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Featured Blu-ray Review: Redemption Triple-Shot: Black Magic Rites, The Living Dead Girl, and Two Orphan Vampires

August 28th, 2012

Redemption Triple-Shot:
Black Magic Rites - Buy from Amazon
The Living Dead Girl - Buy from Amazon
Two Orphan Vampires - Buy from Amazon

Kino International is a distribution company that handles mostly smaller films from around the world, but they also have a home market line as well. Redemption Films was a distribution company that specialized in cult films, including sexploitation films of the 1970s. Roughly this time last year, Kino bought Redemption and has begun releasing some of their newly acquired films on Blu-ray. This week, three such films are coming out: Black Magic Rites, The Living Dead Girl, and Two Orphan Vampires. Are they worth checking out for fans of the genre? Do they have wider appeal? And how do they look / sound on Blu-ray?

Black Magic Rites - Buy from Amazon

The plot of the first film is... I'm not sure. The plot of the film is a mess. It is also mostly superfluous, so it has that advantage. As far as I can tell, several hundred years ago in a small village, a powerful witch, Great Mistress Isabella Drupel, was caught by the inquisition, burned at the stake, and then pierced through the chest by a stake. Her heart was removed leaving a hole through her chest. In the modern day, a cult still worships her and have her undecompsed body chained up in their crypt. They capture virginal women to sacrifice to her by placing them on an alter, and after removing the victim's heart, they drink her blood. They believe if they continue this till the dark master returns, on the 25th moon, she will be granted immortality.

We see one such sacrifice at the beginning of the film. We also see another woman attacked by an unknown man who bites her throat and rips out her heart. As the locals panic over that death, they learn the local castle has been bought by Laureen's step-father. Everyone thinks the castle is cursed, but she is there to celebrate her engagement to Richard Brenton, a local. She's having all of her friends there, so there will be plenty of victims for the strange cult. And they are pretty much just victims. They certainly are not characters in the truest sense of the word.

Because the film is so incomprehensible, it is hard to review it. This is a cult film aimed at a very specific demographic, who will probably love the quick and confessing cuts, the strange choices in color filters, the off-putting mood. Okay, let's be blunt fans of these films are looking for just two things, boobs and blood. There's plenty of that here. However, that's really all it has to offer. None of the characters are compelling enough to care about, the acting varies dramatically between characters from wooden to overblown. The tone of the film is, well, "old-fashion" would be accurate, but too kind. And by the end, I just didn't care any more.

The Extras

There are no extras on the Blu-ray. Also, the audio and video is a little weak for high definition. The audio is 2.0 stereo and more than a few times I thought the dialogue was too quiet for the music and the levels fluctuate a bit too much. It is in Italian with optional English subtitles, so the dialogue problem isn't a deal-breaker. The video suffers from a lot of scratches and other print damage, while the level of detail is low, especially in darker scenes. The movie has a lot of weird color variations to help set the mood (I think that's what the filmmakers were going for) so it is hard to tell if there were problems with the transfer when it came to the colors, or if the filmmakers just went overboard too often. I would go with the latter. On the other hand, the film is nearly 40 years old, and I have little doubt this is as good as it has ever looked on the home market. Quite frankly, it is possibly better than it looked in theaters. As for the price, $19 is a little much to ask for this type of release.

The Living Dead Girl - Buy from Amazon

The film begins with three men drunkenly disposing of some toxic waste in a vault underneath a castle. (They used to dump it in the river, but it was killing the fish.) After they finish that part, Georges, the leader, instructs one of his followers to go deeper in the crypt to where an older lady and her younger daughter were buried, with the family jewels. Nothing like a little grave robbing to finish off a busy day of environmental destruction. This turns out to be an incredibly bad idea. As they are robbing the graves, an earthquake hits causing the barrels to tip over releasing the toxic waste. As the gas rises, the young lady, Catherine (Françoise Blanchard), awakens and takes her revenge on the three would-be robbers.

We then jump to a small restaurant in the French countryside. Two tourists, Greg and Barbara, arrive looking for a meal, but the earthquake caused enough mess that the restaurant will have to be closed for a couple hours. While waiting, the pair head to a nearby field where Greg sketches and Barbara takes photos... and complains. If they are setting these two up to be the next victims, they are doing a good job. I want to poke their eyes out. After their fight, Barbara sees Catherine walking in the field. She snaps a few photos before they head back to the restaurant to eat. (We do see them reenter the story, but before they do, we start to run into spoiler territory.)

Catherine then arrives back at her family's home. However, with her mother dead, the castle she grew up in is for sale and the real estate lady is showing it off to another couple. After the real estate agent leaves, Hélène calls. Hélène (Marina Pierro) was Catherine's best friend when she was alive and was looking to buy the place, to maintain the memory of her friend. Catherine answers the phone but the strain of coming back to life is too much for her to talk (at least for now) so she plays a song from the music box they used to play together as kids. Hélène immediately knows something is wrong and heads to Catherine's home. Unfortunately, she doesn't get there before the real estate agent and her boyfriend return and become lunch for Catherine.

When Hélène arrives and sees two dead people in the house and her best friend seemingly alive, and covered in blood, her initial reaction is to call the police. However, Hélène and Catherine were blood friends and she can't get her friend in trouble. At first she just thinks Catherine faked her death two years ago, but later realizes her friend has returned from the dead as a vampire. But instead of trying to stake her friend, she instead decides to protect her friend, and even allows her friend to feed on herself and later lure a woman to the castle for Catherine to feed on. As Catherine does feed, her strength comes back and she is able to speak. And this is where we get into the spoiler territory, because, Catherine sees herself as a monster and wants Hélène to kill her, but Hélène is in love with Catherine and refuses to do so.

This is actually a good movie, and I don't mean it is good for a B-movie sexploitation flick, I mean it is actually a quality movie with a good script and an interesting take on a very well worn genre. For the most part, the acting is good, certainly better than most similar movies. The mood is good, although one could argue there are issues with pacing, as it is a little slow at times. The film is very well shot and looks great, although the special effects do look weak. It was a low-budget film and it was made about three decades ago, so that problem is forgivable. At least I was willing to forgive it. Granted, for nearly every strength, there is a weakness, but overall Living Dead Girl is a good movie, even if it doesn't rise to the level of a great movie.

The Extras

There are extras on this Blu-ray, starting with a short introduction by the director, Jean Rollin, who sadly passed away in 2010. There are four featurettes, starting with an interview with Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, who has worked with Jean Rollins before as a AD and played one of the bulgars here. He also sits down and talks about the American version of the film, which was shot at the same time, but remained unreleased. Philippe D'Aram talks about the process of writing original music for this film. There is an homage to Benoît Lestang, who did the special effects. There is a 36-minute featurette about Jean Rollin appearance at Fantasia 2007. There is a short interview excerpt from Jean Rollin from Fantasia. Finally, there are trailers for some of Jean Rollin's films. The Blu-ray also comes with a booklet on Jean Rollin's work.

The film's technical presentation is similar to the previous film. It is a low-budget movie made decades ago, so it should come as no surprise that the level of detail isn't great, while the colors are sometimes muted and the blacks sometimes swallow details. There are also some instances of print damage. However, it still looks very good, all things considered. It certainly looks better than the previous film and better than I was expecting. The audio sometimes has problems with getting the right balance between the dialogue and other sounds, while it is just 2.0 stereo. It's not bad, but not great either.

The Blu-ray costs $19, which is a good deal for an import with the amount of extras that it has.

Two Orphan Vampires - Buy from Amazon

The film begins at an orphanage where two teenage girls, Louise (Alexandra Pic) and Henriette (Isabelle Teboul) live. They have both gone blind by some unexplained trauma they suffered in their past. The nuns that run the orphanage called for Dr. Dennary (Bernard Charnacé), an eye specialist, ostensibly to look at them. However, their real goal is to get him to adopt them. The nuns call the two girls their blind angels and pray that they are adopted, laying the guilt on Dr. Dennary pretty thick.

Unknown to the nuns, they are far from angels and at night they are able to see in shades of blue. That night they visit a cemetery and talk about crawling out of their graves and what they were before. How they were hunted and killed every time people found out what they were and how each time they came back. So what are they? As we see in a flashback from New York City, they are vampires. Every time they are found out, they are killed, only to be reincarnated again. Shortly after rebirth, the memories of their previous lives fade. (We also see some more of their memories from New York City, but I won't spoil them here, mainly because they are confusing.)

The guilt works, and the next day Dr. Dennary returns to adopt then and takes them to his home in Paris. He hopes to figure out what caused their blindness, which he thinks is psychosomatic in nature. Life in the big city offers more chances to find food, as they discover during their first night there and they won't have to live off of stray dogs. However, life in the big city also presents a lot more danger.

This film is not as good as the previous film. It has some strengths, including the bizarre lead characters. Louise and Henriette, are unlike most movie vampires you will see and they have a more innocent / naïve / childlike feel to them. They weren't evil, but they knew they had to feed and they were special as a result. They spend most of the movie just talking to each other. Because they can't remember what happened to them before they died, they don't know what they are, so they try to figure it out and the end result it like a stream-of-conscious imaginative flow. Or if you don't like the movie, you could call it babbling. They talk about Aztec gods, and stage magicians trying to figure out what they are and where they belong. This part wasn't as exciting as the story of Christine coming to terms with what she had become, but it did have a charm of its own. On the other hand, the film moves at a much slower pace and has a more episodic nature to it. We see short vignettes that don't seem to build to something more. It needed something more pressing to rise above the sum of its parts.

The Extras

There are two extras on the Blu-ray. The first is a 43-minute long making of featurette that features interviews with a couple of the actors and some of the crew. There is a 20-minute interview with Jean Rollins. The Blu-ray also comes with a booklet on Jean Rollin's work.

As for the film's technical presentation, it was originally shot in 16 mm, so there's only so much that can be done with the source material. There is a lot of grain and the day-for-night shots have a blue filter that kills details (and color) to a really bad degree. There is also quite a bit of print damage. The audio is 2.0 stereo, so don't expect a lot of Wow factor here. It is much better than the previous DVD, so it has that going for it.

The Blu-ray costs $20, which is not a bad price to pay.

The Verdict

Of the three films coming out this week, The Living Dead Girl is the only one that is truly good and the Blu-ray also looks the best and has strong extras and it is worth picking up. Two Orphan Vampires has some elements that work, but overall it is a little disappointing. The Blu-ray also has good extras, but the technical presentation is likely as good as it will ever get on Blu-ray and I think that only adds up to a rental. Black Magic Rites is a movie for people who like bad movies. The Blu-ray has no extras, which further hurts its value.


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Filed under: Video Review, Riti, magie nere e segrate orge nel trecento, Les deux orphelines, La Morte Vivante