Haunted Honeymoon

Film Review: A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

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SYNOPSIS:

After losing her mother at an early age and being raised at a boarding school, Cristina Reiner is notified of her father’s death and summoned to Monserrat Mansion for the reading of his will. Other members of her strange, accursed family are found there awaiting the imminent demise of Cristina’s ailing stepmother, whom she has never met. When Death finally visits the castle in the person of an elegantly attired Queen of Darkness, Cristina is approached by the ghost of her father, who advises her to flee the castle and her cold-skinned, bloodthirsty relatives. But is it already too late?

REVIEW:

A Virgin Among the Living Dead is often considered one of Jess Franco better efforts, but the film has several alternate versions, titles and directors. The prolific Franco originally shot the film under the title Night of the Shooting Stars. Unsure of how to market such a surreal picture, the producers hired Pierre Querut and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou to shoot additional scenes of nudity in order to capitalize on the growing popularity of erotic cinema. It debuted in 1973 as Christina, Princess of Eroticism (or, in some territories, The Erotic Dreams of Christine).

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Following the popularity of Dawn of the Dead and Zombie, the film was once again re-edited to be marketed as a zombie film. Armed with a body double for the lead actress and a handful of undead extras, Jean Rollin was brought in to direct zombie scenes to be added to the film. The result, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, was released in 1981. To make matters even more confusing, the film was inexplicably released on VHS in the U.S. as Zombie 4.

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Although I cannot argue that the original cut could have used some extra pizzazz to create a more engaging film, the added zombie subplot failed to accomplish that. The footage is neat to see – Rollin was a good choice for the director’s chair in Franco’s absence – but the new scenes have nothing to do with the movie. They’re out of place, they kill the atmosphere, and they delay the already-slow pace. That said, A Virgin Among the Living Dead certainly fares better than Franco and Rollin’s other collaboration, Zombie Lake.

Christina von Blanc stars as Christina, a woman who journeys to her family’s castle upon the death of her estranged father. Although the locals believe it to be abandoned, Christina finds the home inhabited by her bizarre relatives. The plot is anything but lucid, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, but there is undoubtedly something mysterious about the family and Christina’s father’s death. The striking personification of death – The Queen of the Night (Anne Libert) – is, perhaps, the most vivid and haunting of visions by which Christina is plagued. Franco himself appears as Basilio, the bumbling groundskeeper.

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Regardless of which version you watch, the film is rather slow moving. That said, it still contains some chilling, gothic imagery – most notably the ghoulish appearance of Christina’s father (Paul Muller). The beauty of Redemption Films’ new Blu-ray release of the film is that it offers both cuts. The original Christina, Princess of Eroticism is presented as the main feature (despite the more well-known title being featured on the cover), while the expanded A Virgin Among the Living Dead comes as a bonus feature. The prints are in somewhat rough shape; they’re perfectly watchable, but there are tiny, white specks dancing around virtually every frame.

The Blu-ray also includes a universally-disliked, 5-minute deleted scene depicting an orgy. It’s nice to see for the sake of completion (and eye candy), but the movie fares better without it. (Frankly, even Franco’s original cut would have been more effective without relying so heavily on nudity.) In additional to the alternate footage, the Blu-ray also includes one of the last on-camera interviews with Franco, who speaks fondly of the film; two featurettes about the film and Franco, made up of interviews with his collaborators and historians; a new commentary by the always-informative Tim Lucas; trailers and a photo gallery.

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It’s said that the director’s cut of A Virgin Among the Living Dead is among Franco’s own favorites and most personal, and with good reason. He would surely be proud of this Blu-ray. Although transfers aren’t in the best condition, this may be Redemption’s best release to date. A must have for any fan of the film, it boasts two cuts of the film and a plethora of special features. With more top-notch releases of cult favorites, Redemption could very well be hailed by genre fans similar to Scream Factory.

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

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