work of French director Jean Rollin is justly celebrated
within the horror fraternity. If the name is new to you
then you can find a brief introduction in my coverage of
Lost in New York,
or better still look him up on the Net – you'll find plenty
of often detailed coverage. His fascination with the figure
of the female vampire has given rise to some memorably individualistic
films, ones whose blend of horror, eroticism and poetry are hardly
typical of the genre norm. His 1982 The Living Dead
Girl [La Morte Vivante] is a case
in point, a modern-day vampire tale that delivers on the
gore but whose prime concerns are ones of love, loss and
the lifelong bonds of friendship.
all starts in somewhat typical genre fashion. Three unscrupulous
workers from the local industrial plant are using the crypt
of an uninhabited chateau as a dumping ground for toxic
waste. While there they decide it might be a neat idea to open the coffins
of two of the castle's former occupants, the recently deceased
Antoinette Valmont and her daughter Catherine, and rob the
corpses of their jewellery. A small earth tremor causes
a chemical spillage that revives the surprisingly well preserved
Catherine, who kills the intruders and feeds off their blood.
no real surprises here. Toxic waste was a popular replacement
for radiation in 1970s and 80s horror, and genre fans took
with a pinch of salt its various mutational and even semi-supernatural
effects on both the living and the dead. It was never crucial
to the story, just a device for kicking off the narrative,
and that's where The Living Dead Girl gets
Rather than terrorising
the neighbourhood with a vampiric rampage, Catherine returns to the chateau in which
she was raised and is haunted by objects and images from
her childhood, particularly her bond-of-blood friendship
with Hélène, who still deeply misses the girl
she had pledged to love forever. Although empty since Catherine's death two years earlier,
the chateau is on the market, and as Catherine arrives the building is
being shown to a pair of wealthy Americans by a young estate
agent. Fortunately for them all, their paths do not cross
(the moment they nearly do is quietly effective), but the
estate agent still digs her own grave when she and her boyfriend
use the keys to have a dirty weekend in the chateau's plush
surroundings, where they are bloodily slaughtered by Catherine.
Her old friend Hélène, meanwhile, is given a start
when she phones the chateau and is greeted by the sound
of a music box that was once precious to her and Catherine.
She arrives there to find two bodies and the blood-spattered girl she thought was dead, whose inability to speak she puts down
to shock. It takes a while for her to realise what has actually
occurred, but in spite of her horror, she becomes determined
to provide Catherine with the human blood that she clearly
requires, convinced that it will eventually return her to
the land of the living.
There's a sense of the hybrid about The Living Dead
Girl that those familiar with Rollin's work will
recognise but will likely divide the uninitiated. Despite
some dodgy prosthetics, gore hounds should find plenty to
chew on here, while the beautiful women and odd bit of full-frontal
nudity should keep a large portion of male audience intermittently
happy. But the film is also a sensitively handled and ultimately
tragic tale of love tested to the extreme, of the moral
choices we make in its name, and of its potential as a self-destructive
force, all of which is likely to bemuse or exasperate a
sizeable number of those who tuned in for the sex
and violence. Which is a shame, because this is the element
that makes The Living Dead Girl just that
little bit special.
to this is the character of Hélène, whose
devotion to her friend overrides her own sense of right
and wrong and proves ultimately self-serving, her determination
to regain her lost companionship prompting her to ignore
Catherine's pleas for her own destruction. It's the sequences
involving Hélène and Catherine that give the
film its heart, as well assuring its place in vampire filmography.
Largely rejecting the concept of a supernatural resurrection
in favour of a biochemical one, the film kicks against the
icon of the vampire as a powerful and predatory figure.
Despite Catherine's aristocratic background and her early
killings, her gradually realisation of what she is and the
price that must be paid for her continued existence is one
she eventually finds intolerable. It
helps that Catherine's initial confusion, gradual awakening
and inner torment are convincingly captured by Françoise
Blanchard, while Borowczyk regular Marina Pierro makes Hélèn's
drift into self-centred obsession believable. Other performances
are less well judged, with the unconvincingly fever-pitched
bickering of Mike Marshall and Carina Barone turning a potentially
interesting side-story involving vacationing American couple
Greg and Barbara (well Greg's certainly American, but the
jury's out on Babs) into an annoying distraction.
the film sits in the Rollin oeuvre has also divided opinion,
with those who see it as a lesser work seemingly equalled
by its enthusiastic supporters, some of whom regard it as
one of the director's best. The handling is assured, the
atmosphere wistfully dreamlike and the imagery is sometimes memorably composed. It's certainly a must for
Rollin enthusiasts and for vampire movie devotees who like
to see genre conventions broken (although the well-worn
theme of vampirism as drug addiction is certainly at play
here). Despite its bursts of graphic violence, The
Living Dead Girl is a touching and lyrical vampire
tale, and one in which the vampire is as much of a victim
as those she feeds on.
this may look like a re-release of one of Redemption's most
popular titles, this version restores 4 minutes of previously
censored footage and thus represents the first UK release of
the film in its original, uncut form.
against the 1.66:1 transfer here is its letterboxed format and some occasionally jaggie-inducing edge enhancement,
but in all other respects this is a first class job, an
almost spotless print that boasts excellent sharpness, colour
and contrast. Rollin fans should be well happy with this.
Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack shows its age more obviously,
with a slight background hiss joined early on by a low volume
clicking and later by some crackle. Neither last too long,
and despite some crispness to the dialogue trebles, the
track is otherwise adequate for the job.
7 film stills and a French poster. No big shakes.
An explicit sell that looks suspiciously like it's been
assembled recently from the print on this disc.
Pays lion (15:41)
A very good early Rollin short that is also included on
in New York DVD, and it's covered in our review
of that film. There are also 7 stills from Les Pays lion.
Also included are trailers for other Redemption releases
City of the
and Sacred Flesh
and promos for albums on their Triple Silence and Hydra
one for all horror fans, The Living Dead Girl
is nicely representative of Rollin's trademark mix of bloody
violence, eroticism and gentle poetry. A little light on
extras – the short film has already appeared on one of Redemption's
Jean Rollin releases and there is no sign of the Rollin
interview promised in the press release – but the transfer
sparkles and it's great to see the film restored to its