The Film (4/5)
Jess Franco's career started to shift drastically in the early 70's. Franco’s early 60's films were a bit more traditional stylistically, but as the 60's drew to a close his style began to evolve. While his work with the producer Harry Alan Towers is still more traditionally cinematic in style, it began to much the limits of violence and sexuality in Franco's cinema. It was in the early 70's after the Tower's period when Franco's cinema took the greatest leap of his entire career. Franco became a director whose work could be considered cinematically unhinged.
Franco's work became greater in quantity during this period sometimes shooting upwards of 8-10 films during a single year, and allowing the concept of a traditional narrative to go straight out the window. It is during this period he made the film that would become known as Virgin Among the Living Dead.
Virgin Among the Living Dead is probably one of Franco's most well known films. It has been issued on home video since the earliest days of VHS as an early Wizard Video release. During the DVD era it was distributed stateside by Image Entertainment as part of their Jess Franco collection, and now we have a Blu-ray courtesy of Redemption Films in conjunction with Kino Lorber.
Virgin Among the Living Dead stars Christine von Blanc, as Christina, a young women who informed of her Father's recent death makes her first visit to her families rural estate with the purpose of meeting the family she never knew, and attending the reading of her estranged Father’s will. Christina upon arrival in the village outside of the estate hears from a few locals that her relations home has long been abandoned, but still she makes the journey. Upon arrival she discovers that this family reunion is far from normal. One of her cousins is dying, while her Uncle plays a waltz, a lesbian affair involving cutting with a pair of scissiors occurs while she is watching, and her Father although dead returns to communicate with her, noose still fastened upon his neck.
The Redemption Blu-ray release unlike the prior Image Entertainment release has seen fit to include 2 cuts of the film on the disc. The main cut on the disc, which is Franco's preferred version is Christina, Princess of Eroticism. This is as close as one could possibly come to Franco's original vision entitled Night of the Shooting Stars. The Second version on the disc is the one ACTUALLY titled Virgin Among the Living Dead, and includes zombie footage shot by the director Jean Rollin in the early 80's. The footage sticks out like a sore thumb, and certainly does not fit the picture at all. That being said the inclusion is certainly welcome as it gives the viewer a nice overview of the way the film has been released throughout it’s storied release history.
Virgin Among the Living Dead, and this is actually a strength, not a complaint does not adhere to a traditional narrative structure. The closest we get to a traditional plot point is Christina arriving in the Portuguese village at the films beginning, however once she arrives at her family's mansion the film takes off into a dreamlike non-linear narrative that seems to be a way of connecting bizarre set pieces with Christina as our tour guide. My favorite European horror films have always been those that have eschewed a traditional narrative structure and focused on a bizarre dreamlike ambiance such as Fulci's The Beyond, Argento's Inferno and Bava's Lisa and the Devil. Franco's Virgin takes a similar approach to the aforementioned films (It could almost be taken as a more sexualized, less dramatized Lisa and the Devil),and that is why I've always come back to this one year after year.
Redemption Films in conjunction with Kino Lorber have released Jess Franco's Virgin Among the Living Dead in a solid 1:66:1 AVC Encoded 1080p transfer. If you've seen any of the Redemption/Kino Blu-ray's you certainly know what you are in for this release. There has been minimal restoration work done here, that being said the transfer is an upgrade in every possible way from prior DVD editions of the film. The colors are better and more natural, black levels are solid and deep, and fine detail is greatly increased. That being said there is a great deal of print damage throughout the film including scratching, dirt, and various other anomalies in the print itself. There are quite a few soft spots in the film as well, but that is more a reflection of the production then the transfer itself.
Redemption have provided 2 audio options for Virgin Among the Living Dead, French and English LPCM Mono tracks. Both tracks are solid for the most with dialogue being audible as well as the films excellent atmospheric score. That being said I did detect some traces of hissing on the track.
Redemption have created what can only be described as the definitive version of Virgin Among the Living Dead with this release. There are 2 cuts of the film Christina, Princess of Eroticism, and Virgin Among the Living Dead. There is also 6 minutes of Alternate Erotic Footage in which Alice Arno (Countess Perverse) plays a Queen in a Masquerade Costume presiding over an outdoor orgy. The Christina cut of the film has an outstanding commentary track by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas that doles out so much information on the film, including various bit of symbolism and the like that one will feel completely informed about the film by the end. We then get an interview conducted by Severin Films about the film that runs about 11 minutes long that is fascinating and hysterical (hearing Franco cut down the Virgin... was awesome). We then get a 12 minute piece called the Three Faces of Christina which explores the various versions of the film. We then get a loving homage to Jess Franco called Jess, What Are You Up To Now with friends and fans of Franco theorizing what he is doing in the afterlife. The disc is rounded off with various trailers and a stills gallery.
One of Franco's most popular films and for good reason, Virgin Among the Living Dead is a bizarre and infinitely interesting entry into Franco's filmography. The A/V restoration from Kino/Redemption trumps any release from the past, and the extras makes this well worth your time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.