Blu-ray Review: ‘A Virgin Among the Living Dead’ (1973)


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I may be coming around to Jess Franco. My experiences with the director have been limited to his entries in Kino’s Redemption series of Euro-horror Blu-rays, and the first batch (Oasis of the Zombies, Female Vampire, Exorcism) were tired, dull little numbers, far more cheap than artful. Now with The Awful Dr. Orlof and A Virgin Among the Living Dead arriving on Blu, I can finally start to see what Franco’s appeal is all about. The disc for A Virgin Among the Living Dead is an interesting case, as it presents two different versions of the same film. Franco’s cut is Christina, Princess of Eroticism and the title version, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, is that same film with added zombie footage shot by Franco’s friend, director Jean Rollin.

Blu-ray Review: The Grapes of Death (1978)


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dFJlhHCHere’s one for zombie completists – Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death aka Les Raisins de la Mort, so much better at being a zombie movie than his actual zombie movie Zombie Lake (reviewed here). Some bad, bad grapes are producing some bad, bad wine, making anyone who drinks it into a rapidly-decaying murderous psychopath. Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) gets on the wrong train at the wrong time and finds herself stranded in the French countryside, defending herself against wine-crazed villagers. It’s simple, and for Jean Rollin, certainly more on the accessible side than many of his dreamy, sexed-up, cheapie chillers.

I can’t help but think it has some subtext too, just going off of French stereotypes as a people obsessed with wine. I don’t know how regularly Rollin drank, but a strong case could be made that The Grapes of Death has a message about how drinking to excess transforms us into monsters. In a country where table wine is as ubiquitous as water, The Grapes of Death may have had more meaning and weight than its lurid monster movie approach would suggest. As an American, I can only guess at it, without providing any deeper thoughts than, “Huh. That’s interesting.”

Blu-ray Review: ‘The Living Dead Girl’ (1982)


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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.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Two Orphan Vampires’ (1997)


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I have to admit – I was a little worried about Two Orphan Vampires. I’d never seen a Jean Rollin film from the 1990s and I imagined something with synthesized saxophone music and lots of softcore lesbian sex. Rollin wears this mantle from cinephiles as the king of lesbian vampire sexploitation, but I’d never really found that title fitting when examining his work. It’s mostly artsy, with only the briefest flirtations with sleaze. “Maybe this is the one,” I thought, picturing this later effort as something that would be right at home on Cinemax in 1997.

Well, Two Orphan Vampires is definitely not that. It’s unmistakably a Jean Rollin film, with its dual lead female roles and midnight jaunts through graveyards and train stations. Aside from the score (unimpressive noodling around with a synthesizer), it would be hard to pin a year to the film. It looks, sounds, feels, and tastes, for better or worse, like Jean Rollin.

There’s actually a pretty cool gimmick at the heart of Two Orphan Vampires, one that I’d like to see explored within a stronger narrative, in which the titular vampires (Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul) are blind during the day but have full vision at night. They’re taken in by a doctor who thinks he may have a cure for their blindness, unaware of the secret they share. He doesn’t realize they’re leaving the house every night to feed and generally get into trouble.




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