Following the sudden death of her estranged father (Paul Muller), Christina (Christina von Blanc) travels from London to Spain in order to be present at the reading of her father's will. Christina has never met most of her extended family before, knowing them only through photographs, so it is a shock to meet Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon), a man who alternates between cold and jovial, playing the piano even as his sister / Christina's step-mother inches toward her own death. The house is also occupoed by Uncle Howard's mysterious blonde companion Carmencé (Britt Nickols), and a mumbling, brain-dead servant (director Jess Franco himself) who spends most of his time giggling to himself. Moments before Christina's step-mother dies, she warns her to leave, a request echoed in the locals' insistance that the valley with her father's home is dead and deserted, but Christina stays, allowing the nightmare to deepen.
Christina, Princess of Eroticism is a bizarre, hallucinatory blast of dream logic, punctuated by strange humor, unexplained sexuality, and surreal violence. While forces of reason and logic (as well as the ghost of her father) pull at Christina to leave the mansion and return to London, she doesn't seem to process this information, returning to a normal routine time and time again as if nothing was wrong. Viewers unprepared for a distinctly non-literal, non-linear filmgoing experience will probably find the movie actively frustrating -- hell, it's hardly even a horror movie in any traditional sense, frequently foregoing scenes of suspense and thrills for lenthy sequences packed with frenetic symbolism.
In the early days of his career, Franco hit upon a muse in the form of actress Soledad Miranda, who he endeavored to turn into a star. She had just signed a major contract and was on the verge of becoming a breakout star when she died suddenly in a car accident while she and Franco were working on a picture. In response, Franco threw himself into several projects as more of a "gun for hire" while he healed emotionally and creatively. Christina was a major step in Franco's grief process: the young and beautiful Christina is inexorably sucked into a devilish nightmare. Knowing this is crucial to following the movie (albeit in more of an artistic sense than a narrative sense) -- scenes that seem confusing and odd pick up a little meaning when viewed as therapeutic. Mostly, this explains away Christina's decision-making process as an element beyond her control: at one point she walks in on a naked Carmencé sucking the blood out of a chest wound she's inflicted with a pair of scissors on an equally naked blind woman. Christina is horrified, but the next scene is of her listlessly eating dinner as if nothing was the matter. She's trapped in a sense that may transform completely from inexplicably frustrating to supernaturally haunting depending on how the viewer takes the movie in. Although the movie never really refers to it, the sexual symbolism of Christina's virginity also lingers, although Franco's exploration of this subject ranges from bizarre (his servant character lunges at her, holding a severed chicken head) to unintentionally comical (Christina awakes to find a giant black dildo on the floor, which she bats away in anger).
Directorially, Franco is at his best during the film's more tragic scenes, in which the ghost of Christina's father, a noose still tied around his neck, begs her to leave. In one spectacular sequence, he is pulled back into the darkness by a woman he describes as the Queen of the Night (Anne Libert), then floats through the woods surrounding the mansion, while Christina follows. The final moments of the film add yet another layer of otherwordly mystery to the movie, forcing the viewer to re-examine everything they've already seen. For Franco newcomers, there are almost certainly better places to start than Christina, Princess of Eroticism, but for those familiar with the director, there are some effective moments in this unusual expression of grief.
Kino Lorber continues their Redemption line with this art for A Virgin Among the Living Dead, which has a painting straight off the 1973 theatrical poster. The treatment of the title is a little odd, utilizing two fonts, but I suppose it's better than other covers seen online using a cheeseball "Halloween" font. The single-disc Blu-Ray comes in a standard non-eco Blu-Ray case, and there is no booklet or insert -- a bit unusual for Redemption titles, but no different than the other two Franco films in this wave.
The Video and AUdio
As with the other new Kino / Redemption Franco discs, the main issue with this 1.66:1 1080p AVC transfer is print damage. The optical opening credits are in pretty rough shape, and there's almost always some speckling or scratches visible, but this is reasonably well-preserved. Blacks can crush a bit, looking their worst during a dark hotel scene at the beginning (the concierge's black hair disappears into the black background) and a brief night-time chase just past the middle, but in the daytime, the picture looks very natural, with nice color reproduction and impressive detail. As with the other discs, the limitations of this transfer are obviously based on the limitation of the elements provided to Kino and not a fault of the disc, and fans should be more than happy to excuse them, considering how bad films of this nature have historically looked on bargain DVDs, in edited and dubbed form.
Audio is a French LPCM 2.0 track that sounds nice and clean. There is a hint of fuzziness to it, but nothing like the distortion on Nightmares Come at Night. Each note of the film's twangy score is nicely rendered, and the dialogue has a satisfying crispness to it, although a scene of Howard playing the piano is oddly muted (possibly on purpose). An English LPCM 2.0 track and English subtitles are included.
Despite the Blu-Ray cover art boasting this title, A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1:30:08, HD) is actually an "extra feature" on this release, offering the same audio and subtitle options as the theatrical feature. This version of the movie tries to bring the film back from a surrealist edge by introducing zombie footage directed by Jean Rollin. Not surprisingly, the addition of these scenes only serves to make the movie less coherent, jerking back and forth from goofy zombie scenes to Franco's more esoteric tone, punctuated by the obvious need to hide the face of the girl standing in for Christina von Blanc. In terms of supplemental features, it's obviously great that both cuts of the movie are included on this disc (many have only seen this version), but it's hard to imagine returning to this Frankenstein monster of an alternate cut.
The shorter feature presentation is graced with yet another audio commentary by Jess Franco biographer and Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, who again opens up his vast knowledge of Franco's career and artistic endeavors for an insightful slice of history. Of all three commentary tracks by Lucas on these discs, I found this one to be the most indispensible -- his discussion of Franco's process on this film, and the way it stemmed from the director's real-life bout with depression in the face of Miranda's death, was crucial to my own understanding of the picture.
Aside from Lucas' commentary, the highlight of this package is a Jess Franco interview (11:12, HD). This is clearly from the same session as the interview on the Awful Dr. Orlof disc, and again, Franco is very lively and insightful, providing plenty of insight on the bizarre nature of this movie, the production history, and his memories of making it. The feature, like its counterpart, is helpfully subtitled in English, in case Franco's accent makes him hard to understand. "The Three Faces of Christina" (11:52, HD) is a video piece touching on some of Franco's career history before looking into the various cuts of the movie. On one hand, I expected and might've preferred one of Kino's more focused photo essays, which are almost uniformly excellent, but on the other hand, that might lack the unvarnished disdain of historian Alain Petit, who doesn't hold back on his hatred for the "erotic" version (he's marginally less angry about the Rollin version). This is accompanied by a reel of the alternate erotic footage (5:18, HD) that Petit hates so much, and it's hard to disagree -- this is pretty bland, meaningless softcore stuff, all easily less sensual than anything that's actually in the movie. Last but not least, once again, the "Homage to Jess" (aka "Jess! What Are You Doing Now?", 8:24, HD) appears.
The disc is rounded out by a photo gallery, and a series of trailers, for The Awful Dr. Orlof, Female Vampire, Exorcism (aka Demoniac), and Oasis of the Zombies. An original theatrical trailer for A Virgin Among the Living Dead is also included.
Christina, Princess of Eroticism is a challenging movie, but that doesn't mean it's a bad one. Those checking out Franco's films for the first time should probably go with something more traditional, like The Awful Dr. orlof, and slowly work their way up, but this is another strong package from Kino that easily earns a recommendation thanks to its bevy of informative supplemental features and the inclusion of Franco's original cut.
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