Color, 1982, 89m.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Françoise Blanchard, Marina Pierro, Carina Barone, Mike Marshall, Fanny Magier, Veronique Pinson
Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Salvation (US R0 NTSC), Encore (Holland R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)
When an underground tremor causes a chemical spill in a mausoleum under a country house, the two lazy men responsible for stashing their barrels down there (and who have no qualms lifting valuables off the dead bodies) get a nasty surprise. The recently deceased Catherine (Blanchard) rises from her coffin with dagger-like fingernails, mutilates the pair, and returns to her ancestral home. Equipped with only vague memories of her existence among the living, she mournfully devours flesh and blood to survive, including two teenagers who happen to wander into the house for a little privacy. Catherine telephones her childhood friend, Helene (Pierro), with whom she had made a devotional blood pact as a little girl. Helene immediately comes to Catherine's aid and, in an act of extreme friendship, procures girls from the local village to satisfy her soulmate's bloodlust.
Though he established himself with more stylized horror films higher on nudity and whimsy than violence, Jean Rollin had to move with the times starting in the late '70s with his poetic but very splattery zombie film, The Grapes of Death. He returned to similar territory but gave it a personal nostalgic twist in The Living Dead Girl (La morte vivante), one of his most lyrical and haunting achievements as well as a solid introduction to his style. Apart from a few ropey effects (thanks to the almost nonexistent budget), the film never releases its grasp on the viewer's imagination and conjures up a strange fairy tale ambience in which nudity and violence are presented as natural, integral elements of life. Blanchard makes for a gorgeous, morose flesh eater, and Pierro, most famous for her roles in Walerian Borowczyk films like Dr. Jekyll and His Women and The Art of Love, turns in a splendid, compelling performance with some moments of astonishing savagery. Regular Rollin composer Philippe d'Aram contributes one of his best scores, a nostalgic and often sad chamber work tinged with a simple music box melody. The only storytelling quibble is a lengthy, barely relevant subplot (shades of Vampyres or Demons) about two American tourists whose paths eventually lead straight to the deadly girls, though even this has a satisfying punchline.
The first subtitled version of this film appeared courtesy of Redemption in the UK on VHS, minus several minutes of gory footage (most notably during the climax and a lengthy torture sequence). An uncut presentation of the same transfer appeared on Dutch laserdisc from Copper Sky, complete with a Rollin commentary in halting English found nowhere else, the French trailer, an alternate German track with different music, and the trailer for Rollin's The Iron Rose. For its DVD premiere, Image and Redemption supplied an uncut, flat letterboxed version in nice condition from the negative with optional yellow English subtitles. As with most of Rollin's other horror output, the Dutch company Encore also issued a three-disc edition with a multitude of subtitle options (and French and German audio options), a fleeting Blanchard intro and selected scene commentary, video interviews with Rollin and Blanchard about the film, and a half-hour interview with regular Rollin collaborator Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and another with D'Aram, both of them essentially unedited. Also included are three completely disposable deleted filler scenes, a gallery, and a soundtrack CD for the third disc. Meanwhile the film's reputation (bolstered by the fact that it inspired one of Rob Zombie's best songs) continued to soar.
Redemption also reissued a DVD under their own banner in both the US and the UK, but the version to beat is easily the 2012 Blu-Ray and DVD edition released by Kino Lorber with the Redemption brand. It's a gorgeous transfer, not surprisingly, and on par with the best of their previous Rollin releases. (Think The Nude Vampire or Fascination.) It's also the cleanest to date, with just a tiny speck or fleck here and there but almost completely pristine; for some reason the negative for this has always appeared to be in excellent shape, a rarity for a film from the era with such a low budget and no major studio distribution. The French audio sounds excellent, and as usual, optional English subtitles are provided.
Rollin provides a very brief video intro to the film (basically saying it was his second gore title and did well in Europe), but the extras really begin with a hilariously colorful interview with Bouyxou (distilled skillfully from his longer ones), who speaks for almost seven minutes in very colorful terms about the parallels between gore and porn, Blanchard's shamelessness in showing off her body, and Rollin dubbed the voice for one actor, among other topics. He returns in the next featurette, "The American Version," a tantalizing explanation of the film's "versione Americaine" credit; apparently someone named Gregory Heller was on the set with another camera, using the same cast and crew to make the same film in English, and that version has apparently been lost somewhere in the vaults. It's an amazing concept to contemplate, to say the least. "Music by Philippe D'Aram" is a very welcome streamlined eight-minute chat with the composer, who explains how the lack of funding for an orchestra led him to experiment with instruments like the zither and a music box by way of a synthesizer. "When I Was Seventeen: An Homage to Benoît Lestang " is a wonderful 11-minute interview with the make-up and special effects artist who died way too young at 43 and got his start on this film before moving on to the likes of Bitter Moon, Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and perhaps his all-time masterpiece, Martyrs. (Bouyxou also appears here, too, in interspersed comments offering some context for the artist's remarks.) Next comes a 36-minute series of video highlights from Rollin's 2007 appearance at Fantasia in Montreal, first doing a quick interview upon arriving and then Q&As for the audience to tie in with screenings of Shiver of the Vampires and Night of the Clocks. Lestang briefly does an introduction as well, and a quick coda has Rollin at a restaurant and on the street chatting a little more about his career. A separate interview with Rollin offers almost three minutes of additional excerpts from Fantasia, talking exclusively about The Living Dead Girl, its emphasis on the past, and making the switch from vampire movies. Finally you get trailers for all the Kino and Redemption Rollin titles to date: this one, The Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire, Shiver of the Vampires, Requiem for a Vampire, The Iron Rose, The Demoniacs, Lips of Blood, Fascination, and Two Orphan Vampires.The 12-page insert booklet contains liner notes by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, who draws comparisons between the two films and offers some thoughts on the performers, the critical reception of both, and their placement within the Rollin canon. Definitely a major release for any self-respecting fan of the cinema fantastique.
Updated review on August 10, 2012.