Saturday, 6 September 2008

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

Even by the standards of Jess Franco films A Virgin Among the Living Dead is slightly odd. As you’d expect in a 1973 offering from this director there’s not much plot, but there’s a wonderfully strange moodiness to this film. It’s very much in the realm of dream and it has a very dreamlike combination of the bizarre, the disturbing and the comically grotesque. Christina is a young woman who has set out to visit the family chateau. She has never met any of the members of her family living in this chateau. Arriving at a nearby inn she encounters surprise from the locals who weren’t aware that the chateau was still inhabited, but when she reaches the chateau her family are indeed waiting for her. They turn out to be a rather disturbing lot. She finds herself plunged into a world of erotic fantasies and a series of encounters with her dead father. Is she going mad? Is there some malevolent supernatural influence at work?

Christina von Blanc made (according to the IMDb) only a handful of movies in the early 70s. She’s actually surprisingly good as the heroine. There’s the usual assortment of actors you expect to see in a Jess Franco movie, including Howard Vernon and Franco himself. Much has been made of Franco’s supposed overuse of the zoom lens. He certainly employs the technique in this picture, but I think it works pretty well. There’s also some great location photography.

The DVD includes a number of scenes, shot by other directors, that were added to various versions of the film released back in the 70s. These must have made the movie absolutely incomprehensible, as they have no relevance whatsoever to the rest of the movie. European horror movies of this era really were treated appallingly by distributors at the time, and it’s easy to see why the reputations of directors like Franco suffered.

A Virgin Among the Living Dead is a movie that, like the other films of this director I’ve seen from this era, is probably not going to please the average horror movie enthusiast. If you abandon the notion that you’re watching a horror movie and approach it with an open mind you may well find yourself getting sucked into Franco’s strange, disturbing world and you may find yourself enjoying this film as much as I did.

4 comments:

houseinrlyeh said...

I have seen far less Franco films than you have, but I can't understand the permanent zoom lense complaint either. Sure he does use it more often than other directors, but for me that is obviously part of a personal direction style that just doesn't care about the way other people make their films.

dfordoom said...

I think there's a big divide among fans of 1960s/1970 horror between those who worship at the shrine of Hammer Films, and those who follow the competing religion of eurohorror. To the Hammer fans eurohorror seems slapdash and uninterested in narrative consistency; it seems to be all style over substance. And Franco is a convenient whipping boy for them, since in some ways he represents the apotheosis of the eurohorror approach. And the zoom is such a Franco trademark that those who dislike his whole approach to film-making can easily use it as a stick with which to beat him.

I agree with you. To me it’s just part of his style, and it’s never bothered me.

houseinrlyeh said...

I think your explanation is spot on. I can't really understand that sort of binary thinking. I like both Hammer and eurohorror exactly because of their differences. But as I said, I don't doubt you are right.

dfordoom said...

While eurohorror is my great passion, I still love and appreciate the Hammer style of horror as well.

It's strange that after all these years the movies of people like Jess Franco still seem radical and avant-garde, and threatening to those who like conventional narratives neatly tied up at the end.

30+ years after their initial releases films like Vampyros Lesbos, Female Vampire and Venus in Furs can still enrage the more conventionally minded horror fans.