Monday, April 8, 2013

Scream and Die (1973)

AKA The House That Vanished and Psycho Sex Fiend

Unlike other heroes of European cult cinema such as Jess Franco (R.I.P.), Walerian Borowczyk, Jean Rollin and Sergio Martino just to name a few, José Ramón Larraz has really yet to have his day in the digital age. As far as I can tell, the only films of his to have gotten the DVD release they truly deserve in terms of transfer and image quality are Vampyres (1974), The Coming of Sin (1978) and Black Candles (1982), which was released as a double feature along with the film Evil Eye (1975) directed by Mario Siciliano, while films like his debut feature, the once considered lost Whirlpool (1970), Deviation (1971) and the brilliant Symptoms (1974) continue to sit on the shelf, only made available to fanatics via DVD-R. Take a gander around the internet and you’ll find a plethora of Larraz fans, all with the same mindset that the time is long overdue for the man and his films to get the respect and proper releases that they truly deserve. Prior to making Vampyres, easily his most well known film, Larraz helmed Scream and Die, which could be seen as the next logical thematic step following the aforementioned Whirlpool and Deviation, putting a twist on various motifs present in those two films, and the final result is not just one of the more unique films in Larraz’s filmography, but in Euro horror/cult cinema in general.

Gorgeous model Valerie (Andrea Allan) accompanies her petty thief boyfriend Terry to a seemingly abandoned country house deep in the woods presumably to loot it. Instead of finding valuables however, the two are witness to a murder after a man and a woman enter the house shortly after and the man proceeds to brutally stab his companion to death. Valerie manages to escape on foot, although Terry isn’t so lucky. After hitchhiking back to her London flat the next morning, Valerie notices Terry’s mud covered car parked outside her apartment building, and a photo of her missing from her portfolio. As Valerie tries to retrace her escape route in an attempt to find the house again, she finds herself being stalked by a psychopath that possesses all the need to know information about her.

Poster and VHS art
Scream and Die is a shining example of Larraz’s ability to blend various elements from different subgenres into something that is entirely his own. The film contains traces of Italian giallo (keep an eye out for the black leather gloves!), murder mystery elements that are dare I say quite Hitchcockian, scenes taking place in the English countryside smothered in atmosphere akin to classic gothic horror with just the right amount of sleaze thrown in for good measure. The giallo/mystery aspects of the story are defiantly some of the films strongest attributes, particularly because of how drawn out everything is. This is a slow burn, make no mistake, yet it works in the films favor as for the majority of the film Larraz keeps us completely in the dark. We’re just as perplexed as Valerie, trying to sort out any possible clues as it pertains to her situation at the same pace she is, so it goes without saying the film becomes more and more engrossing as it moves foreword, forcing us to do our own detective work with Larraz throwing us a curve ball or two along the way. Another big thing the film benefits from is Valerie’s likeability factor, which is high. She might not be the brightest, but she’s almost instantly sympathetic and it certainty doesn’t hurt that Andrea Allan is an unnecessarily beautiful woman complete with a adorable British accent to boot. As for the sleaze, without giving anything away, it defiantly makes for some nice what the fuck moments.
Nobody utilized the English countryside quite like Larraz and the atmosphere he manages to conjure up is not only one of the main selling points of Scream and Die but a definite sign of things to come in the sense of how he would use his locations to his utmost advantage in the films that would follow. Much like Franco, Larraz really knows how to get the most out of his scenery as evidenced early on in the film during Valerie and Terry’s initial early evening journey to the house. Larraz makes sure to give the audience the same feeling of unease as Valerie and pulls it off with even with standard shots of the road and the surrounding trees/wooded area from inside the car. There is an obvious aura about this scenery and Larraz knew it. Of course Larraz only amplifies the mood once the two arrive at the house and the nighttime exterior shots of the house surrounded by fog are classic examples of Larraz’s signature style. Larraz obviously had fun playing around with the lighting in this film, showing a particular affection for blue which is on display masterfully in a number of scenes, perhaps most notably in a phenomenal shot of Valerie ascending the staircase of the house while blue light shines through the windows while fog flows through the open front door. Even the scenes taking place during city in broad daylight have an ominous quality to them which makes sense taking the main storyline into consideration.

This film has had a pretty interesting home video release history. Video Treasures released the film under both the Scream and Die and The House That Vanished titles, and the film was also released by Media under the later title. One thing that stands out about those VHS releases is all have a running time of 84-86 minutes, meaning they’re cut by around 13 minutes. I have a feeling as to what scenes were cut but at the same time it does leave one scratching they’re head as to why the film was butchered so badly for those releases, as it would be a bit of a stretch to label the film’s sex and violence content “graphic”. Scream and Die is actually officially available on DVD, fully uncut with a 99 minute run time, although it’s clearly from a VHS transfer. It’s defiantly not horrible looking, but a film with atmosphere like this should be presented in mint condition. With Scream and Die, Larraz hit all the right notes. There’s plenty of substance in terms of it’s captivating storyline to go along with all the atmospheric style on display. True, it may test your patience at times, but it’s such an easy film to get into you’ll be in it for the long haul. Even if you just have a remote interest in 70’s Euro horror, Scream and Die deserves to be in your collection.  

1 comment:

  1. This sounds pretty rad. I need to check it out. I'm big on sleazy "Satanic cult" movies.