Monday, April 20, 2009

The Living Dead Girl

Perhaps Jean Rollin's most commercial (?), accessible (?), well-known (?) film, 1982's The Living Dead Girl, is a gory combination of vampirism, lesbianism, and zombie-ism. While pre-dating Dan O'Bannon's punk zombie epic, Return of the Living Dead, perhaps Mr. O'Bannon culled a bit from this when writing his opus. Christian and I both couldn't help but be like, damn, this seems like Return of the Living Dead, although Christian got Part I and II confused. Quick to always be right, as is my way, I corrected him thusly. EEEEEnnnnyway....what we have here is a slow moving, kinda boring and annoying, bloody, tragedy on a grand scale. Yes, something can be boring and grand at the same time, if you're Jean Rollin.
The Living Dead Girl (try to say this title without lapsing into the Rob Zombie song of the same title, although since most of Zombie's songs all sound the freakin' same, I'll find myself starting out humming Living Dead Girl but wind up humming Dragula) begins with three dudes dumping some toxic waste in a cemetery vault. They know of a corpse or two buried there and decide to do a little grave robbing on the side. Leaving one guy out by the van, two descend into the vault, put the chemicals in a corner and spy two coffins. They each grab one and get to work. One coffin holds the remains of Catherine Valmont, a young blond who died only two years ago, the other houses the remains of her mother, dead some time now. The bodies are quite remarkably preserved, which Christian noted could be due to budget constraints involving procuring believable looking fake corpses. Just use real people!
An earthquake and some bats disrupt the chemical barrels resulting in Catherine's reanimation, chemical burns to one grave robbers face, and Catherine's subsequent eye gouging of the other guy and fingernails to the throat of the one outside by the van. Then cut to an American couple, Barbara and Greg, well, Barbara has a bit of an accent, but they both speak English, Greg is undoubtedly American as they refer to his American-ness throughout, who are on holiday in the village where Catherine has been reanimated. They try to eat at their inn but when told the earthquake upset things and they'll have to wait, they go to a field where Greg draws some stuff and encourages Barbara to take up photography. They have a bit of spat and Barbara wanders off and runs into Catherine wandering the field barefoot and in white and takes her picture.
Catherine then wanders back to her childhood castle, in a ramshackle state, but elaborately furnished inside, where a real estate agent is showing the house to another American couple. They narrowly miss each other and the couple leaves to take some time to think about purchasing the home. Meanwhile, the real estate agent gets a phone call from her lov-ah and leaves to engage in sexy times. Catherine continues wandering about and has some bittersweet flashbacks of when she was a child and she and her best friend Helene would romp throughout the castle playing with a music box. The two young girls become blood sisters and tell each other, oh, I love you, oh, I'll never leave you, then play with the music box some more. You would think that living in a castle and all, Catherine could afford more interesting playthings. I'm sure the music box is a symbol of a young girl's innocence captured or memories held onto because remember, tragedy of epic proportions, ya'll.
Cut to Helene, the young friend of Catherine, now all grown up. She's kinda hot in an eighties way but has really big hands, and she randomly decides to call the castle. Catherine answers, but having been mute up until this point, just plays the music box music for Helene, which causes her to make quick passage to the castle. While she's on her way, the real estate agent brings her boy toy back to the castle for some more of the el sexo. They waste no time and quickly get down to it, when Catherine begins playing the piano creepily so lover man goes off to investigate. One quick crunching sound later and his throat's ripped out. He gives the real estate agent a blood facial when Catherine comes in and rips her throat out as well, and dines upon their blood. Real estate lady runs outside and expires on the steps. Helene drives up and this point, doesn't seem at all disturbed by the dead girl on the steps, and proceeds inside to find dude dead in the floor and Catherine dead yet playing the piano. Helene is more incredulous at Catherine's being alive than the dead bodies and there are some intimations of lesbianism here. Let it be said that intimations of lesbianism is all you will receive as far as lesbianism goes here. Helene gives Catherine a sponge bath in the moonlight, puts her to bed, and puts the dead bodies in the vault.
Catherine basically figures out that she has an insatiable bloodlust that she may or may not really enjoy. She seems to like drinking the blood while she's doing it, especially if she's feeding off Helene's wrist (Helene is in no danger, seemingly from Catherine killing her), but that may be in that it only eases the pain of being dead, the fact that she must consciously kill likely bothers her a bit. Helene, realizing Catherine cannot be fed on her blood or the blood of dead doves alone, takes on the role of familiar and lackey, providing Catherine with fresh, mostly female, victims. Helene is a natural in this role, we know nothing of her previous life, although by her business suits and professional apartment interior we see when we first meet her, she's likely a successful normal person. However, once back in the arms of Catherine, she becomes just as bloodthirsty and ruthless, stopping at little to procure victims for Catherine. Yet, upon pushing one lovely lady down into the vaults to sate Catherine, Helene has a hard time hearing the actual screams that accompany the feeding. At one point, dissatisfied with herself as an undead blood drinker, Catherine swears off blood, only to have Helene bring home another girl and slice her herself to entice Catherine. Catherine sets the girl free and tells her to expose the secret of the vampire living in the castle to the village and goes off to the inevitable - she feeds on Helene in the grossest, goriest vampire feeding I've seen in a long time.
There's another whole deal concerning Barbara and Greg and their subsequent ends, but I'll let you discover those death scenes on your own. They're pretty funny, do nothing to satisfy Catherine, which is the point of most of the killing in the movies, and say a lot about what sort of woman Helene has become over the course of having to deal with Catherine's vampirism.
Get over the weird pace, plot holes, lack of softcore lesbian sex, and no real rules for vampirism or zombie-ism, and what you have is a melancholy, almost Shakespearean portrayal, of a dead girl's attempt at making sense of her floundering station in un-life. Catherine and Helene are beautiful and their love for each other seems genuine. Sorry, if I walked in and my BFF was nakey, covered in blood, and playing the piano having just murdered two unsuspecting lovers to drink their blood, my first reaction would not be to give her a moonlight sponge bath. My second reaction would also not be to lure unsuspecting victims to the burial vault underneath my chateau for my BFF to feed upon. I just don't have a connection like that with anyone, which is likely my problem.


  1. This is definitely my favorite of Rollin's films to date, granted Im not as well versed as most, but I really enjoyed it!

  2. I'm new to the world of Jean Rollin, but so far this is my favorite. I really liked it. I've only seen like 4 of his films so far, but I have a ton of his flicks on my Netflix queue.

  3. I liked this film and it was one of my first Rollin flicks I saw.(along with "Night of the Hunted") I now have several of his flicks.

  4. Jean Rollin can be painful enough to watch, but yet I bought this one cheaply after the great rec's it was given. I still have it sitting in a stack of shit after 8 months. I will get ot it eventually, but I really ain't in much of a rush...

  5. The first Rollin film I saw was Lake of the Dead - the Nazi zombie one. I wasn't quite ready for it back then (I think I was in high school), so like now, twenty years later, I'm ready to embark on the Rollin odyssey. He's an aquired taste, I think.

  6. I agree that he's an aquired taste Jenn.