Monday, October 22, 2012

The Living Dead Girl (1982)

Title: The Living Dead Girl (1982)

Director: Jean Rollin

Cast: Marina Pierro, Francoise Blanchard, Carina Barone, Mike Marshall


My first experience with a Jean Rollin film was Zombie Lake (1981), and obviously, if you have seen Zombie Lake then you know that wasn’t the best place to start. Zombie Lake is a terribly boring Nazi zombie flick. I’m guessing Rollin wasn’t too proud of that one since he worked under the ‘J.A. Lazer’ moniker for that film. Calling a Rollin film ‘boring’ is a common reaction amongst those who experience his films, because Rollin often times went for dreamy atmosphere and slow paced scenes with little dialog. Personally, I dig this kind of storytelling, the kind that relies more on stories told through visuals alone rather than dialog. ‘La Morte Vivante’, a.k.a. The Living Dead Girl, a.k.a. Queen Zombie, is an amazing film told through this type of dreamy, slow paced little dialog type style, which fit this film perfectly. I’m trying to watch a lot of Euro horror these days and catch up with all of these horror films that I haven’t seen and I have to say, so far, I’m really diggin’ some of these films. The Living Dead Girl is a fantastic lesbian vampire/zombie film, why did I dig it so much?

Story revolves around Catherine Valmont and her best friend Helene. They are two women who grew up together and lived through various experiences during their childhood, like becoming blood sisters; the old childhood ritual where two kids cut themselves, unite their blood and become friends for life. One promises the other that if one of them dies, the other will follow. Well, Catherine ends up dying and she is buried in the crypt of her very own castle. Lucky for her that an earthquake spills a vat of toxic chemicals near her coffin and the toxic mist brings her back to life! Catherine and Helene reunite, but is Catherine the same old Catherine? Nope; now Catherine is a member of The Living Dead! What’s Helene to do?

The Living Dead Girl falls in the same category as films like Hammer films The Vampire Lovers (1970), Harry Kumel’s Daughters ofDarkness (1971) and Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983); these are all lesbian vampire movies that for whatever the reason are all excellent horror films, very artful, very well shot, well acted and interestingly enough, they never forget to be horror films. The Living Dead Girl also falls in that strange middle ground between a vampire film and a zombie film. The same thing happened to me with The Revenant (2009) and Deathdream (1974). I simply couldn’t tell if these films were zombie films or vampire films. For example, The Living Dead Girl starts out with two grave robbers, stealing jewelry from the dead. While they are down in the crypts, an earthquake erupts and a toxic spill brings back Catherine Valmont from the dead. This opening sequence quickly brought to mind Return of the Living Dead (1985) which also starts out with grave robbers and chemical spills. The title, The Living Dead Girl also suggests it’s a zombie film; in fact, one of this films alternate titles is ‘Queen Zombie’. But then, as you watch the film, you see Catherine Valmont acting more like a vampire with her lust for human blood. Just like a vampire, she hates animal blood and must feed on warm human blood. But then she feeds on human flesh with the voraciousness of a zombie, so yeah, to me, this is one of those films that falls in that strange place that mixes vampires and zombies, though there were moments in which the films hints that its more of a vampire film. 

As I watched this tale unfold, I couldn’t help relating the dynamics between the characters of Catherine and Helene with that of the passionately in love characters in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987). In both of these films we meet characters that are willing to do anything for their objects of affection. In Hellraiser, we meet a woman willing to bring victims to her lover who’s just escaped from hell, so he can feed on them and grow a new body. In The Living Dead Girl we have a very similar structure, Helene starts bringing victims for Catherine so she can feed on them. She knows she’s doing wrong, but she does it anyway, to please her loved one. Earlier I mentioned that The Living Dead Girl portrays a lesbian love affair, but in truth the lesbian angle is only implied. One gets this idea because Helene and Catherine are so passionate for each other, willing to go to such lengths to please each other. They never kiss or become intimate, but one gets the idea that they have because of their obsession and obvious love for each other.

The Living Dead Girl is awesome for the same reason that Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness was awesome, it mixes the art house film with the horror film. The Living Dead Girl has these beautiful shots, haunting imagery but at the same time it doesn’t forget that it’s a horror film and suddenly, it takes outs its claws and reminds you. Yes my friends, I’m happy to inform that The Living Dead Girl is a distinctively savage horror film. Catherine Delmont has these long finger nails which she effectively uses to kill her victims; wow, some awesomely gruesome moments awaits, in fact, right from the get go you’ll be treated to some gruesome mayhem. In the end, it truly surprised me that The Living Dead Girl was directed by the same guy who made Zombie Lake, funny thing is both of these films were made months apart, how can a director go from crap to awesome in the blink of an eye? Ask Jean Rollin, because he knows how to do it perfectly well! This film is so superior! Francoise Blanchard does a great job as The Living Dead Girl, she comes off as someone disconnected from being a human, a tortured soul coming to terms with what she is becoming; a character that’s becoming more and more instinctive and animal like in nature. And speaking of animal like, this film has one of the best and most savages scenes I have ever seen of a living dead feeding on a human being. It is such a savagely graphic scene, definitely one for the books! This scene alone makes it worthwhile to seek this one out, but in reality, the whole film is awesome. The only downside for me is that some of the performances don’t come off as natural or particularly good, especially when it comes to the actors portraying the Americans tourists, but for me this was a small hiccup in an otherwise great film. Highly recommend this one!

Rating: 4 out of 5


Chris Hewson said...

I think Rollin just did Zombie Lake so he could finance this film.

Franco Macabro said...

But that would mean that Zombie Lake was made with making money in mind, and how did they think that such a boring film was going to make money? Well, maybe all that T&A in it would do the trick...

But yeah, I agree, sometimes directors do make a commercial film so they can make the film they really want to make, like Rodriguez making those Spy Kid's movies so he can go on and make Sin City.

Kev D. said...

There was just the right amount of girl saying to other girl "here, let me wash your breasts in the moonlight" in this movie.

I suppose there could never be TOO much of that. If there could, Rollin would have tried.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, that scene was pretty cool, though I still think the lesbian angle was suggested, in that scene Catherine was so out of it that she wasn't even able to bathe her self, you could see it as Helene simply nursing her friend back to health.

I enjoyed the symbolisms in some scenes, for example, that scene where Catherine feeds savagely on a victim and suddenly Rollin splices in a scene of a vampire bat crawling through the walls of the castle, I thought that was a nice touch, this was one of the visual cues I was talking about that hinted at vampirism in the film.


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