A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) poster

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

Rating:

aka Christina, Princess of Eroticism; Zombie 4: A Virgin Among the Living Dead

(Une Vierge Chez les Morts Vivants)

France/Italy/Liechtenstein. 1973.

Crew

Director/Screenplay – Jess Franco, Producer – K.H. Mannchen, Photography – J. Climent, Music/Special Effects – Bruno Nicolai. Production Company – J.K. Films/Prodif Ets

Cast

Cristine von Blanc (Christine Benton Reiner), Britt Nickols (Carmencé), Howard Vernon (Uncle Howard), Jesus Manera [Jess Franco] (Basilio), Rosa Palomar (Aunt Abigail), Anne Libert (Queen of the Night), Paul Muller (Ernesto Reiner)


Plot

Christine Benton travels from England to Montserrat Mansion in the European countryside for the reading of the will of the father she never knew. The locals warn her to stay away from the mansion but Christine is welcomed by her relatives. She soon finds herself drawn into a world of strange erotic dreams, perverse happenings and visions from her dead father.


The late Jesus or Jess Franco (1930-2013) is considered the world’s most prolific director. Between 1957 and 2013, Franco directed a purported 199 feature films. Many of these exist under a mind-boggling labyrinth of alternate titles and different cuts. Franco’s most prolific heyday were during the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. During this period, he was producing easily six to eight or more films per year (A Virgin Among the Living Dead was one of ten films he made in 1973 alone). His output covered a great many different genres from thrillers, spy films and science-fiction but most of all horror and erotica/pornography. Franco’s films have attained a certain cult following for their arty pretensions, although just as many of them are cheaply made. (A full list of Jess Franco’s other genre films is at the bottom of the page).

A Virgin Among the Living Dead is one of the films from Jess Franco’s classic period and exists under a plethora of different versions, including both hardcore and edited versions. Franco was employed by a French producer and shot the film under the title Night of the Shooting Stars but it was subsequently released under the titles A Virgin Among the Living Dead and Christina, Princess of Eroticism. The film runs to 92 minutes in Franco’s original version, although this has been cut by as much twenty minutes of material in some versions seen around the world. In 1981, Jean Rollin, a French horror and erotica director, was hired to shoot extra material, some of which was taken from Rollin’s Zombies Lake (1981), and told to make it into more of a zombie film. This was re-released as Zombie 4: A Virgin Among the Living Dead, even though there is nothing to do with zombies in the original film. A condensed version of this version also turns up in the US compilation film Zombiethon (1986). Franco’s original version (seen here) was restored for dvd release in 2004.

Cristine von Blanc and Howard Vernon in A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)
Christina (Cristine von Blanc) visits the mysterious countryside mansion of her Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon)

I have never been much of a fan of Jess Franco’s cheap exploitation films, although A Virgin Among the Living Dead is one where his pretensions to artistry and the erotica come together with an undeniable sophistication. The film is directed with a dreamy eroticism – typical is a beautiful scene early in the film where Cristine von Blanc strips off in the woods and goes swimming in a pool filled with giant lily fronds. We get other scenes where Cristine von Blanc opens a door and sees Britt Nickols and another woman making out where Nickols is cutting the other woman’s skin with a pair of scissors and drinking her blood. (Typical of the film, we never find out what this scene is about – indeed, it is never referred to again).

Cristine von Blanc has a great innocent beauty and is one of Franco’s best leading ladies. So also too is Britt Nickols who drifts through the entire film dripping with sophisticated boredom. With typical perversity, Franco himself plays the role of the mute imbecilic assistant and at one point gives himself a scene where he strangles a naked woman with a garrotte (like much of the film, there is no clue what this scene was about and why the particular character did such).

A Virgin Among the Living Dead is characteristic of the films that Jess Franco was making during this period. He has obtained the use of a beautiful location (a French chateau by the looks of it). He shoots much languorous and arty softcore erotica, all of which seems rather tame today – lots of scenes of women cavorting but little in the way of actual sex. Typical of his films, the plot seems irrelevant – almost as though Franco and the cast improvised most of the scenes themselves. The effect on a narrative level is more akin to the pretension-laden surrealism of a student film.

Certainly, it is impossible to make any sense out of what is happening in the film. The title(s) makes reference to the living dead but it is never clear who the living dead are meant to be. There is something about the Queen of the Dead keeping Cristine von Blanc’s father a prisoner and he reappearing to warn her to leave. The others in the house appear to have drawn her there for some obscure purpose and she is later seen naked as an intended sacrifice in an occult ceremony. (Again we never find out why she has been brought there or what the ceremony was about). There is the suggestion throughout that there is nobody alive at the house. At the end, there is a scene where she is in a hospital in a fever, which is alternated with scenes where she is also at the house in the midst of the ceremony, which suggests some kind of weird deathdream ending. The oddly touching final scene has all of those present at the villa, including those who have been killed, walking en masse into the lake, a scene reminiscent of the end of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971). Quite what any of it means is a complete scratch of the head. It is one film where Franco’s dreamy erotica seems at its artistic height – but where the random surrealistic nature of the plot works against the film.

Jess Franco’s other films are:– The Awful Dr Orloff (1962), The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962), The Secret of Dr Orloff (1964), Attack of the Robots (1966), The Diabolical Dr Z/Miss Death (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), Necronomicon/Succubus (1968), The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969), Justine (1969), Kiss Me Monster (1969), 99 Women (1969), Sadisterotica/Red Lips (1969), The Girl from Rio (1969), Venus in Furs/Paroxysmus (1969), The Bloody Judge/Night of the Blood Monster (1970), Count Dracula (1970), Eugenie/Philosophy in the Boudoir (1970), Nightmares Come at Night (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1970), Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1971), She Killed in Ecstasy (1971), The Corpse Packs His Bags (1972), The Daughter of Dracula (1972), The Demons (1972), Doctor Mabuse (1972), The Erotic Adventures of Frankenstein (1972), The Silence of the Tomb (1972), The Sinister Eyes of Dr Orloff (1973), The Bare-Breasted Countess/Eroti-Kill/Female Vampire (1973), The Erotic Adventures of Maciste in Atlantis (1973), The Obscene Mirror (1973), Lorna the Exorcist (1974), The Perverse Countess (1974), Eugenie (1975), Doriana Grey (1976), Jack the Ripper (1976), Night of the Assassins (1976), Sexy Sisters (1976), Greta the Mad Butcher/Wanda the Wicked Warden (1977), Call of the Blonde Goddess/Voodoo Passion (1977), Wicked Women (1977), Demoniac/Exorcism/The Ripper of Notre Dame (1979), Man Hunter/The Devil Hunter (1980), White Cannibal Queen (1980), Bloody Moon (1981), Oasis of the Zombies (1981), Revenge of the House of Usher (1982), Grave of the Living Dead (1983), The Treasure of the White Goddess (1983), The Sinister Dr Orloff (1984), Mansion of the Living Dead (1985), Faceless (1987), The Killer Barbies (1996), Lust for Frankenstein (1998), Marie-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula in 8 Legs to Love You (1998), Tender Flesh (1998), Vampire Blues (1999), Vampire Junction (2001), Incubus (2002), Killer Barbies vs Dracula (2002), Snakewoman (2005), Paula-Paula (2010), Al Pereira vs the Alligator Ladies (2012), Crypt of the Condemned (2012) and Revenge of the Alligator Ladies (2013).



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