DECEMBER 23, 2012
I was actually looking for an unseen giallo when I stumbled across The Living Dead Girl (French: La morte vivante) in Netflix's "Foreign horror" section, but I remembered that it was EIGHT MONTHS AGO that I promised to see some more Jean Rollin films before I quit, and made no such promises to you giallo fans. And it worked out, because I really enjoyed this one, and it cemented my desire to rectify this somewhat embarrassing gap in my foreign horror intake.
I call it a vampire movie but it's not really one; she needs human blood to survive but none of the other tropes are accounted for - she goes out in the daytime, prefers to rip folks' throats out with her bare hands to biting them, and if garlic or holy water can stop her, no one ever thinks to try (I considered "zombie", but she talks, and again - not big on the biting). Also, unless I've always missed something from the lore, vampires aren't born when earthquakes strike after their coffin has been opened by grave robbers.
This scene is amazing, by the way, more than making up for the fact that the opening "scene" featuring bloodied, writhing lesbian vampires was just an overlong logo (more than 60 seconds!) for Redemption, the distribution company for the DVD. No, the real opening scene features a pair of guys who are hellbent on stealing the "jewellry" (a typo that made its way to the film's wiki page, for some reason) from this crypt, but have terrible timing because an earthquake hits during the process, which knocks her awake and sends one guy to the ground, where he hits his head and is out cold. The quake also knocks over a barrel of toxic waste nearby (hey, why not), and it trickles down the slanted ground to where the guy is, at which point he wakes up and shows a half melted face from instant contact with a small dribble. And now that she's awake she kills the other guy almost instantly, so it's a pretty great way to kick off what is not a very action packed movie. Sure, the FX are cheesy as hell, but there's something quite charming about how casually vicious she is when killing folks, making up for the less than stellar prosthetic and makeup work. There's also enough fake blood being sprayed around during this and the rest of the kill scenes to make up for 3-4 CGI-heavy chores like Gangsters, Guns, and Zombies.
From then on it's a bit slow, but in a way that actually works in its favor - you think it'll be talky and not much will happen, and then there will be another gory murder out of nowhere. After dispatching a couple of folks who are screwing around in her house, Catherine's childhood best friend Helene finds her, and once she realizes what her friend needs to survive, she starts helping by bringing random people from town over for Catherine to eat. But what makes it interesting is that Catherine is slowly regaining her humanity; with each kill she becomes more human again (and thus less interested in killing people). However, Helene has gotten a taste for it, and by the final reel she's killing folks herself, not even for Catherine's thirst. It's one of the more interesting takes on the "needs blood to survive" monster that I've seen in a while, which makes sense since it's 30 years old and thus from a time when ideas took precedent over casting familiar faces and cashing in on brand name titles.
In fact this stuff works so well that it's a bummer that Rollin felt the need to introduce a pair of would-be heroes. There's a pair of English speaking (but still subtitled) photographers on vacation, and the female snaps a few photos of Catherine (another non vampire thing) and becomes obsessed with finding out more about her. Of course this results in her being told that the woman had died years ago (we never find out how/why, one of a few random plot gaps), and so she just meddles more and tries endlessly to convince her boyfriend that it's worth his attention as well. It has a very satisfying conclusion, but this "B" story is nowhere near as interesting or compelling as the "A" story, and is probably directly to blame for the fact that when I tweeted that I was watching the movie, two people replied more or less telling me that it was boring.
On that note, thanks to HMAD reader Worsel for recommending this one when I watched Rape of the Vampire (my only other Rollin experience); it was a damn good call, as this was right up my alley. And another big thanks to Twitter follower @fisty for letting me know that this was not the only Rollin available on Instant - they actually added nearly a dozen of them a while back (funny how they never showed up on "newly added" - wonder how many other additions I've missed because they'd rather pimp new movies), which means I'll be able to check out a number of the other recommendations easily. Everyone wins!
What say you?