The Living Dead Girl (La Morte Vivante)
Director/Screenplay – Jean Rollin, Adaptation – Jean Rollin & Jacques Ralf, Dialogue – Jacques Ralf, American Screenplay – Gregory Heller, Producer – Sam Selsky, Photography – Max Monteillet, Music – Philippe d’Aram, Special Effects – Benoit Lestang. Production Company – Films A.B.C./Films Aleriaz/Films du Yaha/Sam Selsky
Francoise Blanchard (Catherine Valmont), Marina Pierro (Helene), Carma Barone (Barbara Simon), Mike Marshall (Greg)
Two workmen dumping toxic waste in a series of catacombs venture down to rob the coffins. An earth tremor spills some of the toxic waste canisters. This merges with gas that leaks from a wall and causes Catherine Valmont to emerge from her coffin. Catherine kills the workers and then returns to her family chateau. When Catherine’s childhood best friend Helene realises that she has returned, she comes to offer help. Discovering that Catherine has killed several people to drink their blood, Helene helps dispose of the bodies. Believing that she can bring Catherine back towards life, she helps her in procuring further bodies for her to feed on.
A cult grew up around French director Jean Rollin for his fetishistic, strikingly poetic vampire films. These include the likes of Le Viol du Vampire (1967), The Naked Vampire (1970), Le Frisson des Vampires (1971) and Virgins and Vampires/Caged Virgins (1971). Since then and up until his death in 2010, Rollin made numerous films in either the horror or sex genres. His genre output has included works such as The Iron Rose (1973), Demoniacs/Curse of the Living Dead (1974), Lips of Blood (1975), Pesticide/The Grapes of Death) (1978), Fascination (1979), The Night of the Hunted (1980), Zombies Lake (1981), Two Orphan Vampires (1997), The Fiancee of Dracula (2002), Night of the Clocks (2007) and The Mask of Medusa (2010).
The Living Dead Girl is an interesting outing into zombie themes on Rollin’s part. Rollin had made some more traditional zombie films in the George A. Romero vein with Pesticide and Zombies Lake but this is an altogether different effort. As with most of Rollin’s films, The Living Dead Girl sits between interesting artistic pretensions and shoddy filmmaking. On one side, it is slow paced and has some terrible makeup effects that ruin the mood and leave you wondering just what the Rollin cult was all about.
Not too long in, one is prepared to start regarding The Living Dead Girl as a disappointment as not much seems to happen. The scenes with the revival of Francoise Blanchard come with some laughable over-the-top gore scenes with eyes being poked out, fingernails being jabbed in the throat and faces being melted by toxic waste that do not for a single moment convince because of the absurd cheapness of the gore effects. There is at least one good effects near the end of the film with a woman tied up in the crypt and Marina Pierro cutting her across the stomach to feed Francoise Blanchard, which seems alarmingly sadistic despite the obviousness of the fake blood.
However, once best friend Marina Pierro enters the scene, The Living Dead Girl picks up considerably. The peculiar friendship that grows between Pierro and the undead Francoise Blanchard gives the film a unique lyricism – images of Marina Pierro cutting herself to feed Blanchard, her insistence that Blanchard can be brought back to life, Blanchard’s anguish at not being able to eat a pigeon, and particularly the subtle crossover that occurs throughout where the undead Francoise Blanchard becomes more human and expresses disgust at what she does while the human Marina Pierro becomes increasingly more extreme in what she will do to help her friend. There is a reasonable degree of suspense generated in scenes like where Marina Pierro lures the motorist back to the chateau and the woman gradually finds herself locked in. Eventually, one gets into Jean Rollin’s slow lyricism and the peculiarly touching friendship he presents for the ending to become a tragic one.