Some unscrupulous schlubs decide to dispose of some toxic garbage in the catacombs of an abandoned Valmont chateau and quickly meet their horrifying fates at the hands of Catherine Valmont, the zombie in the title of Jean Rollin’s 1982 effort The Living Dead Girl. It’s a gory opener, playing against the film’s gore-soaked resolution like a bloody bookend. The Living Dead Girl was my first Jean Rollin film. I watched it on a whim on Netflix one day, familiar with the director’s reputation for French “lesbian vampire” films, and was taken aback by how much I enjoyed the movie. Since then, I’ve watched what I could through Netflix and through the release of Kino-Lorber’s Redemption series of Blu-rays (ten of the seventeen releases in the Redemption line are Jean Rollin films). If you were looking to explore Rollin’s work, The Living Dead Girl is a great start.
The film is about Catherine Valmont’s (Francoise Blanchard) relationship with her best friend and lover Helene (Marina Pierro). A blood oath promise that they made as children is Rollin’s thin explanation of Catherine’s resurrection, but what he’s really getting at with their story is the way we allow ourselves to become trapped within co-dependent relationships. The undead Catherine needs fresh blood to stay alive, and Helene drops any moral regards to sustain her lover. She leads people to the Valmont estate so that Catherine can feed, and once Catherine becomes fully aware of the unholy abomination she has become, Catherine begs for a death that Helene will simply not allow.
There’s an English-language subplot involving a bickering couple (Mike Marshall and Carina Barone as Greg and Barbara Simon), the wife having snapped a picture of the night-gowned Catherine standing in a field. She becomes fascinated by the subject in the photo and starts hunting down any information she can find about Catherine. This is mostly to break up the action from Catherine and Helene, and to provide a small scale mystery for tension’s sake. Will Barbara discover that Catherine is actually a ghoul? Seeing awful English-speaking actors in a Rollin film brings up the thought that maybe his French actors aren’t any good either. French isn’t my native language, so it’s harder for me to tell when line deliveries sound completely tin-eared.
Language aside, Francoise Blanchard dedicates herself to the part of Catherine so completely, that the story works. You’re not scared of Catherine; you’re scared for her – disturbed by the concept of being self-aware enough to realize that you’re dead and that there may be no escape from a life of feeding on other humans. It’s rich material for a horror film, and this is one Rollin movie that’s a more satisfying genre effort than what we’re used to from the director. Typically, Rollin’s films combine gothic horror visuals with avant garde arthouse sensibilities. Living Dead Girl is a more straight-forward, dedicated horror effort – more thoroughly plotted, more exciting, more gruesome, and more unsettling than Rollin’s typical vampire work, while still feeling unmistakably like a Rollin film.
The transfer on The Living Dead Girl might just be my favorite in the entire Redemption line. The audio is crackly, but the picture is amazing for a film like this. It’s the kind of pristine, vivid transfer that makes you love Blu-ray as a format. If you’re already a fan of The Living Dead Girl, then this Blu comes with the highest possible recommendation. If you aren’t a fan, or are ignorant of Rollin’s work, I’d recommend it to those who have a taste for gory Euro-horror and to zombie aficionados who are looking for something different. Kino includes interviews with the director, cast, and crew as well as the theatrical trailer on the disc.