Friday, May 9, 2008


Okay, I'm going to level with you guys: I watched A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD--Jess Franco's 1973 pseudo-zombie film--twice, the second time with my wife, and I still can't tell you much about the damned thing. I think that was Franco's intent.

Christina von Blanc plays a young woman who travels to a secluded chateau for the reading of her father's will. There she meets a bevy of previously-unknown relatives (including the striking Britt Nichols and Howard Vernon, sporting the funkiest '70s-style threads I've seen in quite a while) and from there . . . well, that's where it all gets a bit hazy.

Purportedly still in mourning over the death of his muse Soledad Miranda, Franco lets the film unfurl like a dream: frequently hypnotic, with an emphasis of style and mood over narrative structure. And while it does have a hallucinatory feel, the cramped budget--as well as Franco's overuse of the zoom lens, possibly his only fetish after oft-nude Eurobabes--prevent it from truly taking flight. Though a meditation on death and the afterlife, it still feels like a grindhouse exploitation flick (Bruno Nicolai's score helps set it apart, though).

The supposed director's cut keeps the nature of its "living dead" somewhat ambiguous; are the members of von Blanc's family ghosts? Vampires? A more conscious variety of zombie, a la Jean Rollin? Franco never clues us in, leaving the interpretations up to the audience. (Subsequent releases did use footage from ZOMBIE LAKE, and Franco himself shot several minutes' worth of scenes involving the more accepted lumbering form of zombie; the early versions released on American home video contained most of this flat and repetitive footage, indicating Franco filmed them strictly for commercial appeal.)

Von Blanc does what she can with an expressive performance, but her greatest impact lies in her nude scenes (Franco's use of nudity, though frequently gratuitous, is rarely crass, engaging the viewer in a legitimately artistic fashion), as is the case with most of the females in the cast. Whatever you think of Franco as a director, or film nudity in general, he cannot be called misogynistic.

Stylistically similar to such Franco films as VAMPYROS LESBOS, A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD is an essential entry to the director's cannon, even if it's not as thematic or narratively compelling as some of his other works. A strange viewing experience, but an intriguing one as well.

No comments: