“Hey miss, you shouldn’t go around showing your ass”
“And why not?”
Jess Franco is a strange one. He is revered as much as he is condemned for his extreme sexuality and almost nonsensical story telling style. His films are actually well made (usually), but tend to go against the accepted conventions of the genre. Franco takes familiar themes and turns them on their ear. One of his most loved films is A Virgin among the Living Dead. This film is a very personal one for Franco and it plays as much in the story of a woman alone in a world of death. More after the jump…
Things get rolling quickly as Christina Benson (Christina von Blanc) arrives in town and checks into a small and dilapidated looking Inn. She is in town for the reading of her father’s Will at the infamous Castle Monteserate, which is supposedly deserted. Though she is warned and has reservations, she feels that since it’s her family, that it’s her duty. The next morning, a Mr. Basilio (Franco himself) pick her up and take her to the estate (I know what you’re thinking, these things never go as planned, do they?).
When she arrives at the Castle, she is greeted by a piano player, her Uncle Howard (Howard Vernon) who informs her that her step mother, Herminia is dying. Right off the bat we get a taste of what’s in store as she meets the sultry Carmencé (Britt Nickols), who surprises her with a kiss on the lips, then turns away as if it didn’t matter. Christina is taken aback by the episode and heads upstairs to see her dying step mother, whose last words are “Run, run away”. I probably would have stayed myself, but this next bit of business would have definitely had me out the door.
In what is the most disturbing funeral I have ever seen, Herminia is propped up in a chair, eyes and mouth open, as if she is a representation of the Virgin Mary. Uncle Howard smokes as he plays the piano and the family recites verse in what sounds like Latin. Carmencé of course seems to be there because nothing else is going on and actually is painting her toe tails in a robe during the ceremony. After the funeral, Christina heads to her room and beds down naked (if that’s how they roll in Europe then I’m moving), only to be awakened by weird goings on that include Basilio and a strange blind girl. The blind girl says that she senses the goodness in her and that she will pray for Christina’s safety. Ominous, eh?
After a naked swim (OK, I’m definitely moving) she runs into a young guy who gives her the same warning about the Castle. Wanting to prove him wrong, she invites him back only to get the shit slapped out of her by her Uncle, warning her never to bring anyone over. The scene escalates as she finds dead bats laid out on her bed and runs out, culminating in a nightmarish run in with Carmencé. She barges into a room and finds the sex pot with the blind girl, in what seems to be a sexual interaction. Well, sexual, yes, but not in a normal way. The blind girl stands motionless as Carmencé, who has cut her with scissors, sucks the blood from just above her breasts. Christina runs out but doesn’t leave the Castle yet (There better be something good in that Will).
It seems that everyone in the family is looking for a little extra as Basilio and her Aunt Abigail (Rosa Palomar) have cut off Herminia’s arm for the jewels and plan on taking her teeth next. Christina walks in on the scene and faints, only to wake up to Carmencé, all but entirely naked and spread eagle, informing her that it’s time for the reading. Thank GOD, now we can find out what she gets for her troubles. Her father leaves her everything much to the dismay of everyone else, that was expected, what wasn’t expected was his collection of “Ebonize Phallics”. Let me get this straight, this man dies and not only does he have a collection of blacks dicks, but he leaves them to his daughter? How, um…thoughtful.
Everything up till this point has been a slow build, as we see the madness unfold in tasty little bites. After the reading however, the nightmarish under current explodes. Christina wakes to find a black phallus on the floor of her room. She crawls toward it and shatters it. That wasn’t very nice. The blind girl sits in the corner and informs her that she is now doomed. Had she just loved it, she would be OK. WOW. What follows is a series of Satanic rituals, incestrial (and possibly necrophilic) rape, visits from her dead, noose wearing father, a more as she struggles to escape the ever growing madness of Castle Monteserate.
Though the film deals with zombies, it’s not the flesh eating undead that we come to expect. In fact, it deals with death itself more than anything else. This is understandable when you realize that the film is in many ways a catharsis for Franco. In 1970, Soledad Miranda, star of Franco’s Eugénie de Sade, Vampyros Lesbos, was killed in a car accident, reportedly on her way to sign a multi picture deal with him. Franco was devastated having made seven films with her in the span of less than a year. He had found his star and then she was ripped away. The character of Christina is a young woman who starts off with very little, is taken by Franco himself, to land that will bring her riches, and then death slowly takes it all away.
Seen in that context, it’s becomes more tragic than horrific, and just maybe, you can understand the world he sees, if only for a moment. This is a very personal film for Franco as the ordeal is a personal one for Christina. A life destroyed in a simple decision to take a trip to better ones self. Watch this film, not as a horror film, but as a love letter to a fallen star that inspired Franco’s best work and a legacy we still admire today.