International Horror Review: A Virgin Among The Living Dead (dir by Jess Franco)


This 1973 Spanish-French-Italian production’s title is both its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, it’s impossible to forget a title like A Virgin Among the Living Dead.  It’s a title that mixes both horror and sex, which are two things of which audiences simply cannot get enough.  On the other hand, this is a a Jess Franco film and the title — which is so blatant and over-the-top — sounds like it could almost be a parody of Franco’s “unique” style of film-making.  If you were coming up with a fake Franco film, you would probably give it a title that sounded a lot like “A Virgin Among the Living Dead.”  A Virgin In The Castle of Dr. Orloff, perhaps.

Interestingly enough, Franco absolutely hated the film’s title.  It, and quite a few other titles, were slapped onto the film by distributors who were apparently unconcerned with the fact that the film was not meant to be one of Franco’s typical, give-me-my-paycheck exploitation films.  Franco’s title for the film was Night of the Shooting Stars, which is a bit bland but perhaps also a bit more honest.  Incidentally, the film was also released under the titles Christina, Princess of Eroticism and The Erotic Dreams of Christina, which again were titles that Franco disliked.

In the version I saw (and, admittedly, there’s several versions floating around), it’s never even stated that the film’s frequently unclothed protagonist, Christina (Christina von Blanc), is a virgin.  When compared to the other decadent members of her family, she certainly is innocent.  For instance, she doesn’t drink blood or engage in strange purification rituals.  When the cheerfully cynical Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon, because this is a Franco film, after all) plays a waltz while another member of the family is dying upstairs, Christina is properly shocked.  But, at no point, is Christina identified as being a virgin.

In fact, Christina is rather uninhibited, nonchalantly greeting strangers (and a rather creepy servant, played by Franco himself) in her underwear, sleeping naked in a room with an unlocked door, and later casually skinny dipping in a nearby swamp.  (When she’s informed that two wide-eyed townspeople were watching her from a nearby hill, she shrugs it off.)  Perhaps she’s meant to be an Eve-like character, unaware of sex or her nudity until she eats from the tree of knowledge.  Am I giving too much credit to Jess Franco?  As is often the case with Franco, it’s hard to say.

As far as the film itself goes …. well, the plot isn’t always easy to follow.  Christina has come to her family’s ancestral home for the reading of her dead father’s will.  Her father hanged himself and, though he’s dead, he keeps showing up.  Christina immediately discovers that the other members of her family are collection of rogues, eccentrics, and blood drinkers.  She also eventually learns that all the members of her family are the living dead and that they’re all worried that Christina will make them leave the estate.  Or are they?  Is Christina just dreaming all of this or is it really happening?  Is the Queen of Night really coming to claim everyone’s soul or is that just a part of Christina’s hallucinations?

A Virgin Among The Living Dead features all of Franco’s usual directorial quirks.  The story rambles.  Franco alternates between scenes of surreal beauty and scenes of almost indifferent framing.  At times, the score is hauntingly ominous and then, at other times, it sounds like it was lifted from a 70s porno.  Christina comes across as being a beautiful blank but Howard Vernon is memorably perverse as Uncle Howard and all the members of the family are amusingly decadent.  For once, though, all these quirks work to the film’s advantage, creating a surreal dreamscape that truly does seem to exist in a land between life and death.  A Virgin Among The Living Dead truly does become a work of pure cinema, one in which the the visuals and the mood become the narrative as opposed to the film’s story itself.

Franco may have hated the title that was slapped on it but this is actually one of his better films.  Unfortunately, how you react to the film will probably depend on which version you see.  There are several floating around, some of which feature hardcore inserts that were filmed by other directors.  There’s another version that features extra zombie footage that was filmed by Jean Rollin.  The Redemption Blu-ray features Franco’s cut of the film, with no hardcore or extra zombie footage.  That said, the scenes that Rollin shot are included as an extra.  Personally, I like Rollin’s zombie footage but, at the same time, I can also see how its inclusion would have destroyed the film’s already deliberate pace.

(And, of course, it goes without saying that I’m opposed to producers inserting extra scenes into any film, especially when that footage wasn’t directed by the original director.)

Anyway, A Virgin Among The Living Dead never reaches the existential heights of Female Vampire but it’s still one of Franco’s “good” films.  Even if he did hate the title….

4 Shots From 4 Jess Franco Films: The Awful Dr. Orloff, Count Dracula, A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Female Vampire


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Yesterday, we paid tribute to Jean Rollin.  Today, we pay tribute to another master of Eurohorror with….

4 Shots From 4 Jess Franco Films

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1961, dir by Jess Franco)

Count Dracula (1970, dir by Jess Franco)

A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1971, dir by Jess Franco)

Female Vampire (1973, dir by Jess Franco)

4 Shots From Horror History: Psycho, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Awful Dr. Orlof, Black Sabbath


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we start the 1960s!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

THe Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman)

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962, dir by Jesus Franco)

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962, dir by Jesus Franco)

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Faceless (dir by Jess Franco)


FacelessPoster1988

Whenever it comes time to review a film like 1988’s Faceless, movie bloggers like me are faced with a very important question.  Which name should we use for this film’s prolific director?  The director was born Jesus Franco Manera and, for a very small handful of his 200+ film, he’s actually credited by his full name.  However, for the majority of his films, he dropped the Manera.  Sometimes, he is credited as Jesus Franco and then other times, the director’s credit reads Jesse Franco or just simply Jess Franco.

Myself, I usually prefer to go with “Jess Franco,” because it just seems to go with his “never give up” style of filmmaking.  At the same time, it seems rather appropriate that Franco is known by more than one name because he was a director with a many different personas, occasionally a serious artist, occasionally a subversive prankster, and sometimes a director-for-hire.  Franco was a lover of jazz and his films often had a similarly improvised feel.  Sometimes, the results were, to put it lightly, not very memorable.  But, for every Oasis of the Zombies, there was always a chance that Franco would give the world a film like Female Vampire.  The imdb credits Franco with directing 203 films before his death in 2013 but it’s generally agreed that he probably directed a lot more.  A lot of his films may not have worked but the ones that did are memorable enough to justify searching for them.

Faceless is Franco’s take on Eyes Without A Face, as well as being something of a descendant of his first film, The Awful Dr. Orloff.  All three of these films deal with a doctor trying to repair a loved one’s disfigured face.  In Faceless, the doctor is Dr. Flammad (Helmut Berger), a wealthy and decadent Paris-based plastic surgeon.  One night, while out with his sister Ingird (Christiane Jean) and his nurse and lover Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie, the former pornographic actress who appeared in several of Jean Rollin’s best films, including the brilliant Night of the Hunted), Dr. Flammad is confronted by a former patient.  Flammad botched her operation so the patient tries to get back at him by tossing acid in his face.  However, Ingrid shoves Flammad out of the way and ends up getting splashed by the acid instead.

Now disfigured, Ingrid spends her time hidden away in Flammad’s clinic and wearing a mask.  Flammad and Nathalie start to kidnap models and actresses, searching for a perfect face.  Flammad’s plan is to perform a face transplant, giving Ingrid a new and beautiful face.

Needless to say, a face transplant is not a simple thing to do.  In order to get some advice, they go to the mysterious Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon) and Orloff directs them to a Nazi war criminal named Dr. Moser (Anton Diffring).  Now, if you’re not familiar with Franco’s work, the scene with Dr. Orloff will probably seem like pointless filler.  However, if you are a Francophile, you will feel incredibly relieved to see Howard Vernon suddenly pop up.  When it comes Franco’s films, a Howard Vernon cameo is usually a good sign.

Flammad’s search for the perfect face is complicated by the fact that his assistant, the moronic Gordon (Gerard Zalcberg), keeps accidentally killing and otherwise damaging all of the prospects.  As the bodies continue to pile up, Nathalie even points out that there’s “too many dead bodies” in the clinic.

(Of course, Nathalie isn’t doing much to solve that problem.  When the film got to the moment where Nathalie plunged a syringe into one troublesome patient’s eye, I ended up watching the movie between my fingers.)

Eventually, Nathalie kidnaps a coke-addicted model named Barbara (Caroline Munro).  Flammad thinks that Barbara might finally be the perfect face that they’ve been looking for but there’s a problem.  (Actually, two problems if you count Gordon…)  Barbara’s father (Telly Savalas) is a wealthy industrialist and he wants his daughter back.  He hires an American private investigator, Sam Morgan (Chris Mitchum, looking a lot like his father Robert), to track her down.

Actually, it’s not that much of a problem.  It quickly turns out that Sam is kind of an idiot.  Plus, since he’s American, nobody in Paris wants to help him.  A Paris police inspector orders him to go home, yells at him for always chewing gum, and then adds, “You are not Bogart!”

And things only get stranger from there…

Faceless is one of Franco’s better films, a mix of over-the-top glamour (Faceless was filmed in Paris, after all) and grindhouse sleaze.  Though there is a definite storyline, the film still feels like an extended improvisation, with characters and plot points coming out of nowhere and then disappearing just as quickly.  If we’re going to be totally honest, the film is kind of a mess but it’s a glorious and stylish mess, one that is never less than watchable.

One of the great tragedies of American politics is that Chris Mitchum has twice been defeated when he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (though he did come close to winning in 2014).  Not only would it be great to have Robert Mitchum’s son as a member of Congress but it would be even better to know that our laws were being written, in part, by the star of Faceless.  Unfortunately, Chris is sitting out the 2016 election.  Hopefully, he’ll reconsider and file for at least one office.

Run, Chris, run!

Christopher Lee, R.I.P.


Jinnah

The picture above is Christopher Lee in the 1998 film Jinnah.  In this epic biopic, Lee played Muhammad Ali Jinniah, the founder of modern Pakistan.  Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Jinnah but, after news of Lee’s death broke, Jinnah was frequently cited as being Lee’s personal favorite of his many roles and films.

Consider that.  Christopher Lee began his film career in the 1940s and he worked steadily up until his death.  He played Dracula.  He played The Man with the Golden Gun.  Christopher Lee appeared, with his future best friend Peter Cushing, in Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet.  He played Seurat in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge.  He appeared in both The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.  He appeared in several films for Tim Burton.  He even had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  He appeared in two Star Wars prequels.  He appeared in the original Wicker Man (and reportedly considered it to be his favorite of his many horror films).  He appeared in Oscar winners and box office hits.  And, out of all that, Christopher Lee’s personal favorite was Jinnah, a film that most people have never heard about.

Unless, of course, you live in Pakistan.  When I did a google search on Christopher Lee, I came across several Pakistani news sources that announced: “Christopher Lee, star of Jinnah, has died.”

And really, that somehow seems appropriate.  Christopher Lee was the epitome of an international film star.  He worked for Hammer in the UK.  He worked with Jess Franco in Spain and Mario Bava in Italy.  He appeared in several movies in the United States.  And, in Pakistan, he played Jinnah.  And I haven’t seen Jinnah but I imagine he was probably as great in that role as he was in every other role that I saw him play.  Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee appeared in many good films but he also appeared in his share of bad ones.  But Christopher Lee was always great.

It really is hard to know where to begin with Christopher Lee.  Though his death was announced on Thursday, I haven’t gotten around to writing this tribute until Friday.  Admittedly, when I first heard that Lee had passed away, I was on a romantic mini-vacation and had promised myself that I would avoid, as much as possible, getting online for two days.  But, even more than for those personal reasons, I hesitated because I just did not know where to start when it came to talking about Christopher Lee.  He was one of those figures who overwhelmed by his very existence.

We all know that Christopher Lee was a great and iconic actor.  And I imagine that a lot of our readers know that Lee had a wonderfully idiosyncratic musical career, releasing his first heavy metal album when he was in his 80s.  Did you know that Lee also served heroically during World War II and, after the war ended, helped to track down fleeing Nazi war criminals?  Did you know that it has been speculated that Lee may have served as one of the role models for James Bond?  (Ian Fleming was a cousin of Lee’s and even tried to convince Lee to play Dr. No in the first Bond film.)  Christopher Lee lived an amazing life, both on and off the screen.

But, whenever one reads about Christopher Lee and his career or watches an interview with the man, the thing that always comes across is that, for someone who played so many evil characters, Christopher Lee appeared to be one the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet.  Somehow, it was never a shock to learn that his best friend was his frequent screen nemesis, Peter Cushing.

Christopher Lee is one of those great actors who we assumed would always be here.  The world of cinema will be a sadder world without him.

Legends together

Legends together

Here is a list of Christopher Lee films that we’ve reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Admittedly, not all of these reviews focus on Lee but they do provide a hint of the man’s versatility:

  1. Airport ’77
  2. Dark Shadows
  3. Dracula A.D. 1972
  4. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
  5. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  6. Hercules in the Haunted World
  7. The Hobbit
  8. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  9. Horror Express
  10. The Horror of Dracula
  11. Hugo
  12. Jocks
  13. The Man With The Golden Gun
  14. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  15. Scars of Dracula
  16. Scream and Scream Again
  17. Season of the Witch
  18. Starship Invasions
  19. Taste The Blood of Dracula
  20. The Wicker Tree

Sir Christopher Lee was 93 years old and he lived those 9 decades in the best way possible.  As long as there are film lovers, he will never be forgotten.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #34: Nightmares Come At Night (dir by Jess Franco)


nightmarescome2big For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the process of reviewing 126 cinematic melodramas.  Embracing the Melodrama Part Two started in 1927 with a look at Sunrise and now, 33 reviews later, we’ve finally reached the 70s.  And what else can I say about that other than to exclaim, “Yay!”

Seriously, a lot of good films were released in the 1970s.

We begin the 70s by taking a look at a film from the iconic and (to some people) infamous Spanish director Jess Franco.  Over the course of 54 years, director Jesus Franco Manera was credited with directing 203 films.  In all probability, the workaholic Franco directed a lot more than he’s been credited with.  As I wrote about Franco in my previous review of Female Vampire: “Among critics, Franco is usually either dismissed as a total hack (and/or pervert) or embraced as the living embodiment of the auteur theory.  Though no one’s quite sure how many films Franco has directed, Franco himself has estimated that he’s directed more than 200 films and, for the most part, he has financed and distributed them all on his own.  Franco has worked in every genre from thriller to comedy to hardcore pornography, but he is probably best known for directing low-budget, occasionally atmospheric erotic horror films.”

Now, I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about using a paragraph from an old review in a new review.  (And, as you may have noticed, I reviewed Female Vampire before Franco passed away in 2013.)  But, then again, it feels somewhat appropriate because Franco was famous for and unapologetic about taking bits and pieces of old and unfinished films and inserting them into new films.  That’s certainly the case with his 1970 film Nightmares Come At Night.

Nightmares Come At Night opens with Anna (Diana Lorys) living in an atmospheric mansion with her lover, Cynthia (Colette Giacobine).  Anna is haunted by frequent nightmares where she sees herself killing strange men with a spear.  Cynthia arranges for Anna to talk to an enigmatic doctor (Paul Muller).  Anna tells the doctor about how she was once a famous erotic dancer until she met Cynthia.  At this point, we get several lengthy flashbacks of Anna dancing in an oddly desolate club, all of which adds to the film’s ennui-drenched atmosphere.

Talking to the doctor doesn’t do Anna much good and she continues to have her nightmares except now the nightmares also seem to feature men giving lengthy monologues.  It soon becomes obvious that the neurotic Anna is being held as a virtual prisoner in the house by the dominating Cynthia.

(It’s a bit like a Lifetime movie, except everyone’s naked for 85% of the film’s running time.)

Meanwhile, we occasionally get shots of two people staring out of an unrelated window.  Eventually, we realize that they’re supposed to be Cynthia’s neighbors.  One of them is played by Franco’s frequent muse, Soledad Miranda.  (Miranda would tragically die in an automobile accident in 1970.)  Anyone who is familiar with Franco’s work will immediately notice that Miranda’s look in Nightmares was later duplicated by Lina Romay in Female Vampire.  The neighbors are obsessed with Anna.  As the film progresses, we discover that, when not looking out the window, they spend most of their time lying on a filthy mattress.  At one point, the camera zooms in for a close-up of the graffiti that’s been written on the wall over the mattress.

LIFE IS ALL SHIT, it reads.

To a certain extent, it’s pointless to say that Nightmares Come At Night is a disjointed film because almost all of Franco’s films were disjointed.  That’s actually what gave even the weakest of his films an odd and memorably dreamlike feel.  But Nightmares Come At Night is even more disjointed than usual.  That’s because Nightmares Come At Night was made out of a mix of footage shot for other films.  The scenes with Soledad Miranda were for an earlier, unfinished film.  Those scenes were combined with the footage of Anna, Cynthia, and the doctor.  The end result is a film that doesn’t necessarily much sense but you still have to admire Franco’s refusal to let any footage go to waste.

Ultimately, as with so many Franco films, Nightmares Come At Night is less about plot and all about atmosphere.  This is a film that is full of ennui and existential decadence.  It’s not one of Franco’s best films but, much like last year’s underrated California Scheming, it’s a bit of a minor existential classic when taken on its own terms.

(Please note: the trailer below is mildly NSFW.  Watch at your own risk.)

Poll: Which Movie Should Lisa Marie Watch on March 20th?


Anyone who knows me knows that sometimes I just can’t help but love being dominated. 

That’s why, on occasion, I’ll give you, our beloved readers, the option of telling me which film to watch and review.  In the past, you’ve commanded me to watch and review Anatomy of a Murder, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Logan’s Run

Well, here’s your chance to, once again, tell me what to do.  I’ve randomly selected 12 films from my film collection.  Whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me next Tuesday, March 20th.

Here are the films up for consideration:

1) Black Jesus (1968) — This Italian film stars Woody Strode as an African rebel leader who is captured by his country’s right-wing, American-backed dictatorship. 

2) Capote (2005) — Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar for best actor for playing writer Truman Capote in this film that details how Capote came to write his true crime classic, In Cold Blood.  This film was also nominated for best picture.

3) Chappaqua (1966) — In this underground cult classic, drug addict Conrad Rooks seeks treatment in Switzerland while being haunted by a scornful William S. Burroughs.  This film features cameo from Allen Ginsberg, The Fugs, and just about every other cult figure from 1966.

4) Crazy/Beautiful (2001) — Jay Fernandez and Kirsten Dunst have lots and lots of sex.  This was like one of my favorite movies to catch on cable back when I was in high school. 🙂

5) An Education (2008) — In my favorite movie from 2008, Carey Mulligan is a schoolgirl in 1960s England who has a secret affair with an older man (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who has plenty of secrets of his own.  Co-starring Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Dominic Cooper (who is to die for, seriously).

6) Female Vampire (1973) — In this atmospheric and ennui-filled film from the infamous Jesus Franco, a female vampire spends the whole movie wandering around naked and dealing with the lost souls who want to join the ranks of the undead. 

7) Nightmare City (1980) — In this gory and fast-paced film from Umberto Lenzi, an accident at a nuclear plant leads to a bunch of blood-thirsty zombies rampaging through both the city and the countryside.  Hugo Stiglitz plays Dean Miller, zombie exterminator!  Nightmare City is probably most remembered for introducing the concept of the fast zombie and for serving as an obvious inspiration for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

8) The Other Side of Midnight (1977) — Based on a best-selling novel, The Other Side of Midnight tells the story of a poor French girl who becomes a world-famous actress and who ends up sleeping with apparently every wealthy man in the world.  Meanwhile, the man she loves ends up marrying Susan Sarandon.  Eventually, it all ends with both a hurricane and a murder.  Apparently, this film cost a lot of money to make and it was a notorious box office bomb.  It looks kinda fun to me.

9) Peyton Place (1957) — Also based on a best-selling novel, Peyton Place is about love, sex, and scandal in a small town.  Lana Turner is a repressed woman with a past who struggles to keep her daughter from making the same mistakes.  At the time it was made, it was considered to be quite racy and it was even nominated for best picture.  This film is a personal favorite of mine and it’s pretty much set the template for every single film ever shown on Lifetime.

10) Rosebud (1975) — From director Otto Preminger comes this film about what happens when a bunch of rich girls on a yacht are taken hostage by Islamic extremists.  The film’s diverse cast includes Peter O’Toole, Richard Attenborough, Cliff Gorman, former New York Mayor John Lindsay, former Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford, Raf Vallone, Adrienne Corri, Lalla Ward, Isabelle Huppert, and Kim Cattrall.

11) Valley of the Dolls (1967) — Oh my God, I love this movie so much!  Three aspiring actresses move to the big city and soon become hooked on pills and bad relationship decisions. Every time I watch this movie, I spend hours yelling, “I’m Neely O’Hara, bitch!” at the top of my lungs.

12) Zombie Lake (1981) — From my favorite French director, Jean Rollin, comes this extremely low budget film about a bunch of Nazi zombies who keep coming out of the lake and attacking the nearby village.  Some people claim that this is the worst zombie films ever made.  I disagree.

Please vote below for as many or as few of these films as you want to.  The poll will remain open until March 20th and whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me.

Happy voting!