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Women's prison tale, with Lina Romay as Maria who is jailed after killing her father, played by director Jess Franco, who tries to rape her. Lesbian wardens, torture, nudity, sex, insanity and conspiracy round out the formula.
A girl arrives from London to visit her estranged relatives in a remote castle for the reading of her father's will. After a while she discovers that they are all in fact dead and her decision to live with them turns into a nightmare. Unable to leave she's drawn into a macabre underworld through visions of nude satanic rituals and her own impending sacrifice. Written by
This was only my fourth Jess Franco movie: not as satisfying overall as THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1965), not as thematically compelling as EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969) but it has, perhaps, the most haunting quality of all. So far, only LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE (1967) has proved disappointing and, therefore, I look forward to acquiring some more of his remarkably prolific work.
As always Franco did not have much of a budget to work with: consequently, the film is visibly cheap (though I must say it suits the mood perfectly!) and his direction suffers for it, given as he is to an over-use of zoom shots, but still manages enough inventive touches throughout to draw one into the proceedings. Bruno Nicolai's score, though not as catchy as his EUGENIE soundtrack, is certainly varied and weird enough to be quite effective. The film also makes good use of natural locations the chateau, the forest, the pond which give it a distinctly European look.
The plot (what little there is of it) is quite bizarre and deliberately ambiguous but the surreal, dream-like quality it creates effectively balanced by macabre touches of comedy is wholly infectious, making the film an enjoyable one despite its shortcomings.
The casting is an integral part of the film's success: Christina von Blanc is simply gorgeous, and a more than adequate heroine in the circumstances; Britt Nichols' contribution, then, can best be described by these three adjectives: beautiful, mischievous and memorable; Anne Libert is yet another highly attractive lady but her role, even if appropriately death-like, is a little too sketchy; Howard Vernon lends the film a certain style and a dash of sophisticated humor it would otherwise have lacked (this is perhaps the most impressive performance by him I have seen yet, despite brief stints in Melville's BOB LE FLAMBEUR , Lang's THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE  and Godard's ALPHAVILLE ) also, it is rather amusing to see gay Howard Vernon being surrounded by so many lovely women who, more often than not, have no clothes on!; Paul Muller is again underused - as he was in EUGENIE - as well as (necessarily) cramped here, though he manages to make his presence felt throughout the entire film; Jess Franco himself is funny and oddly endearing as the mute servant, a potentially irritating character.
I would like to say something about Franco's use of nudity: while frequently gratuitous, it is also undeniably striking (at least judging by this film and EUGENIE) and watching, say, Christina von Blanc asleep or taking a swim in the nude is not simply a case of voyeurism because the images in themselves are beguiling on an artistic level. That said, the S&M lesbian scene between Nichols and the blind girl is quite a head-scratcher! In my opinion, Nichols' seduction of von Blanc is the film's most potent sexual image.
I have read a number of reviews on this film as well as some of the discussion in connection with it on other boards, where a lot has been made of the fact that the version featured on the Image DVD may not be the definitive Director's Cut after all! Francesco Cesari mentioned a misplaced scene (Christina's 'death'), but all I can say is that it did not jump out at me on a first viewing (of course, Franco's work is open to several interpretations) though it is true that Anne Libert, the 'Queen of the Night', had no reason as such to get undressed! On the other hand, the ebony phallus did come (oops, no pun intended!) out of nowhere: the way it was introduced, strangely enough, reminded me of the first appearance of the monolith in Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) - as well as bearing an obvious similarity to a particular ornament in his A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)!! Also, the odd repetition of scenes with Muller 'calling' von Blanc felt like padding at one point, this occurred three times in a row (!), i.e. until Muller himself explained that he was being forced to do so by Libert, who is really after the girl. But, as a general rule, I was satisfied by the film without leaving me asking for more, as it were. Apparently, the longest existing version of the film runs 105 minutes (often mentioned by Robert Monell) but, at that length, the film's quirky charm is bound to flounder especially in view of the distinctly graceless added zombie sequences.
I am of the opinion that Christina (much like Lisa in Mario Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL ) is already dead at the beginning of the movie, only she doesn't know it sort of a wayward ghost and her family's ploy (the reading of the will) was only a means of reclaiming her. The cut back to the tavern near the end, I guess, means that Christina maybe dreamt the whole thing but, then, her 'return' to the chateau immediately afterwards, in a way, indicates that she has now accepted her death as relived in her dream state and is therefore perfectly willing to be led into the swamp by the Queen of the Night, followed by the rest of her family now that their 'job' is done. I'm sure that with repeated viewings, I'll be able to read more into it and, perhaps, even discover flaws I would not have immediately noticed!
As for the DVD itself, Michael Elliott has said that the Image transfer is the best he has seen; well, to my eyes, it is certainly nothing earth-shaking. There is a frequent hiss on the soundtrack, but the audio is otherwise serviceable and, thankfully, the original language is available. The deleted scenes are just terrible I know I don't ever want to watch the dreaded Jean Rollin cut of the film, a travesty on the lines of THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM (1975) though I still wish that all of the 'extra' footage could have been assembled for this edition. The theatrical trailer is interesting for a number of alternate shots and at least one curious outtake. Tim Lucas' liner notes are typically reverent but also reasonably knowledgeable of the film's chequered history and I agree with Francesco Cesari that Lucas' personal interpretation of the events of the film are entirely valid.
Finally, Robert Monell's description of A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD's partial remake THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR (1973), admittedly a far more poetic title is indeed enticing and, hopefully, this too can be released in future (depending on available elements) by Image themselves, Blue Underground or Synapse, all of whom have demonstrated a commitment to Franco's films by preparing a handful of titles in top-quality DVD editions.
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