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“They’re dead!” – Severin’s new Blu-ray of Revenge of the Living Dead Girls gets dissected

Poisoned milk, corporate espionage, naked girls, and the living dead are the principal elements that attempt to coalesce themselves into a cohesive, coherent narrative in Pierre B. Reinhard’s Revenge of the Living Dead Girls (1986), which, despite the subject matter, has more in common with a French skin-flick than with the unique filmic output of director Reinhard’s countryman Jean Rollin (despite the fact that Revenge seemingly took rudimentary pointers from Rollin’s pseudo-zombie splatter fest The Grapes of Death [1978]).

In the present film, when an employee at O.K.F., a powerful German-owned chemical company who have set up shop in a small French town, poisons the local milk supply, a trio of young women (including a bride-to-be) expire after drinking said poisoned moo-juice. But when the same company also dumps toxic waste at the local cemetery, these three recently-late girls rise from the grave to exact ‘vengeance’ on those responsible for their deaths…

Given Swiss-born director Reinhard’s background as one of France’s more prolific pornographers, alongside Francis Leroi, Claude Mulot and Claude Bernard-Aubert, it is really no surprise that most of Revenge of the Living Dead Girls is gleefully pornographic in tone. While principally marketed as a horror film and sometimes referred to as simply Revenge of the Living Dead, it showcases just as much—if not more—nudity as it does violence and gore. The film begins much like some typical, third-rate porno, when a truck-driver transporting a shipment of milk picks-up a pig-tailed hitchhiker; who as it turns out, is merely a diversionary tactic that enables a leather-clad motorcyclist to contaminate the milk with some mysterious toxin. When the female decoy shortly sprains her ankle, the horny trucker takes full (unfair) advantage of the situation when he enthusiastically exclaims, “Let’s make you comfortable. That’s what a doctor would do!” as he slowly begins to take her clothes off. In yet another scene, one of the resident old-timers spots two of the soon-to-be-zombified-girls and casually remarks, “I’ve never looked up their skirts, but they don’t look polluted to me!” Amidst all the subterfuge, deception and corruption at the aforesaid French branch of O.K.F., big boss man Jacques Alphan (Patrick Guillemin) is secretly blackmailed after his opportunistic secretary Brigitte (Anthea Wyler) videotapes him with an eager prostitute (Katya Strambi) who is more than willing to “refine her technique” and is hilariously told to perform something called a “Cambodian wheelbarrow” (!) in another protracted sex scene. Needless to say, the film also features plenty of surprisingly nasty gore in what was an early gig for late special effects artist Benoît Lestang (1964-2008). As Lestang points out in one of the disc’s interviews, films of this nature were “unusual in France” and a “fringe of the genre”, and even though he wasn’t too enthused with his humble SFX contributions, the various displayed guts and even an unexpected castration serve the film well, and in yet another dubious highlight, our undead trio even have a lesbian tryst with one of their victims before viciously finishing her off with the pointy end of a sword.

Becoming increasingly concerned with all the dubious goings-on in France, O.K.F. HQ decides to send in Ingrid Schwartz (Cornélia Wilms) to investigate and hopefully try to squelch any potential scandals by locating the prostitute from the aforementioned covert video (“There must be 100,000 prostitutes in France!”). Instead she finds the dead rising from their graves (“They’re dead!” I’ve seen them leaving their tomb!”) and a company chemist whose putrescent hand has been infected by toxic sludge; which, in a bizarre and wholly unexpected twist, causes gory havoc with his very-pregnant wife. Further from-out-of-left-field, head-scratching twists ensue before the film’s finale, which definitely makes this minor zombie outing a tad bit more memorable than it has any right to be.

Never released on videotape in the U.S., Revenge did find a video release on French-Canadian Beta / VHS videocassettes in Québec courtesy of Groupe Prolusion, who released it in a snazzy, oversized gate-fold box highlighting the three girls in both their human and zombie personas. Throughout the late ’80s and on into the early ’90s, the film was also a late-night staple on Super Écran, Canada’s erstwhile French-language premium pay-TV service, where it played to no-doubt astonished audiences… including Yours Truly!

Issued a number of times on European disc throughout the early ’00s (many times in compromised editions), some of which even included a shorter, tamer ‘horror version’, the best of the lot was a French DVD from Neo Publishing, which presented the uncut film in its original 1.66:1 anamorphic aspect ratio with French and English audio options. That disc also included the film’s alternate ending, a French theatrical trailer and the aforementioned Retour sur la Revanche, an interesting on-camera interview (albeit only in French) with writer Jean-Claude Roy (who penned the film as “John King”) and makeup man Benoît Lestang. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia outfit issued the film on DVD in 2006, in a edition that contained a 1.66:1, non-anamorphic transfer of the film, which dropped the interview and the film’s ideal French audio option.

In 2017, Germany’s Wicked Vision was the first to release Revenge of the Living Dead Girls on Blu-ray in a lavish, attractively-packaged 3-disc Mediabook (including a Blu and pair of DVDs) with the option of no-less-than three different cover designs. Obviously, the jump to HD made for a clearer and far sharper picture, and Wicked Vision’s edition also included German, French and English audio tracks with optional German and English subtitles. As with some of the earlier German DVD editions, Wicked also included both the erotic and horror versions of the film, which run 81m54s and 77m11s, respectively, and while it’s definitely a nice gesture to include both editions of the film, the former with its loopy twist ending is definitely the way to go. An audio commentary courtesy of Lars-Dreyer Winkelmann was also included, but it was in German only. Better still, France’s premiere boutique label, Le Chat qui Fume re-tackled the oft-released film in 2019 with their now-customary in-depth approach in yet another 3-disc edition, which housed a Blu-ray, a DVD and a CD of Christian Bonneau’s (credited on-screen as “Christopher Reid”) entire highly-entertaining soundtrack (21 tracks, totalling 42m29s). Limited to 1000 copies, Le Chat’s disc contained the much-preferred longer cut of the film, and once again, it was presented in both French and English with optional English subtitles and featured a number of newly-produced interviews with the film’s director and some previously-unseen interviews with Benoît Lestang.

And now, adding to their continually expanding line of Euro horror films, those ever-diligent folks at Severin Films have, in a surprise 2019 Black Friday announcement, followed suit with their very welcome North American Blu-ray debut of this seemingly undying film. Once more, the much-preferred, lengthier version is given its due here, in a copy which is sharp, robust and very film-like, but this added uptick in resolution sometimes exposes the deficiencies of Lestang’s gory effects sequences. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 also sounds clean and free of any distortion and, in an interesting bit of minutiae, this version (like the others) includes “Christopher Reid”/Christian Bonneau’s synth-driven “Phantasia” cue over the film’s opening credits, as opposed to the sometimes-used “Terror Shout” cue, which, with all it’s screaming, certainly set the tone for this exceedingly peculiar film. Speaking of which, in conjunction with Omega Productions (an exciting soundtrack label out of France), Severin have also included Bonneau’s entire score as a separate soundtrack CD (21 tracks, totalling 42m29s again). 

In Revisiting the Revenge (the aforementioned on-camera interview that was ported-over from Neo Publishing’s DVD), Roy and Lestang casually discuss the genesis of the project, some of Lestang’s early stints as a makeup artist (including his debut on Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl [1982]), the Théâtre du Grand Guignol, and also details about Revenge of the Living Dead Girls’ casting, censorship and distribution. In The Revenge of Pierre B. Reinhard (originally produced for Le Chat’s earlier BD), he talks about his lengthy career as both an editor and director of mostly adult fare (“There’s no film school as difficult as the hardcore film school…”), which he attributes to fellow director Gérard Kikoïne and French sexploitation pioneers Jean-François Davy and Francis Leroi. Of course, Reinhard also discusses the present film at some length, including going over its locations and production difficulties, as well as discussing his longstanding collaboration with composer Bonneau. Inside Studio Lestang is yet another archival interview with the special effects artist, who discusses his lengthy career, his love for horror films, and some of his thoughts on CGI technology, all the while giving the viewer a casual tour of his studio and its many props. The film’s French theatrical trailer and a brief Easter egg finish off the extras.

While Revenge of the Living Dead Girls is a wonderfully shameless bit of trash indeed, there is also no denying that Severin’s Limited Edition disc set is an impressive, well-produced package, which goes far in proving that the niche home video market is continuing to thrive mightily.  

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About Dennis Capicik

Dennis Capicik is a lifelong fan of movies. He is the co-founder of the old school ’zine Sub-Terrenea and has also contributed to Video Watchdog, European Trash Cinema, Giallo Pages, Killbaby! and the original incarnation of Monster! He is also a regular contributor to the re-vamped Monster! and Weng’s Chop. He also runs the movie blog Unpopped Cinema.

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