(The Living Dead Girl)
Review By: Sean Patrick Dolan Director: Jean Rollin Cast: Françoise Blanchard, Marina Pierro, Carina Barone, Mike Marshall, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou Source: Encore Filmed Entertainment (DVD, PAL Region 0) Extras: 2 Discs, Original Soundtrack CD, 64 Page Booklet, Interviews, Audio Commentary, French Language or Dubbed German- Subtitles in English, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish Runtime: Approx. 86 minutes (Feature)
LA MORTE VIVANTE is the third volume in a series of recent Jean Rollin collectors editions presented by ENCORE FILMED ENTERTAINMENT and, like the first two volumes (LES DEMONIAQUES and REQUIEM POUR UN VAMPIRE), it is a high quality release with a truly amazing amount of extra features. DISC ONE contains the feature film presented in the 16:9 anamorphic ratio, with a choice of the original French or a dubbed German audio track, and a wide variety of optional subtitles. It also includes a very brief introduction by the star of the film, Françoise Blanchard, and a theatrical trailer.The film LA MORTE VIVANTE can truly be considered a tragedy. As Jean Rollin himself writes in the booklet accompanying this release, it is "Shakespearean, like something from ‘Titus Andronicus’". It is about the close friendship and love of two women which can not be broken even by the most bizarre and grisly turn of events. A woman, Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard), dies- the cause never revealed-and is brought back to life by contamination of her burial chamber by toxic chemical waste. She rises from her tomb and slays the unethical men that defiled it. Without will or consciousness she moves zombie-like across the countryside, more dead than alive, finding her way by instinct to her family's abandoned chateau.
An American couple sees her and the woman photographs the haunting vision of this beautiful wandering creature, barefoot, wearing only her white burial gown. Blind luck or the mechanisms of fate- whichever you prefer- lead to Catherine's best friend, Helene (Marina Pierro), discovering that Catherine may still be alive. She goes to the chateau and discovers the gruesome remains of Catherine's victims, a realtor and her lover whom Catherine fed upon in a fit of uncontrollable bloodlust. Helene's loyalty to Catherine is unflagging, despite the fact that her friend is unresponsive, seemingly mute, and cannot tell her what occurred. She immediately hides the bodies in the crypts below the chateau and sees the empty coffin with Catherine's name on it, but she refuses to believe that her friend has returned from death and is a vampire. However, as she coaxes Catherine back into the world of the living, helping her to regain her memories and the ability to speak, there is no doubt as to what Catherine has become. Still, bound by love, Helene is determined to help Catherine, even if that means procuring victims for her to feed on. The first attempt is successful, but disastrous in its consequences. After feasting on the blood of an innocent woman, Catherine has fully regained her consciousness and is disgusted by what she has done. Realizing that she is undead and evil, she begs her friend to destroy her, but Helene refuses.
The American woman, Barbara (Carina Barone), who took the pictures of Catherine in the countryside is haunted by her image and asks villagers if they can identify the woman. They all identify her as Catherine Valmont, who died two years ago. She is determined to investigate and finds Catherine in a loft on the chateau grounds. Catherine begs her for help, not wanting any part of her cursed existence. But, the effort nearly costs Barbara her life as she narrowly escapes from Helene who catches her on the premises and tries to imprison her. The encounter scares Helene to the extent that she is prepared to take her friend Catherine far away that very night, but Catherine refuses. Catherine also refuses a second victim that Helene procures for her, despite the fact that she is not just hungry, but ravenous, and growing weak. Barbara and her boyfriend, Greg (Mike Marshall), arrive in an attempt to save Catherine, whom they both believe is a mentally ill prisoner of the chateau. Helene slays both Barbara and Greg, but in the meantime Catherine has allowed her victim to go free and warn the villagers of what she witnessed, ensuring her doom. In despair, Catherine attempts to drown herself in the moat that surrounds the chateau, but Helene rescues her. Weak and hungry, she warns Helene to leave her to her fate, but she still refuses, bound by their adolescent pact of undying love. Overcome by her unnatural hunger, Catherine rips Helene's throat out and feeds on her, sobbing uncontrollably all the while and finally succumbing to total madness.
Jean Rollin is a French director who is most commonly known for the many vampire films he has made throughout his career. Abandoning the campy atmosphere and surreal imagery of his early vampire films (LE VIOL DU VAMPIRE (1967), LA VAMPIRE NUE (1969), LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES (1970), REQUIEM POUR UN VAMPIRE (1971)), he achieves a devastatingly stark and lonely mood in LA MORTE VIVANTE.The isolated chateau in the French countryside, a minimalist soundtrack by Philippe D’Aram, and Françoise’s excellent performance in the film as a mute, wounded creature that Helene has to draw back into world of the living all contribute to this. The exception is the insertion of the American couple, and the film does suffer from it to a degree. They are annoying, obnoxious stock characters whose only purpose is to provide external conflict for Catherine and Helene. However, they were not needed in this film because the real conflict is internal- Catherine's revulsion and self-hatred when she has regained her consciousness and understands what she has become and Helene's selfish refusal to let her friend go back to her now natural state (death).
The most dramatic scenes are the flashbacks of the two young girls playing together, becoming blood sisters, and making their pact of eternal love and, even more so, the conversations in which Catherine begs Helene to destroy her. Conversely, Barbara and Greg's attempted rescue and subsequent murders provided moments of unintentional and unnecessary humor. It should be obvious from this review that LA MORTE VIVANTE is not a lesbian vampire movie along the lines of Jess Franco’s VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971). This is an exceedingly dark and depressing work, especially the ending. There is an extreme amount of violence in this film- extremely graphic and gory- and it presents a very sharp and jarring contrast with the "literary" aspects of the film; the way the emotional despair of the doomed friends Catherine and Helene is presented. This is a unique talent that Rollin possesses, to combine the beautiful and "the grotesque" in a way that makes both elements much more powerful than they would have been on their own.
The majority of the extras, over two hours in total length, are featured on DISC TWO. We begin with an introduction by director Jean Rollin, who states that his goal in this film was to make a completely different type of vampire film from those he had become known for as France’s most prolific director of the genre. He was greatly aided in this endeavor by having two very professional actresses to work with for the first time in his career- Françoise Blanchard and Marina Pierro. Blanchard, in her first title role, really invested herself in the character she played. So much so, in fact, that while filming the dramatic final scene of the film, Rollin, his director of photography, and the rest of the crew feared Blanchard had actually gone mad. She did collapse from a tetanic fit (a tightening of the muscles that is often a symptom of epilepsy but can also be caused by hysteria) while shooting this scene, but Rollin kept filming until she fell. He next discusses the young special effects artist, Benoit Lestang, for whom this was his first professional film. As Rollin points out, although the effects in the film are primitive by today’s standards, especially compared to what has been done in the US and Italy, they were very good for France at the time- he considers this the first French film with "gore sequences". Those who have seen HAUTE TENSION (2003) should agree that what Rollin started has been fully embraced by a new generation of French filmmakers.
This introduction is followed by two extras featuring the actress Françoise Blanchard: an audio commentary and an interview, both of which are very in-depth at slightly under thirty minutes in length apiece. She discusses her acting career from her beginning as a model to deciding to study film intensely after her first role was a success, and to her work in "B" and "Z" movies for Eurocine- a company made famous by directors Rollin, Jess Franco, and Pierre Chevalier. LA MORTE VIVANTE was the first horror film that really scared her during filming. She began to have tetanic fits during the opening scenes of the film where she is laying in a closed coffin. Slightly superstitious, she made sure that the age written on her coffin was one she had already passed. All of the gory scenes were improvised with virtually no direction- the cellar scene in particular where she appears to rip the stomach and the intestines from the girl. This scene was meant to be far less shocking, but the blood tubes attached to her fake nails got blocked. The young special effects man, Benoit Lestang, was very talented, but inexperienced. Blanchard covered malfunctions throughout the film by acting hysterical.
The cellar scene was too much for her; she snapped- and Rollin used it in the film. The last scene of the film was the beginning of a series of tetanic fits that haunted her for several years. "I felt for a tenth of a second that I was really going to kill her (Marina Pierro)." She describes Rollin’s directing style as that of a "voyeur"; he watches and waits and uses whateverthe actors give him. As stated above, all of the "hysterical" and dramatic scenes were improvised. However, according to Blanchard, Rollin holds on tightly to his dialogues. Blanchard found the dialogues to be harder to film than the silent scenes. They were very difficult, "too literary to be real dialogues". All the takes with dialogue were shot twice- once in French, then in English. She preferred the shorter, simpler English for the American release of the film. A stolen camera and the noisy new camera that replacedit made it necessary to dub many of the characters’ voices a second time. "It’s very hard to dub your own voice," she says. Finally, Blanchard discusses a hilarious "happy ending" to the film that was shot strictly for the American release of LA MORTE VIVANTE- it’s a shame it isn’t included as an extra on this disc.
Next up is an interview with Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, a long-time Rollin collaborator. Bouyxou had written an article about LA VAMPIRE NUE in a book, and Rollin felt he had really understood the film he had tried to make- this was a first for the director. While shooting LES DEMONIAQUES (1973) in Brussels where Bouyxou resided,Rollin asked him if he would like to be an extra on the film. He ended up becoming the assistant director on this and future films. Bouyxou refers to Rollin as a poet, a visionary: "He fantasizes, he dreams his movies before he makes them." The actual shooting of the films is almost "a formality". He goes on to talk about the "appallingly bad" reviews Rollin’s films received in France: "The general public didn’t like them because they didn’t understand them and the majority of the critics understood even less what his films were all about." Rollin is "soaked in surrealism"; his films are "collages" in a style that Bouyxou refers to as "deliberately absurd cinema". In France, Rollin was one of the first "acknowledged filmmakers" to be asked to direct adult films under an alias. He found shooting the porn scenes boring and handed them over to Bouyxou. But, despite all odds, Rollin managed to create magical moments even in these films. The atmosphere on his sets was unique, informal. Rollin made friends with everyone and those who worked with him felt like they were his "accomplices".
The final interview on this disc is with composer Philippe D’Aram. Ironically, he learned to play music while in the army after his parents had refused to let him study it formally. He cites his influences as both classical music and the rock music of his generation. D’Aram got his first film score through a friend of his brother, who was married to a director. This film (Francois Dupeyron’s L’ORNIERE (1978)) went on to win a Cesar (the French equivalent of an Oscar) and was impressive on his resume, helping him enormously in getting more work. "In France, this is a business where the only way of getting a job is networking- there are no agents for composers." His first score for Rollin was FASCINATION (1979). Unlike the majority of composers, D’Aram likes to work from a script (rather than having to see the pictures), and Rollin is more knowledgeable about music than the majority of directors. This made for a unique working relationship between the two which proved very successful. In LA MORTE VIVANTE, he used a mellotron to simulate the sound of a chorus, which is what Rollin had wanted- but which would have exceeded their budget. D’Aram cites LA FIANCEE DE DRACULA (2002) as his favorite score that he has composed; and, as for Rollin: "Jean is like a good wine. He gets better as he gets older." A handful of alternative scenes and a slideshow of production stills- many including Rollin himself- set to Philippe D’Aram’s haunting score round out the extras on this disc.Like the previous ENCORE FILMED ENTERTAINMENT releases, this collectors edition of LA MORTE VIVANTE comes with a sixty-four page booklet filled with full-color photos and comments by Jean Rollin. An additional feature this time is a third disc containing the film’s original score by Philippe D’Aram. With such a massive amount of extras, this is truly the definitive release of this film.
You can also read Sean review for the Redemption VHS release of THE LIVING DEAD GIRL.
Story: 4.5 Bitch Slaps Extras: 5.0 Bitch Slaps Picture/Audio: 5.0 Bitch Slaps Overall DVD: 5.0 Bitch Slaps
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