August 25, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 86: A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

Directed by Jess Franco. Starring Christina von Blanc ("Christina Benton"), Britt Nichols ("Carmence"), Rosa Palomar ("Aunt Abigail"), and Anne Libert ("The Queen of the Night"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Image)
Running time: 01:18:20 (Director's Cut)
Country: Belgium, France, Italy, Lichtenstein

A young woman named Christina travels from London to the fictional Monterserate Valley for the reading of her late father's will at her estranged Uncle's castle. Upon arriving, she's picked up by the mute, mentally-challenged servant of her Uncle, played by director Jess Franco himself. When she arrives at Monteserate, she instantly gets some weird vibes about the place. At one point, through her narration, she describes her initial experience there as dreamlike. The strange and surreal experiences continue when she meets her "family" and well into her stay at the castle.

As far as the other characters, there's her Uncle Howard, who seems indifferent towards her arrival and who's skin feels cold to the touch according to Christina. There's also Carmenze (or Carmence according to IMDB), who basically just sits around half-naked and chain smokes - Uncle Howard simply refers to her as "part of the family". And then there's Christina's step-mother Herminia, who's in her death bed, and Aunt Abigail, who looks like a character from a Pedro Almodóvar movie. There are other characters who pop up here and there, but the ones I mentioned are the people who play a significant role in this odd story.

Throughout the movie, Christina is sort of just waiting around for the reading of her father's will. In the meantime, she ventures out into the surrounding areas and soaks in the quiet, decayed scenery. From there, it's as if the layers of her surroundings (and especially the layers of the people around her) gradually peel away to reveal something dark and sinister. Even if the title of the movie didn't give away the fact that Christina has sort of ended up in a secluded, forgotten area that harbors an overwhelming amount of death and despair, it would be pretty obvious that A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD was headed in that direction anyway.

Considering this is a Jess Franco film, it's a given that there's gonna be tons of female nudity. Whether you want to refer to it as "sleaze" or "erotica", it's there. You can say what you want about Jess Franco, one thing you can't take away from Uncle Jesús is that he knew how to shoot naked women. And like his counterparts in the world of Euro-horror and Euro-trash who had a specific "eye" for something, Franco had an eye for beautiful leading ladies. In this case, it's Christina von Blanc, who's absolutely stunning and has a body and smile that would melt any dick-swinging male. I believe this is the only time she's ever played a lead in a Franco movie, but she had a part in his 1981 slasher movie BLOODY MOON and had a supporting role in the excellent Spanish psycho-horror movie BELL FROM HELL.

And, like other Jess Franco movies, this one features his trademark camera work, which could be described as "sloppy". For example, there's a scene where Christina is laying naked in bed and the camera pans vertically across her amazing body and stops at her feet, as if that were the big pay-off. There's also a scene at a pond where the camera urgently zooms in and stops on some lilypads. I swear, it's almost like Franco's movies are either being shot by someone with narcolepsy or someone who's easily distracted by the strangest things.

Another Franco trademark that's present in A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD is sluggish pacing. There's a fine line between atmospheric and just plain slow, and this one sits right on the barrier between them, occasionally swaying in either direction. But, for the most part, this is a very moody film that's almost poetic in how haunting it is. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that great musical score (another strength of Franco's films), which consists of wailing female vocals and haunting lullaby-style melodies that perfectly compliment the film's gorgeous yet lifeless scenery.

Admittedly, the film's horror elements went over my head a little. For a film as far removed from reality as this one, there's a lot to wrap your head around in terms of Christina's role in this seemingly Purgatory-like state of existence she's in. At the end of the day, though, this is essentially an art film rather than a conventional horror movie, and a beautiful one at that. I feel weird for gushing about a movie that's probably considered to be "trash" by many, but I really like this one. I think it would make a good double-feature with CEMETERY MAN, which is another film that deals with death and the "living dead" in a unique, beautiful, and sexy way.

Score: 7


  1. Great review. I don't consider it trash. And believe me, I know there's a lot of Franco trash out there. Richard of DM bought me the bluray for Christmas. Great Tim Lucas commentary. Good call on the double feature too.

  2. Thanks! And yeah, I just meant people automatically lumping this into the "Eurotrash" category because it's Franco. Which is fair I suppose, but inaccurate when it comes to this movie.

  3. Oh yeah! And who could blame them for lumping it in there?