Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Christina von Blanc, Britt Nichols, Jess Franco, Howard Vernon

"I won't squeeze the worms out of your skin anymore!"

There are so many different versions of this film out - some hardcore, some horror, some with added zombie footage care of Jean Rollin's headache-making Lake of Zombies, some with bonus hardcore Satanic black mass footage - that it's virtually impossible to discern exactly what would constitute a 'complete' cut. Perhaps it's still not complete. Perhaps Virgin is a 40-year work in progress, and someday ol' Jess will get around to shooting those crucial missing puzzle pieces that will suture this unholy mess together seamlessly. Until then, we can only take mad stabs at the meaning of it all.

There are, at least, some discernible facts: lovely lass Christina (gorgeous Christina von Blanc), leaves London to visit her estranged family in their sprawling estate in the middle of the woods. Her father - who she only knows from photographs - has recently committed suicide, and she has been asked to attend a reading of his will. When she gets to the clammy, withered mansion, she's introduced to her whole creepy clan. There's eccentric, wild-eyed Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon), inscrutable Aunt Abigail (Rosa Palamor), mute handy/henchman Basilio (Jess Franco himself!), and promiscuous, chain-smoking cousin Carmence (alluring Britt Nichols), to say nothing of the various ghosts and leering locals haunting the joint.

It's clear from the beginning that things are not well. Howard's ice cold, Christina's  cousin keeps trying to make out with her, she keeps running into a blind girl who hides in dark corners and spouts gibberish about curses, and every so often, her dead dad pops up - the rope he hung himself with still knotted around his neck - to warn his young daughter about "The queen of darkness".

Eventually, dad's caterpillar-eyebrowed lawyer shows up to read the will. Christina gets everything. Basilio claps, but since he was snoring through the proceedings, he might not be aware of the outcome. Christina decides to let everyone stay, and they celebrate by getting drunk and rolling around naked on the floor while Uncle Howard plays the piano.

In the morning, Christina wakes to find a large black phallus on the floor in the middle of her room. Understandably freaked, she smashes it, causing the blind girl sitting in the corner to ask why she just shattered 'The Great Phallus'.

A fair question.  Unfortunately, hot-blind-girl is summarily strangled by Basilio, and that's the last we hear about the dildo. Soon after, Christina starts hearing the voice of dearly departed dad, which leads her to his old office, where she yaks with his ghost about how he's been cursed by the  aforementioned Queen of Darkness, and that she's gotta scram post-haste lest she's trapped "behind the mirror" along with all of her wretched undead kin.

But is it already too late? Might be. It might also all be a dream. Hard to say.

While Virgin does require patience - even at its friskiest moments, it's still pretty glacial - there's something undeniably captivating about it. A lot of that can be attributed to von Blanc's remarkable beauty, which Franco was clearly aware of, since a good half of the movie is nothing but close-ups of her flawless face as she stares quizzically at her loony relations. That might be why so much filler was tacked on to it over the years  - you could otherwise accurately title this one "Hot Naked Girl Wanders Around for 80 Minutes". Interestingly, Franco has stated in the past that this is one of his favorite films from his incredibly long and prolific career. It's easy to see why. Unlike a lot of Franco's flicks, which were out and out bullshit from the get-go, this one really does seem like he was attempting a Rollin-like dreamscape. He very nearly nails it, too. Again, Virgin would be completely useless without von Blanc and Nichols' frequent nude romping, but since there's plenty of both, it's easy to forgive the funeral march pace, the random imagery, and the nonsensical "plot". Sadly, both ladies quit acting soon after. Not so sadly, Jess went on to make another bazillion movies and discovered countless more hot naked actresses along the way.

The Image DVD (which is version I watched) cuts out the zombie bullshit; if you want to see those sequences, they're in the deleted scenes, along with some bonus rape and more of Christina wandering aimlessly around. Adventurous types can scour the internet for the elusive black mass sex sequence and piece together their own three-hour special edition.

- Ken McIntyre


  1. I remember this one well. The version I saw sounds like it was the same one you did. I couldn't make heads or tales of the plot, but I sure did like looking at the gorgeous nekkid wimmen wandering around like they're looking for the bathroom. And I agree - Franco was clearly going for somedamnthing, and between that and the nudity I found myself captivated.

  2. A few years prior to the making of this film, Soledad Miranda, Franco's muse and favorite actress, died horribly in a car wreck. A Virgin Among the Living Dead was originally filmed as The Night the Stars Died and was made as a meditation on, and way for Franco to purge all his grief about, Miranda's death.


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