manage to get under your skin and into your head at the same time. Some of the images in the film, such as the real estate agents death scene or Blanchard at the piano, are as instantly identifiable as anything in Rollin’s filmography and it’s no wonder at all that this film is as popular among his fans and horror fans in general as it is.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Living Dead Girl debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.78.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer taken from the original negative which appears to have been in excellent shape. There are a few minor specks here and there but no serious print damage to note and the increase in detail over the previous DVD versions from Salvation and Encore is obvious and substantial. Colors look excellent, the reds really popping without ever bleeding into the other colors and the black levels staying strong and deep while still maintaining pretty solid shadow detail. Texture is good, skin tones are nice and natural, and you won’t notice any issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. The increase in clarity and detail really lets you appreciate the sets and locations used for the film, the sense of decay really permeates things and the movie is an all together more effective experience than it has been on previous releases. If there’s one drawback it’s that the makeup appliances are more obviously just that, but you can’t fault the film or the transfer for that, really. The movie looks fantastic here, it’s hard to imagine any fan of the film not really appreciating this transfer.

    The only audio option for the disc is a French language track with optional subtitles in English only. The audio isn’t going to floor you but it sounds clean and clear and comes through without any hiss or distortion to complain about. The dialogue is properly balanced against the resonating score by Philippe d’Aram and the effects work and the subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.

    The extras start off with an Introduction by Jean Rollin – it’s short but sweet, and he essentially just discusses its commercial success. From there we get the first of four featurettes created by Daniel Gouyette and that’s Jean-Pierre Bouyxou On La Morte Vivante. Here the actor who played the burglar in the film spends seven minutes discussing the gore scenes and how they compare and contrast with hardcore pornography before giving some insight into his work on the picture. He makes for quite an interesting interviewee and has some fun insight into the movie and its themes which he seems only too happy to share here.

    The next featurette is The Living Dead Girl: The American Version which includes more insight from Bouyxou who talks about the involvement of a man named Gregory Heller who shot, at the same time Rollin was working on this film, a now lost version that was intended for U.S. audiences using the same crew and the same cast, speaking in English. It would be great if this version ever showed up – but so far it remains unreleased, presumably lost forever. The Music By Philippe d'Aram featurette allows the man who created the films excellent score talk for eight minutes about his work on the picture, how he overcame the film’s miniscule budget through experimentation and what it was like working with the late Jean Rollin. The fourth Gouvette featurette is When I Was Seventeen: An Homage to Benoit Lestang which is an eleven minute retrospective interview with the effects man who worked on this picture and many others before committing suicide at the age of forty-three after finishing his work on the controversial Pascal Laugier film, Martyrs, in 2008.

    Kino have also included a thirty-six minute recording of Jean Rollin At Fantasia from his 2007 appearance at the famous Canadian genre film festival. This is made up of some semi-formal interview footage and then later some Q&A footage where he takes questions from the audience. There’s also a three minute excerpt of an interview with Jean Rollin by Joshua T. Gravel which lets the late director talk briefly but more specifically about The Living Dead Girl and its place in his body of work.

    Rounding out the extras are a theatrical trailer for the feature as well as trailers for nine other Rollin titles available from Kino, animated menus and chapter stops. Inside the case is another booklet of liner notes from Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas which detail the story behind Living Dead Girl and Two Orphan Vampires (available on the same day). Well worth reading, they offer some critical analysis and make some interesting comparisons between the two movies and also provide some welcome background information as well.

    The Encore DVD release of the movie included a few extras that are not included here: a soundtrack CD, an introduction from Francoise Blanchard, a scene specific commentary for the first half hour of the film from Blanchard, a handful of deleted scenes, a still gallery and interviews with Blanchard, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Philippe d’Aram. The Encore release also included an exclusive sixty-four page color booklet with an essay from Rollin among other things included inside. Collectors and completists will likely want to hold onto the Encore release for those reasons.

    The Final Word:

    Despite the fact that it doesn’t carry over all of the extras from the European Encore release, Kino’s Blu-ray debut of Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl is excellent. The extras that are here are good, and there’s a fair amount of them too, and the improved audio and video that the disc offers are worth the upgrade on their own. Really, really great stuff here.
    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!