As if this year hasn’t already been hard enough on Eurocult fans with the deaths of legends like Patty Shepard, Jess Franco, Francoise Blanchard and Michel Lemoine, earlier this week we were slapped with the news of the passing of the brilliant filmmaker and comic book artist extraordinaire José Ramón Larraz and if any of the following sounds like I’m repeating things I’ve said on the site before its because I am. When discussing Larraz there are certain things that need to be repeated and will always ring true.
On one hand it would be easy to call the late José Ramón Larraz one of the most underrated filmmakers of European genre cinema because lets face it, he is especially when taking into consideration the lack of attention that has been paid to his films in the DVD era. As a fan one of the things that stings the most about Larraz’s recent passing is that unlike fellow departed hero’s of cult cinema such as Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and even Walerian Borowczyk who all lived to see their films presented in an entirely new light on DVD, something which no doubt introduced their work to a new generation of fans, Larraz never got that aside from a few exceptions, the most obvious being the various releases of Vampyres (1974).
One the other hand, to say Larraz’s work went by completely unappreciated would be a slap in the face to the legion of devoted fans, myself on here on numerous occasions included, who have been extremely vocal, and rightfully so over the years about the lack of availability of Larraz’s films on DVD. Even still, we’ve made due with beat up time coded prints of his debut Whirlpool (1970), copies of Deviation (1971) sourced from old scratchy, washed out VHS tapes, or in the case of a film like La Murete Incierta (1973), prints that have turned completely red! Despite the not so pristine condition of the viewing materials, Larraz’s artistry was more than apparent and the atmospherics of his films were undeniable, and as any fan will attest to, when it came to atmosphere Larraz was untouchable.
Perhaps Larraz’s biggest directorial strength was his ability to get the most out of his locations as evidenced by the aforementioned Whirlpool and Deviation but most notably in key films Vampyres and his masterpiece Symptoms (1974). Even a film like the notorious Black Candles (1982) is smothered in moody ambiance. While its true that any filmmaker can set a film in a creepy isolated wooded area, in Larraz’s films his locations becomes characters in their own right, he gave them personality and when combined with the ominous ambiguity of his plots and mysterious, often hedonistic characters, he stamped his films with a vibe and identity that is entirely his own. Its a unique identity that carried over into his later work as well in films like the off the wall but incomparable to anything else Rest In Pieces (1987), his slasher mystery Edge of the Axe (1988), which I’m happy to see enjoying a bit of a rediscovery as of late and his penultimate feature the underappreciated Deadly Manor (1990) wherein Larraz counters every familiar slasher film trope with something completely out of left field that a lesser director would never think of including in a film of that type.
|Celia Novis' On Vampyres and Other|
Symptoms documentary on Larraz
Even though he had long been retired as a director when he passed, I can’t help but think that with Larraz gone there is void in the world of horror, and at least he went out knowing that his work mattered to a lot of people as evidenced by his more than deserving lifetime achievement award at the 2009 Sitges Film Festival and Celia Novis’ documentary On Vampyres and Other Symptoms (2011). For those more casual fans who may only be aware of Larraz’s name thanks to Vampyres, I cannot recommend all the above mentioned films enough along with other fascinating films like Scream and Die (1973), The Coming of Sin (1978) and Stigma (1980) amongst others in his body of work. José Ramón Larraz the artist may be gone now but the films remain for those curious enough to seek out the work of a maverick auteur and a key figure in the history of cult cinema who’s films continue to stand out and just may change you’re entire outlook on film, hopefully for the better.
Descanse en paz, José .