By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Clark Tufts, Greg Rhodes, Claudia Franjul
Directed by José Ramón Larraz
Written by José Ramón Larraz
A bombed-out jalopy shrine. Caskets in the cellar. A gruesome photo album. Closets full of human scalps. It is with these oddities and other pieces of uncanny bric-a-brac that director José Ramón Larraz liberally festoons the dilapidated manse at the center of his penultimate feature film, DEADLY MANOR (1990) aka SAVAGE LUST. This enthusiastic trimming will feel familiar to those who snatched up Arrow’s recent release, EDGE OF THE AXE, another Larraz-helmed slasher whose images are almost full to bursting with bits and bobs of Americana disguising its Spanish roots. DEADLY MANOR is similarly stuffed, but the director finds himself looking back to the decaying provincial Gothicism of his earlier career—bidding adieu to his experiment in American iconography with the smiling, plastic face of Bob’s Big Boy as he’s hauled away atop a Mack Truck in the film’s opening minutes
DEADY MANOR concerns a group of horny, pot-smoking teens (natch) who are off on a lakeside holiday. After picking up a shady hitchhiker (Clark Tufts), they break down near a deserted mansion in which photos of a beautiful woman (Jennifer Delora) are obsessively plastered on every wall. Spooked, but out of options, they take refuge for the night, only to be stalked by a masked killer. Who is this mysterious assailant and what’s her connection to this deadly manor’s depraved history?
Larraz’s career is an interesting one, despite being virtually unknown to most genre fans. An ex-pat who forsook the oppression of Francoist Spain to make films in the UK, Larraz turned in a handful of successful horror efforts set on rural English estates in the 1970s. SYMPTOMS (1974) became the country’s first-ever official entry at that year’s Cannes film festival and VAMPYRES (1974) has long been regarded as a cult classic. After the death of Franco, Larraz returned to make movies in his homeland, eventually setting his sights on the American box office. The ghost/zombie kinda-sorta-comedy REST IN PIECES (1987) was his first attempt to pawn off a European feature as an American product. Larraz very nearly perfected this art of deception with EDGE OF THE AXE (1988), which used Madrid as a very convincing stand-in for Northern California. DEADLY MANOR would turn out to be Larraz’s only film actually shot on American soil.
Though less compulsively concerned with looking like a Yank production, DEADLY MANOR feels more beholden to slasher tropes than EDGE OF THE AXE did, while also reintroducing thematic material from Larraz’s British phase. Filming may have taken place in Suffern, New York, but the distinctly European stench of upper class decay adds bite to the stalk ‘n slash. Unlike EDGE OF THE AXE, which featured two strong leads in Barton Faulks and Christina Marie Lane, the performances here are feeble, and the ferocious hatchet attacks that made that film feel more Italian splatter than American slasher are replaced with quick ‘n dirty kills that leave most of the gore offscreen. Luckily, DEADLY MANOR spices things up with sexual perversity, classic haunted house atmosphere, and a finale—with its healthy dashes of Leroux and Poe—that you won’t soon forget.
Arrow Video continues its mission to restore the work of this unheralded Spanish auteur with a killer new 2K scan of DEADLY MANOR from the original film elements. EDGE OF THE AXE’s visual hiccups were negligible, but Larraz’s follow-up (if possible) looks even cleaner and more impressive. In the VHS days, much of DEADLY MANOR’s action within the dark corners of the titular house of horrors was largely indiscernible, but cinematographer Tote Trenas’ work is able to be fully appreciated for the first time here. Arrow’s transfer shows the film to be a minor masterwork in atmosphere and set dressing, especially among its slasher contemporaries.
Special features include an enlightening new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Sam Deighan, who fondly explore the film and Larraz’s career as a whole. Next up are a handful of interviews, the best of which is with B-movie workhorse, Jennifer Delora (ROBOT HOLOCAUST, FRANKENHOOKER) who speaks with hilarious candor about the making of the film. The disc also includes trailers, an image gallery, and the original script and shooting schedule. I grumbled about how little information the booklet included with EDGE OF THE AXE gave about Larraz as an artist, but the one included here (with writing by John Martin) should please curious cinephiles yearning to know more about the director. The release comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais.
José Ramón Larraz’s second American-style slasher, DEADLY MANOR is another off-kilter experience in familiar genre tropes as viewed through a Spanish auteur’s eyes. Unlike EDGE OF THE AXE, it forgoes familiar iconography and casts its view back to the provincial mansion-bound fright flicks of Larraz’s past to create something far stranger. Though DEADLY MANOR’s quirks will either win you over or turn you off, Arrow’s release is another essential for slasher fans and anyone looking to dive deeper into the strange waters of Spanish-made horror.
DEADLY MANOR Special Edition Blu-Ray is available February 25th, 2020 from Arrow Video.