DIRECTED BY

Jesús Franco

 

STARRING

Christina von Blanc

Britt Nichols

Rosa Palomar

Anne Libert

Howard Vernon
Paul Muller

Jesús Franco

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1973

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 18 Mins.

Still from 1973's "A Virgin Among the Living Dead."

A Virgin Among the Living Dead 

he heroine of Jesús Franco’s A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) fears two things: sex and death. Judging from her poreless skin and her doe eyes, we figure she’s only recently come of age and is now adjusting to the idea that she’s both a sexual being and mortal in the ways prepubescents never quite think to consider. As such, she’s become the chimp at the center of this weird game of monkey in the middle where one player’s chastity, another’s burgeoning sexuality, and the next is existential dread; her torment’s seemingly endless.

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This inner battle’s rhapsodized in Virgin, which is supposed to be a zombie movie cum skin flick but resembles something of a low-budget albeit inspired cross between 1970’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and 1981’s The Beyond. Say it’s a coming-of-age film where flowering sexual desire’s amped, where one’s quarter-life crisis is given the horror allegory treatment. Here, the girl’s incapable of suppressing the various anxieties that are coming along with her ever evolving sense of self; in the movie, they either take on the form of actual monsters or demented detours in violence.

 

Like David Lynch’s best works, Virgin toys with us both sensorially and viscerally – you can forget about logic both because there isn’t any and because it isn’t needed to have a rather absorbing cinematic experience.

 

Perhaps the Lynch comparisons are generous, given the inarguable fact that Franco’s the kind of somewhat untalented Z-movie moviemaker who only sometimes manages to make something impressionistic and stimulating by accident. (Consider that the man would regularly make up to 10 movies per year at the apex of his career, and most of them were shoddy.) Virgin isn’t a meticulously planned masterpiece in abstraction; it’s quickly made Eurotrash that also happens to pander to the rising zombie craze omnipresent in the horror zeitgeist of 40-something years ago.

 

Yet all of Franco’s wildest, and most recognizable, tendencies, like his static camerawork (which is prone to utilizing fish-eyed lenses and close-ups as aesthetic devices), stilted “dialogue” showcases, and relatively unsexy overuse of graphic sex scenes, manage to make this simplistic story seem substantial. That happened with his masterpiece, Vampyros Lesbos (1970), too: there, the amateuristic filmmaking practices inadvertently added to the slick surrealism of everything else. (This doesn’t always happen: just look at 1971’s awful She Killed in Ecstasy.)

 

So Virgin works as phantasmagoric Eurotrash that seems more highbrow than it really is because of all the interesting juxtapositions between its real-life horrors and the ones rumbling about inside the mind of its protagonist. Ultimately your enjoyment of it will depend on how much you’re willing to let go. An open mind will allow you to see unforgettable surrealism that doubles down as an inflammation of coming-of-age terrors, but a closed one will remind you time and time again that you’re watching shoestring-budgeted reverie that’s badly written, acted, and staged. Take the path less traveled, I say, and you’ll have a much better time – and come to appreciate Franco’s unintentional mastery.

 

The movie stars Christina von Blanc as Christina, a beautiful young woman in England visiting her estranged relatives. The situation is that her father’s just died, and everyone is set to learn what he’s left behind for them. Congregating at a small, local castle, a reading of his will is impending; in the meantime, Christina’s left to make small talk with her long lost family members, who are, to put it lightly, fucking weird.

 

Turns out that weirdness derives from something quite a great deal more sinister – the title’s something of a wink wink, if you know what I mean – and by the time inheritances are read has Christina decided that maybe she’s better off departing for good. But then things descend into a rather hellacious imitation of Alice in Wonderland (1951) – and you bet your ass Christina’s not going to come out the other side of the rabbit hole unscathed.

 

An hour goes by and the film’s completely capered into rabid territories. And we like it that way. In the case of Virgin, the less sense it makes, the better: Franco’s much more adept at setting the mood than he is the scene, and the feature’s plenty moody. So he’s in his element, even if Soledad Miranda isn’t able to enliven the atmosphere per usual.

 

I liked it, although I was consistently aware that so much of what I enjoyed was either circumstantial or a result of me convincing myself that the film was deeper than it actually was. But provocative cinema’s provocative cinema, and when Franco’s feeling particularly inspired, he can be a decent stylist. A Virgin Among the Living Dead is no exception. B+

March 1, 2018