• A Virgin Among The Living Dead



    Released by: Kino/Redemption
    Released on: August 20, 2013.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Cristine von Blanc, Britt Nickols, Rosa Palomar, Howard Venon, Jess Franco
    Year: 1973
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    The Movie:

    One of ten films prolific filmmaker Jess Franco’s name was attached to in 1973, Christina, Princess Of Eroticism follows a beautiful young woman named Christina (Christina Von Blanc) who flies from London to Portugal where she is taxied by a mute named Basilio (Jess Franco) off to a remote estate. Though some of the locals inform her that the estate is abandoned, this soon proves not to be the case. Here she is to meet with other family members, including her Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon) for the reading of the last will and testament of her late father (Paul Muller). Also here is a woman named Carmencé (Britt Nichols) who greets Christina with an unusual kiss, and a few other assorted people, all of whom are… bizarre.

    As Christina acclimates herself to her new surroundings, strange things starts to happen. Carmencé is seen in a lesbian fling with bloody scissors in her hand sucking the blood off the breast of a mysterious dark haired woman (Anne Libert) and Christina’s father appears to her with a noose around his neck, telling her that the Queen Of Darkness has come for her. When she goes skinny dipping in a nearby lake and befriends a local young man, she brings him home but he’s chased out of there by Howard who tells her that she’s not allowed to have guests. The longer she spends at the estate, the stranger her life seems to become as sex and death begin to mingle in an increasingly macabre of fantasy and reality.

    Franco originally started this project as The Night Of The Shooting Stars but as it didn’t seem all that commercially viable to the producers it was morphed into a softcore film called Christina, Princess Of Eroticism. The version that exists under that title is reputed to be the closest surviving version to Franco’s original version of the movie and as viewed here on Blu-ray, it’s easy to see it as a very personal project for the director. There’s a tone of sadness to much of the movie and, much like he did in Female Vampire, Franco blends that sadness with his own voyeuristic take on things.

    Many of the trademark Franco quirks are here – the director himself appears in the film (at one point muttering to himself while wandering around holding the severed head of a chicken!), the zoom lens is given a workout and the film moves at a very otherworldly pace. Franco regular Howard Vernon is great as the possibly deranged uncle and the beautiful Von Blanc, best known for A Bell From Hell, is stunning (and frequently very nude) in this role, the only leading part she ever played for the director.

    Though the movie takes a bit of time to get moving, once it does it proves to be quite an interesting film. Set to a fantastic score by Bruno Nicolai, Franco lets the imagery set the tone rather than a relying on a traditional narrative plot. Scenes such as the one when Christina, fully nude, finds a massive black phallus on the floor of her room serve to keep that weird dreamlike atmosphere going, while the increasingly ominous actions of those around her – highlighted by the scene in which Christina follows her father’s hung corpse through the woods and into the valley - carefully remind us that, as sex and nudity laden as all of this is, it’s still very much a horror movie.

    Note that this disc also includes, obviously, the A Virgin Among The Living Dead cut of the film – probably the version better known to North American fans thanks to the fact that it was widely distributed under that title with some legitimately classic (and completely misrepresentative!) cover art on VHS by Wizard Video. The main difference in this version is that when zombie movies became popular, Jean Rollin was brought on board to shoot some inserts involving a group of zombies that were then spliced into the movie. With all due respect to Rollin, though these scenes are fine in terms of composition and even feature some decent makeup, they don’t fit the tone of the earlier version at all and ultimately cheapen a very interesting piece of cinema uniquely Franco’s.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    A Virgin Among The Living Dead arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 transfer in 1080p high definition. Most Blu-ray enabled Eurocult fans that have seen previous transfers in the Redemption/Kino line will be able to tell you that they don't do any sort of restoration on the elements they have for these titles. Mild to moderate print damage in the form of horizontal and vertical scratches and specks is present throughout and there are some spots where the colors fade a bit. The plus side here is that there is significantly more detail present than on the past DVD release and a fair bit more depth and texture as well, though you have to keep in mind that as this is a Franco film it is not at all uncommon for some scenes to be in very soft focus, a technique he does employ in a few scenes here. As far as the authoring goes, there are no problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement nor is there even a hint of noise reduction anywhere to be seen. The end result is a film like transfer that might have benefited from a bit of cleanup work but which still surpasses the DVD in pretty much every way you would expect it to.

    Audio options provided on the disc in English and French language LPCM Mono tracks with subtitles provided in English only. The audio fares a bit better than the audio does, though there is some mild hiss here and there. The levels are generally balanced well and the score doesn't sound bad. Dialogue was easy enough to follow and while it's a bit flat and occasionally hollow sounding that's likely got more to do with the original elements than anything else.

    Extras start off with a commentary on the Christina, Princess Of Eroticism version of the movie courtesy of Tim Lucas. It’s a pretty fascinating talk and one which not only provides the requisite (though no less welcome) background information on the various cuts and alternate versions of the movie that have surfaced over the years but also on how this movie fits in the director’s filmography. As such, we get some insight into what might have influenced certain aspects of the production and also details how certain events in Franco's life could have worked their way into the themes that the movie deals with and the specific tone that it takes in key scenes. There’s just as much critical analysis here as there is the relaying of facts and trivia but interpretation is one of the aspects of Franco’s work that makes it so interesting. This is definitely worth listening to.

    Severin Films once again contributes an interview with Franco, this one entitled Mysterious Dreams and running about eleven minutes in length. Franco speaks here quite matter-of-factly about the production, noting that he dislikes the A Virgin Among The Living Dead cut of the movie but doesn’t resent Rollin for shooting the zombie footage. He does speak affectionately of his original cut and notes that the film was originally called Night Of The Shooting Star. He gives us some details on the involvement of composer Bruno Nicolai and discusses what it was like shooting on location in Portugal, noting that there the authorities would send a cop to guard your set if there were a naked lady around, as opposed to Spain where they would shut you down.

    Daniel Gouyette also contributes another featurette to this disc, and it’s a twelve minute exploration of the different versions of the movie entitled, appropriately enough, The Three Faces of Christina. This twelve minutes segment is made up of interviews with Eurocine production head Daniel Lesoeur and the same film historians who were used on the Orlof Blu-ray: Alain Petit, Lucas Balbo, and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou. The four interviewees discuss the pros and cons of the different versions of the movie and offer some interesting historical context as to why they were made in the first place and who was responsible for making it.

    The last featurette is an eight minute segment called Jess! What Are You Doing Now? and it’s an amusing and heartfelt collection of sound bites and clips from those seen in the Chronicles featurette talking to the camera about what Franco may be up to now that he’s passed on. We get answers ranging from ‘he’s worm food and rotting in the ground’ to ‘he’s filming naked ladies loving every minute of it’ (paraphrasing here). It’s done with a sense of humor but you can tell that those involved appreciate what Franco did, how he did it and who he was.

    The disc also includes six minutes of Alternate Erotic Footage which was originally added to the Christina, Princess of Eroticism cut. It’s a strange piece in which a masked Alice Arno sits on a thrown in a garden park and lords over an orgy performed by some remarkably unenthusiastic participants. It doesn’t make a lick of sense or add anything of worth to the movie outside of the obvious plus of having a naked Alice Arno appear in your film. Rounding out the extras is a still gallery made up of various international one sheets and some black and white publicity stills, a domestic trailer for the feature, trailers for other Franco Blu-ray releases available from Kino/Redemption (The Awful Dr. Orlof, Female Vampire, Exorcism and Oasis Of The Zombies), menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Now that it’s been given a proper special edition Blu-ray release, it should seem obvious that the film, particularly in its Christina, Princess Of Eroticism cut, is a far better picture than it’s abysmal reputation would have many fans believe. When viewed properly, it’s sometimes morose and often times bizarre fever dream of a movie, subtly mixing its horror movie quirks within the confines of a hallucinatory tale of sex and surrealism. Redemption’s Blu-ray might suffer from print damage but it offers both cuts of the movie in considerably improved form when compared to the domestic DVD release and with an impressive selection of extras that provide historical and critical context as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!













































    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      The commentary on this is a revelation. It underlines that there are many layers to this film and makes you view the film in a completely different light. What was once just bizarre and surreal is now a much more thought provoking dark piece of cinema, once you understand its meaning and who some of the characters actually might be, one of whom I never even thought about, (see Lucas' comments about the nurse). I understand the film now and have formed my own interpretations based on Tim Lucas' interpretations. "The Night of the Shooting stars" has never been more relevant and is much more of an appropriate title (shooting stars being dying stars) than either Virgin among the living Dead or Christina, princess of Eroticism. Even more so, the zombie footage shot by Rollin or the orgy scene seem even less relevant.