One gravely telling scene in 'A Virgin among the Living Dead' comes when we see writer and director Jesús Franco fall asleep and snore through the entire reading of a dead relative's will. This becomes dangerously indicative of the film's overall quality as a man speaking in monotone goes on for several minutes about the law, the testament, and all his belongings. The fact that we see Franco as Basilio, a simpleton who speaks in gibberish and works as some kind of groundskeeper to an eerie castle, snoozing to his own material is pretty comical but also suggestive of how the story can be somewhat boring in some parts.
Thankfully, the production as a whole is not a complete loss as there is more to the plot than just endless chatting about nothing. In fact, many of the conversations between characters are downright weird with a slightly spooky edge to them. The people living in the aforementioned castle speak in strange detached tones, particularly Howard Vernon and Rosa Palomar. When asked by another about eating breakfast, a deadly serious Vernon replies that the family rarely eats and suddenly bursts into laughter. Cousin Carmencé (a half-awake but very seductive Britt Nichols) wanders the halls like a ghost in nothing more than a loosely-tied robe.
The reason we're surrounded by these weirdos is that the young, innocent Christina Benson (Christina von Blanc) has traveled there from England. Her estranged father (Paul Muller), who she hasn't spoken to since childhood, recently died under mysterious circumstances, and the loony crackpots claim to be long-lost family members she's never met. Expecting to be the new proprietor of the estate, Christina enthusiastically explores the grounds with child-like glee, discovering a nearby pond decorated with water lilies and an abandoned church with a creepy old man muttering scary legends. At night, a mysterious blind girl (Linda Hastreiter) roams about the manor talking more freakish nonsense.
So, ignoring that dreadfully dull scene with the notary, the rest of the film is intriguing, filled with perplexing encounters and curious exchanges with these weirdly indifferent relatives. Being a Franco production, you can expect a reasonable amount of nudity, much of which is done at the oddest moments and meant to be somehow erotic, like Carmencé and the bling girl getting freaky with a pair of scissors. The most unusual confrontations take place at night, which seems fitting enough in a horror tale, when Christina is either roving the castle or possibly sleepwalking. And it's this last bit which is also of most interest and adds another perplexing layer by film's end to Franco's bizarre plot.
Originally titled 'Christina, Princess of Eroticism,' the movie has an impressive design for such a cheap, low-budget exploitation flick. Franco immerses his fable with a haunting, otherworldly atmosphere that has audiences wondering where it's all going, but also leaves them pondering on the fantastically whacko conclusion. When the worldwide zombie craze was in full effect in the late 70s and early 80s, the film was re-released under its now familiar title, which is rather fitting when considering the odd behavior of Christina's family, and with new scenes directed by Jean Rollin showing a couple of zombie attacks. Sadly, the new footage is more of a distraction than a benefit, and the curious should check out 'A Virgin among the Living Dead' in the 79-min cut as Franco intended.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings Jess Franco's 'A Virgin among the Living Dead' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD50 disc goes straight to a static menu screen with music playing in the background. When pressing "Play," the disc defaults to the original 79-min director-preferred version.
Per usual, Kino Redemption brings another cult horror flick to Blu-ray as is and in whatever current state of repair the source was found. The AVC-encoded transfer is littered with white specks and dirt with the occasional hair and scratch. Although whites appear clean and bright, overall contrast falls on the low end of the grayscale, making the video look pretty dull and average. Blacks are fairly nice for the most part, but they tend to come off quite strong in many sequences, ruining the finer details in the darker portions of the 1.66:1 image. Colors seem to benefit the most, especially the primaries, yet the entire palette is dreary and listless. Despite showing some excellent definition in a couple spots, the presentation, as a whole, is fairly soft and blurry.
Giving listeners the option of a French track or an English dub, the uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack is a significant improvement over previous home video editions. (As a side note, the English dub is absolutely terrible, so the French track is the preferred listening method.) Vocals are clean and clear although the ADR work is almost laughably apparent. Nonetheless, the soundstage displays a great deal of presence and fidelity, generating an appreciably wide soundfield. Imaging is detailed with good clarity in the upper ranges, exhibiting better than expected distinction in the screams, music and loud bangs. The funky score has some surprising depth thanks to a decently palpable bass. But for all its positives, the lossless mix is quite narrow with audible noise and crackling in the background during a majority of the movie's runtime.
'A Virgin among the Living Dead' is considering one of Jesús Franco's better works because of the strangely haunting and oneiric atmosphere surrounding one young woman's quest to learn more about her family. In typical Franco fashion, the movie comes with a good deal of nudity, but the story, itself, tries to offer a bit more than just the visual, making it a rather intriguing and trippy watch. The Blu-ray sadly arrives with a disappointing picture quality but a stronger, more satisfying audio presentation. With a nice set of special features to boot, the package is one cult enthusiasts will likely find overall satisfying.