Monday, July 2, 2012

116. THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (LA MORTE VIVANTE, 1982)

Jean Rollin was one of the most refined and gentlemanly of horror film specialists. But just as he sometimes resorted to directing pseudonymous porn to pay the bills, he at least twice conceded to the trends of his times and made horror movies that were downright indelicate in the gore department: THE GRAPES OF DEATH (LES RAISINS DE LA MORT, 1978) and this one, about the corpse of a wealthy heiress, Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard), that is reanimated after coming into contact with spillage from a drum of radioactive chemical waste. Because this is a Rollin film, there is more to it than this; he works in a charming yet resonant backstory about Catherine and her childhood best friend Hélène, who became "blood sisters" as children, promising that whichever of them died first, the other would follow soon after so they needn't be alone. The adult Hélène (Marina Pierro, in the only film she made for a director other than her husband Walerian Borowczyk after they began working together in 1978) has not kept her promise, however, and she is prompted by guilt and her own fear of death to sustain Catherine's appetites by means that make her a far more conscious monster than her helpless friend could ever be.

The film has a few splendid sequences, but it is hobbled by a backstory shot in English by another director, involving a tourist couple (Mike Marshall, Carina Barone) who photograph the living dead girl and uncover the secret of her resurrection. Apart from these scenes, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL stands out as one of Rollin's most powerfully acted films, with Blanchard's doll-like demon in particular resonating with the memory of an earlier French heroine of horror cinema: Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski's REPULSION (1965). Bit parts are played by noted French cinéma fantastique scholars Alain Petit (pictured) and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, and the surprisingly well-done gore effects were the first screen work of the late Benoît Lestang (THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, MARTYRS), who was only 17 years old at the time of production.

Viewed via Encore Entertainment's out-of-print imported DVD. Forthcoming on DVD and Blu-ray from Redemption/Fox Lorber, with a brand-new essay by Yours Truly.

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