French art house director Jean Rollin can be something of an acquired taste. His fantasy horror films are often chock full of nubile young women in various states of undress, but just as often slow moving, confusing and obscure. Nevertheless, he has influenced a lot of more mainstream filmmakers, such as Rob Zombie (if he can be described as mainstream), who named a song after the film under review today, The Living Dead Girl
The Living Dead Girl itself is a little hard to classify. As the title implies, it's a story of a young woman who returns from the dead, but sort of as a hybrid between a vampire and a zombie. Catherine (Francoise Blanchard) died young, but is revived after a few years when some clumsy chemical plant workers accidentally spill some nasty barrels they are trying to secrete in her crypt. The fumes from the chemicals wash over Catherine, and she awakes, immediately killing the workmen and drinking their blood. In a daze, she stumbles upstairs into her ancestral home, which is now on the market for sale. On a whim, her close childhood friend Helene (Marina Pierro) calls the house. Catherine answers, but is unable to speak, and only opens the music box they listened to as children.
Disturbed by this, Helene rushes to her friend's former home, only to discover Catherine alive (sort of), and having killed the realtor and her boyfriend, who came to the opulent chateau for a romantic tryst. Without wasting a minute, Helene tells Catherine that she has to clean up, and they'll dispose of the bodies and make a run for it. Catherine resists leaving, feeling more comfortable in the home she grew up in. Interspersed with all of this is the story of an American couple, Greg and Barbara (Mike Marshall and Carina Barone). They fancy themselves photographers, and Barbara, who snapped a picture of Catherine by chance, is convinced that she has evidence of the walking dead among the living.
As this film is essentially a tragedy, along with being a horror movie and a Sapphic (though platonic) love story, things don't exactly end well. And even though it moves at what one might charitably describe as a leisurely pace, it has a fairly compelling story, decent performances, fun effects, and, of course, attractive nude women splattered with blood, which is generally a plus for genre fans, or at least Jean Rollin fans. The relationship between Helene and Catherine is genuine, heartfelt, and at times even moving. It meditates on ideas about friendship, duty, debt, honor, love and the nature of evil, with subtlety and compassion. That's not to say that this is a masterpiece of cinema, because it's not. But it is a better than decent attempt at depth in a genre that generally doesn't care about it, on a film with a miniscule budget by most standards. As such, The Living Dead Girl is, along with perhaps The Grapes of Death, one of Rollin's most accessible films, and a good starting point for Rollin beginners who want to get an idea of what he's all about.
Let's be clear, Jean Rollin is not an overlooked master of cinema. He's a workmanlike, very idiosyncratic director who made films he thought were interesting without too much regard for what would play commercially or even whether they fit into standard film conventions. He had a few flashes of genius, but they were few and far between, and often severely hampered by extremely low budgets and short shooting schedules. Even so, he has a very dedicated fan base who love his work, and is definitely worth a look by serious students of film, especially of the horror genre, extra especially for those interested in the European horror renaissance of the 1960s and onward. Redemption has done a very good job in the Blu-ray presentation of The Living Dead Girl, and Rollin devotees will definitely want to seek it out. Recommended.
Introduction by Jean Rollin
Jean Rollin at Fantasia
Jean Rollin Trailers