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 Awful Dr. Orlof’ (1962)


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After giving Jess Franco films a fair shake and coming to the conclusion that they just weren’t for me, along comes The Awful Dr. Orlof on Blu-ray to make me reconsider dismissing a body of work based on the half-dozen titles I’d seen previous to this one. Hey, The Awful Dr. Orlof is pretty good! Many of the Franco films I had seen were amateurish schlock, with extended stretches of lazily photographed nudity framed with the barest outline of anything you could call a plot. I didn’t get the impression Franco was much interested in these films either. They felt like junk to turn a quick buck, not misunderstood mini-masterpieces of intentional erotic horror. In the special features on the disc, we find that Franco had seen a cinematic passion project stall out for being too political, and, inspired by Hammer’s Brides of Dracula, Franco directed his energies toward producing something that could compete with the chillers of the time. The result was Spain’s first horror film, The Awful Dr. Orlof.

Blu-ray Reviews: ‘The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine’ & ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ Arrive in High-Def


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I’m woefully ignorant of nunsploitation films, and The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine (available now on Blu-ray) ended up being my first dip into the unholy waters of the genre. Here’s what I expected from it: nudity, sacrilege, torture, and lesbians. And wouldn’t you know? The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine has all of those things (though light on sacrilege)! Surprisingly, it doesn’t have any one of those elements in excess, and it surprised me most as being a capable romantic adventure, light on sleaze…well, relatively speaking.

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.

Blu-ray Reviews: Redemption Presents the Original ‘Burke & Hare’ and Cushing in ‘The Blood Beast Terror’


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It’s a good time to be a Blu-ray collectin’ horror fan. Almost all of the classics of modern horror have gotten solid high-def releases, while classics and curiosities continue to get released in a steady stream that reminds me of the heyday of DVD and companies like Anchor Bay. Kino-Lorber has really stepped up their game with the Redemption line, which I’ve praised before, most recently with the release of the forgotten Marquis De Sade adaptation Justine. The movies are unusual, the special features are robust when offered, and the picture quality of these films is taken from the best possible sources (some fare better than others).

There’s not a real unifying element in the Redemption line, other than the films’ European origins, and I appreciate their grab bag nature. Eight of the fourteen current releases are Jean Rollin films, but there’s also trash like The Virgin Witch and underrated chillers like The Asphyx. Burke and Hare (1972) and The Blood Beast Terror (1968) have only a director in common, Vernon Sewell, but they still feel right at home with the Redemption branding. Both have been forgotten by time, and both are worth viewing by curious horror fans.

‘Marquis De Sade’s Justine’ Blu-ray Review: A Gut-Punch of the Most Hateful Variety


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I can’t speak for how faithful this adaptation of Marquis De Sade’s Justine (aka Cruel Passion) is, but if it doesn’t stick directly to the text, I have to imagine it sticks to the author’s intent (the best it can, that is, without being pornographic). Under the direction of Chris Boger, and the lens of Coen Brothers stalwart Roger Deakins, Justine is an erotically-charged, bleak little number about a girl (Koo Stark, supposedly playing a pre-teen, though she’s obviously and thankfully in her 20′s) who clings desperately to her innocence while ricocheting from scene to scene where that chastity is put to the test in harrowing ways.

The film doesn’t skimp on the depravity, featuring rape, necrophilia, mother-son incest and more, but before you draw the conclusion that this is some despicable sleaze-fest, it really isn’t. Boger, perhaps limited by the censors, picks his battles, and when he does, he always chooses sexual frankness over outright titillation. Many things are discussed or implied without being directly shown. There’s not much nudity in here for an “erotic” film from the 1970′s, and Boger chooses to construct the entire film as little episodes of trouble for Justine, building up to its nihilistic, tough-as-nails conclusion.




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