Jess Franco’s 1973 exploitation horror film, A Virgin Among the Living Dead (or Christina, Princess of Eroticism), is one of the most bizarre things that I have ever experienced. It is absolutely nothing like the promotional materials would have you to believe. In fact, it is much better than that, delivering everything that you could ever want in this sort of film, while remaining strangely ethereal and haunting.
The film opens as a young woman from England, named Christina Benson, arrives at an old hotel in a small town. She is a lovely young lady, and passes the time by making small talk with the manager. Later that afternoon, an incredibly awkward man named Basilio picks her up to take her to a small castle, where there will be a reading of her father’s will among her relatives. On the way to the castle, she notices that the surrounding town is deathly quiet. She ponders over the stillness until the driver arrives at their destination. Once she arrives, she notices that her relatives are unusually cold, both literally and figuratively. This is the first time that she has ever met them. They include her bedridden stepmother, a woman named Carmence, a mysterious blind woman, her Aunt Abigail, as well as her Uncle Howard, who spends most of the time banging away on the piano.
Things get progressively weird as time goes on. After her stepmother passes away, her uncle officiates a strange requiem mass in the living room. All of this occurs as cousin Carmence polishes her toenails half naked on the couch, and Basilio mumbles incoherently in a childlike garble. In a surreal scene, Christina walks in on Carmence and the blind woman in the bedroom. They’re both naked.
Carmence cuts the blind woman with a knife and suckles at the wound, drinking the blood. No matter where Christina goes, she cannot escape the madness that dwells within the walls of this house. She begins to lose her mind, as a strange family curse begins to take hold of her. According to the will, Christina owns the house and everything in it. Her guests aren’t too keen on leaving, and even though they have unnerved her to no end and caused her to question her sanity, she invites them to stay.
In the meantime, Christina is visited by the spirit of her father, who warns her about the insidious agenda of her undead relatives. At the very moment that she smashes a sacred dildo (yes, you read that correctly) all hell breaks loose. Her dreams begin to manifest themselves in her waking life. Her relatives begin to notice as she unravels mentally and emotionally, and set out to transform her.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is enough disturbing and flat out grotesque imagery here to keep your mind reeling for days. There is also lots and lots of gratuitous nudity. On an altogether different note, I’m almost positive that this film was loosely inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece of psychological horror, Hour of the Wolf. There are quite a few similarities to that film in the overall mood and tone of A Virgin Among the Living Dead. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.
As I mentioned earlier, the promotional materials, including the cover art for the Blu-ray, would lead you to believe that this is a graphic zombie film. It is nothing of the sort. If anything, we are dealing with malevolent spirits and hallucinations here, not zombies – although, one of the alternative cuts does feature zombie footage.
For an unapologetically cheap, Z-grade exploitation film, there are moments that are strangely poetic and wonderfully eerie. It is also very campy. I highly recommend this film to fans of European grindhouse fare. It does not disappoint.
Kino-Lorber has released A Virgin Among the Living Dead on Blu-ray and DVD as part of the Redemption series. The transfer looks great. It has been remastered from the original 35mm negative and most – if not all – of the dirt and debris has been left intact, lending to the nostalgic drive-in feel of the film. The French language audio comes in loud and clear. Special features include two different cuts of the film, including an English dubbed version, an audio commentary from Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog fame, five minutes of censored footage, a sixteen minute interview with Jess Franco, a twelve minute documentary of the making of the film, a photo gallery, and a theatrical trailers.