Virgin Among the Living Dead – Belgium|Italy|France – 1971

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Virgin Among the Living Dead is a 1971 European horror film directed and written by Jesus Franco. Also titled Christina, Princess of Eroticism. Franco has said that the original title of the film was “La nuit des étoiles filantes” (“The Night of the Shooting Stars”). The film is a Belgian, Italian, and French financed co-production shot in Portugal. It was reissued with additional zombie footage shot by French director Jean Rollin.

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Christine (Christina von Blanc, also in The Dead Are Alive) travels from her English boarding school to visit her oddly-behaved relatives at a chateau in remotest Spain, to hear the reading of her late father’s (Paul Muller) will. Having never met her relatives before, Christina was understandably unprepared for the reception – it’s at this stage the film goes a bit… let’s say ‘outré’.

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Her stepmother is close to death; the family gathered to await the inevitable, she is welcomed to the clan by weird Uncle Howard (long-term Franco collaborator Howard Vernon) who smokes heavily and plays the piano (badly) in equal quantities, whilst mute Basilio (a great performance from Franco himself, possibly funnier than intended) appears in most scenes, grunting, lurking and adding even more oddness to proceedings.

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After remarking how ‘cold’ Uncle Howard feels, she is also introduced to Carmencé (the staggering-looking Britt Nichols, also seen in Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter), who is possibly Uncle’s mistress, but regardless behaves like a skittish minx from the word go and is prone to not wearing clothes.

A darkly-attired woman (later revealed as Queen of the Night) is also in the castle, writing in blood, as relatives are wont to do. It’s as well you just accept things like this as otherwise the business with bats appearing on Christina’s bed, bloodsucking and toenail painting at a funeral will just seem outlandish.

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The will reading itself is one of the slowest pieces of cinema you’ll ever sit through, though is still entertaining as Basilio, quite rightly, snores loudly throughout. Overwhelmed at been given everything, including the castle, she immediately tells Vernon that they all simply must stay as it would be quite improper to do otherwise. Uncle hits an F sharp of approval. From here-on in, all bets are off; lots of nudity, quite a lot of Franco zoom lens (attention those with travel sickness issues), chopped-off hands, rituals and a giant phallus appearing in the middle of Christina’s room. What to do? The correct thing to do is to hurl it across the room, smashing it to pieces, although you will be chastised by a woman who suddenly appears, declaring, “Poor Soul, how could you shatter the Great Phallus? We are now cursed, all of us!”

Christina’s father now makes an appearance, complete with the noose he hanged himself with still around his neck but his warnings of her fate are all too late. It becomes all too clear that the family harbour more than just a maverick approach to wearing clothes and funeral etiquette issues and the conclusion is oddly downbeat, despite the stagey set-up.

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This should be a catastrophe; a low budget Franco effort with a head-slapping plot revisited ten years after release to add some more zombie action, from another director. Somehow, an enjoyable film survives. It is a challenge though. It’s oddly constructed and has a rather loud and surprisingly patchy score from Franco composer of choice, Bruno Nicolai; the good news is that when he does hit his stride, especially towards the film’s conclusion, it’s beautiful stuff. Indeed, the conclusion is a real smack to the jowls – creepy and truly haunting, not quite what the rest of the film leads you to expect.

The extra footage shot by Rollin is nowhere near as bad as many people would have you believe but the DVD release by Image Entertainment hits exactly the right balance by providing the footage as an optional extra. Baffling though stylish and undeniably risque, this is horror through Franco’s eyes – his vision may not conform to expected guidelines and you aren’t likely to have nightmares… but the dreams you do have are worth pressing snooze on the alarm clock for.

Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia

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