The Film: The Living Dead Girl (1982)
The Principles: Jean Rollin (Director). Francoise Blanchard. Marina Pierro. Carina Barone. Mike Marshall.
The Premise: An earthquake and some conveniently placed toxic waste combine to (somehow) bring the beautiful Catherine Valmont (Blanchard) back from the dead, after which she discovers she has a taste for flesh. So her childhood best friend/blood-sister/implied lover Helene (Pierro) takes on the role of procurer. As the body count starts to rise the two find themselves at odds with their situation and a nosy photographer (Barone) threatens to blow the lid off the whole thing.
Is It Good: It is, but there’s plenty of room for people to disagree. For starters, I suppose it depends on what you want and/or expect from a quote-unquote zombie movie. Traditionally, zombies don’t have a whole lot to do on screen in any physical sense; they just shamble and moan and occasionally get a li’l bitey. By their very nature they’re sort of type-cast as empty vessels for the filmmaker to fill with their own ideas (or lack thereof). And yeah – that technique has been used to great effect on the social commentary scale but for the most part our walking dead have never aspired to be anything more than a visual metaphor. That’s not the approach that’s taken here.
Granted, once Catherine is resurrected she does indeed spend a little time in that hazy zombified stupor – driven by instinct and hunger – but she slowly starts to come out of it and back into herself. And it’s when she starts to take stock of (and come to terms with) her new situation that the thematic stuff starts to gel and we wind up with a zombie that’s too busy trying to reconcile her own humanity to worry about being an empty vessel or a visual metaphor.
Give her a couple of fangs and she’s basically a vampire.
And that’s certainly not a conclusion one has to leap for at all as Rollin is basically telling the traditional “reluctant vampire” story (also those fingernails). But it’s a bold move! By ’82 Romero had released the first two pieces of his Dead trilogy, Fulci was doing his thing with sharks and we were but a scant three years away from what may very well be the first zombie parody movie . All that to say that people had come to expect certain things from their zombie movies (and their vampire movies as well); so by stripping the well-worn tropes of both and combining what was left Rollin managed to turn in a movie that was, for all intents and purposes, a rather unique experience. Again, it’s a rather traditional vampire story, but when it’s superimposed over a zombie setup it adds a new layer to that whole sub-genre that audiences really hadn’t gotten yet.
And, as such, it’s good.
Is It Worth A Look: Certainly, but like I said earlier – there’s plenty of room for people to argue about that last statement. Even if you can drop your genre expectations and get on board with the central conceit there are a lot of obstacles in the way, the majority living in the realm of basic filmmaking/story telling. Glaring plot-holes (Why is there a random, unlocked back entrance to the castle’s catacombs? Why doesn’t the toxic gas reanimate the other corpse? Why is toxic gas reanimating a non-breathing corpse at all!?); performances from everyone other than Blanchard and Pierro that are really kind of terrible; clumsy edits and wobbly pacing. And what may be the most disappointing misstep – a complete disinterest in making even the slightest effort to examine Helene’s character as anything more than a catalyst for Catherine’s arc. Her transformation from mild-mannered businesswoman to remorseless serial killer is just presented as a perfunctory plot-beat without so much as a cursory glance backwards from Rollin. It’s kind of maddening honestly, because with all the effort spent on humanizing a no-longer-human character, it only makes sense to juxtapose that with her human counterpart willfully and gleefully selling out her own humanity. The thematic implications are kind of staggering and leave you longing for that movie, no matter how much you may like the one you’re given.
But, all that aside, there’s still plenty that he got right in terms of tone and atmosphere. Plus that ending! So, ya know – good with the bad, and all.
Random Anecdotes: Apparently a distro house called Redemption USA owns (at the very least) the streaming rights. I know this because when I loaded this up on Instant I was treated to Redemption’s branding bump/logo card, which was over a minute long (!) and full of lesbian vampire fetishism, heaving breasts and buckets of blood. I was going to embed it below before I realized that the thumbnail frame was an extreme close-up of one of those aforementioned breasts. So, because I like you and don’t want to get you fired for reading my stuff, I’ll just link it.
Cinematc Soulmates: All of Rollin’s other genre efforts (you might remember him from such films as The Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire and A Virgin Among the Living Dead. Yeesh.). Eyes Without A Face. Zombi 2. The Dead Trilogy. Let the Right One In.