A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1973) (aka Zombi 4)

VirginAmongTheLivingDead

When I first decided to review all these zombie movies, the knowledge that somewhere along the way was “Virgin Among The Living Dead” was one of the reasons I chose to take the plunge. From first discovering it on VHS many years ago, it’s been one of my favourite horror films, and I hope this encourages a few of you to go and watch it.

 

A bit about its history first. The version I saw first had some rather unusual edits, including blacking out almost all the screen (leaving a small circle with a neutral detail in) whenever there was any nudity; and also featured the insertion of a repeating dream sequence where the star, Christina, only seen from the back, is chased through a garden by zombies. Well, it turns out the censorship was due to it being a TV edit of the movie (proper prints of the original being hard to come by, it would seem) and the zombies…well, 8 years after its initial release, Eurocine (a distributor of cheap Euro-horror), while they had Jean Rollin filming “Zombie Lake” (underwater Nazi zombies!), got him to shoot that scene. Every time poor Christina fell asleep in the movie, we’d be treated to a couple of minutes of zombie chasing; as well as all those changes (no zombies in this director’s cut), we also got a completely different ending – but more on that later.

VIRGINAMONGTHELIVINGDEAD-009

Before the internet (if you can even imagine such a horrific thing) I just assumed that was the movie, but I remember a newsletter which mentioned “grey-label” – basically, taking movies where the legal provenance was shaky and re-editing them – distributor “Video Search Of Miami” had taken that version and a few other edits to make the longest possible version. But I was poor and didn’t want to spend £££ on an imported VHS tape of unknown quality, so I waited for its first British DVD release and that’s the movie we’re reviewing tonight. There’s yet another version, with an orgy scene that features none of the cast members, which goes by the title “Christina, Princess Of Eroticism”, but I don’t think anyone’s too sad about missing that (unless you really like orgies).

 

(by the way, if you want the exhaustive rundown on the different versions of this movie, go to http://www.dvddrive-in.com/reviews/t-z/virginamonglivingdeadblu73.htm)

 

Christina (Christina von Blanc, an extraordinarily beautiful woman who never took to acting, it would seem) has gone from London to Monserrat, in Portugal, for the reading of her father’s will – a father she never met, due to him sending her away to boarding school after the death of her mother, who died almost immediately after her birth. I mean, I can buy a slightly absentee father, but to never see her in 20 years? It’s not like he was that busy, or that far away! While staying at an inn, she’s told that no-one lives in Monserrat Castle, but she laughs this off as she’s got a letter from her Uncle. The castle’s dogsbody, a mute who communicates via the occasional grunt, Basilio (director Franco), comes to pick her up.

VIRGINAMONGTHELIVINGDEAD-019

The first thing you’ll notice is the soundtrack, which is one of my favourite ever. It was done by a guy called Bruno Nicolai, who did sound for hundreds of movies and composed the soundtrack for dozens more – Tarantino used a few of his pieces for “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds”. It’s extraordinary, a sort of Italian take on Krautrock, with the addition of wild free-jazz effects on top. It’s absolutely perfect for the movie, with its sleazy / noisy tones matching  beautifully, as well as being genuinely great music in its own right.

 

Christina meets her family up at the castle, and they’re a very odd bunch. Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon) sits and plays the piano while staring off into space; Carmense, who’s just “part of the family”, a predatory lesbian; her stepmother, Herminia (Rose Keikens), who’s on her deathbed and manages to whisper “get out” before dying; Aunt Abigail (Rosa Palomar), who seems super-unimpressed that Christina is there; a blind woman (Linda Hastreiter, uncredited) who can see the colour of Christina’s soul and wants her to leave for her own good; and Basilio, of course. For such an apparently deserted place, there’s plenty of people wandering about, including someone who, in a normal movie, would be the love interest, but is frightened off by Uncle Howard and disappears from the movie; there’s also a couple of old pervs who check out Christina as she’s having a dip in the not-really-swimming-friendly lake. The women are all very heavily made up and they all give “mannered” performances, seeming as if they’re all in the middle of a very bad dream. Most mannered of all is the woman listed in the credits as “Queen of the Night” (Ann Libert), who seems to only exist for Christina (and looks quite a lot like the blind girl, with thick black hair and tons of makeup).

12 funeral

It’s the most oppressive-feeling movie I can think of, taking what could very simply be filmed to look beautiful (Portugal) and turning it into a place of misery and death. I know they sort of mention it themselves in an early monologue, but every plant seems over-ripe, and the smell almost comes off the screen. The sense that everyone’s just waiting around for some catastrophe is also strong – basically, it’s a masterpiece of mood.

 

All this is rather surprising, given its provenance. While Jess Franco has made some great films, he’s also made tons of garbage, and has been responsible for more pornography than perhaps any other “mainstream” director. There’s a heck of a lot of full-frontal nudity in this, too, although for those of us who originally watched that censored VHS tape, this all might come as something of a surprise. In a very un-erotic scene, a naked Carmense is holding a pair of bloody scissors, which she’s used to cut above the (also completely naked) blind woman’s breast, and is drinking the blood and laughing while the blind woman stares off into the distance, showing no emotion at all. You’d have to be some sort of monster to get turned on watching this, which I think is the director’s intention.

vld

It might fairly be said that Christina isn’t the strongest actress in the world, but if you imagine she’s an innocent Christian girl, trying to make friends with a family she’s never known, then her behaviour makes more sense – it doesn’t excuse her most regular facial expression, though, which is that of someone who’s having the paint-drying process explained to them. Both she and many of the other characters exist in a sort of dream-logic world, and I’ve spent many reviews abusing dream logic as just lazy plotting, but it works here. Although the title’s a bit of a giveaway, the behaviour of her family is slightly off-kilter, with some scenes being masterpieces of reality, just tilted a little – take the “funeral”, for example.

 

Christina’s father, played by Italian horror stalwart Paul Muller, is perhaps the most interesting of all the characters. He both wants his daughter with him in his world, but wants her to escape too, and the scene where he is being pulled back to the place of his suicide, while Christina follows through overgrown jungle, is a quietly wonderful piece of work. Many scenes will stay with you, which I appreciate sounds like a crazy amount of praise for what many regard as a fairly undistinguished work from a hack horror / porno director.

cursed

I’ll go out and say it, though – I think this is a complete classic. A bunch of things – script, performances, locations – came together perfectly, and the result is a gem of mood and the hinterland between dreams and nightmares, which even manages a moving ending. In the longer / zombie filled version, the ending is a loop from the beginning, which works really well, but here in the shorter director’s cut, the Queen Of The Night gets involved and the scene they shot works like a charm. The popular story goes that Franco made this to come to terms with the premature death of his muse / regular leading lady Soledad Miranda, and if so it’s a truly wonderful tribute to her. If you’re reading this and haven’t already been hassled by me at some point in the past to watch this, then go and do so immediately.

 

Rating: enthusiastic thumbs up

vlcsnap-2604888

Advertisements

An Erotic Vampire In Paris (2002)

6

Sadly, readers, our attempt to watch all of Donald Farmer’s movies has failed at the hurdle of 1999’s “Space Kid”. Never released on video or DVD, I was hoping to track one down (although it’s not like any of you would have been able to watch it afterwards, based on my review). It’s a shame but it seems he made several movies around the turn of the millenium which have either disappeared very thoroughly or were never released in the first place, such as “Blood And Honor” (a Civil War epic listed at 4 hours 33 minutes!), “Fighting Chance” and”Charlie And Sadie”, so forever onwards, and next in the available Farmer pantheon we find ourselves with this.

 

If you ever went in a video shop after the late 90s, then you will definitely know of Misty Mundae (who now works under the name Erin Brown). She was as famous as a person who starred in stuff like “Play-Mate Of The Apes”, “Gladiator Eroticvs: The Lesbian Warriors” and “Scary Sexy Disaster Movie” (aka “TITanic 2000”) could be. That sounds slightly dismissive – I’ve not seen any of them, they might be great – but she was enough of a draw to get her name in the title of several movies, with later stuff like “Misty Mundae: Erotic Raider” and “The Erotic Diary Of Misty Mundae”. Can you tell I’m having fun just listing all these titles? She cornered the market in softcore mockbusters, but I’m guessing the death of Blockbuster affected the business model for those sorts of movies, so she’s not been quite as busy as she was (although she’s still working solidly, in such things as garbage human Bill Zebub’s “A Nightmare On Elmo’s Street”).

 

Calling this an “erotic horror” is a bit off, as it definitely leans heavier on the erotic than the horror. Literally the first thing we see is Misty’s vagina, playing Caroline, a woman plagued by intense dreams. Well, her entire body plays Caroline, not just her vagina. Ah, you know what I mean. Anyway, as she’s walking across the room in the first scene, we’re treated to a shot of the cameraman following her, reflected in the mirror. Come on! It’s the first scene, you guys! Could you not have reshot it?

Check out the mirror

Not the best shot, but there they are

As we get a voiceover which sounds like it was recorded over the phone, Caroline reads her diary, and we discover her Mother (who lived in Paris) just died, but she feels very worried about going there to visit her grave. Anyway, she does, and the initial scenes of her walking round Paris remind me of “Highlander: The Series”, although that show was able to close streets to film on, and this film most definitely did not. I guess no-one asks you for a permit if you’re filming a home movie, and a huge amount is shot guerrilla-style on the streets, with lots of poor French people unaware they’re in a Donald Farmer movie. They go to Notre Dame and a few famous streets, which is pretty cool though.

 

After visiting her mother’s grave (which actually belongs to a German person, if the wording we briefly see on the side is anything to go by) and having her bags stolen, she’s seduced by Isabelle (Mia Copia, also now working under her real name, Tina Krause), who we saw earlier on is a vampire. And really, that’s it. After getting Caroline, a woman she’s known for maybe an hour, to strip completely naked and eat food off the floor, the two of them then have sex more often than the stars of most hardcore porn movies. In what I suppose is a plot, Isabelle resists biting Caroline because she is in love with her? A guy (billed as “The Stalker”, played by the charmingly named Bill Hellfire) follows them round for a bit then just walks into their house, all three of them then have a bath together before Isabelle kills him; oh, and she kills the guy who stole Caroline’s stuff at the beginning too. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever based on what went before.

AACsT

Mundae and Copia have appeared in 13 movies together, 7 of which were directed by Bill Hellfire (who does double duty as second-unit director here – I can’t even begin to imagine what that job title really entails on a movie as low budget as this), so they’re obviously comfortable with each other, which is handy when the majority of the movie is the two of them in bed or naked. Although Mundae has appeared in 20 movies with an actress by the name of Darian Caine, so she’s not even the most regular collaborator!

 

I appreciate this is basically a softcore movie, so reviewing it like a normal one is pointless, but if the sex were better shot then it would at least be fun to look at? But it’s often out of focus, or it’ll zoom in on a bit of flesh it’s impossible to identify, or entire scenes will be in extreme close-up, or the cameraman will be in completely the wrong position to capture any decent angles, which means I don’t think it really works either as a movie or softcore “action”. But I am far from an expert on such matters.

0FcHk

It just seems so amateurish. There’s a segment near the beginning where Isabelle seduces a photographer, and you see her posing for photos and then some photos appearing on screen, indicating someone got a new graphics package for their PC. But anyway, the photos we see on screen are just stills from the movie, not the actual photographs the woman is taking (they’re from a completely different angle). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m complaining about a softcore movie because of the angle of some photographs!

 

There’s a strong whiff of “Virgin Among The Living Dead” and other Jess Franco movies here, with the music, the European setting, and the S&M undertones, although that is this one’s superior in every possible way. Obviously, I love Donald Farmer, he’s a huge movie buff and has made some insane entertainment, but this is just rubbish. I guess it was made very quickly and very cheaply and turned a decent profit for everyone involved, and making it coherent or fun to look at was very far down on anyone’s list of priorities.

i441624

If anyone would like, I’ll do a series of reviews of Seduction Cinema’s other efforts, and try and do them as seriously as possible, treat em like high art? If you want to read about “SSI: Sex Scene Investigation” or “Kinky Kong”, then let me know. Actually, after 13 Witchcraft movies, I’m not sure my brain could take it.

 

Rating: very very thumbs down