Monday, February 10, 2014

Deadly Manor (1990)

AKA Savage Lust

When José Ramón Larraz passed in September of 2013 he had basically been retired from the directing game, having directed his last feature film in 1992. Despite this, his death was still a major blow to not just the world of Euro horror but the genre as a whole. To most European cult and horror film enthusiasts Larraz may be best remembered for his early 70’s British films such as Whirlpool (1970), Deviation (1971), Scream and Die (1973), Symptoms (1974) and Vampyres (1974) as well as the sleazy Satanic classic Black Candles (1982) but said Euro horror and cult film enthusiasts will also attest to the fact that Larraz’s entire filmographgy is filled with fascinating films made with an artistry at a higher level than most. From 1987 to 1990 Larraz helmed 3 films, Rest In Pieces (1987), Edge of the Axe (1988) and 1990’s Deadly Manor and alas, some of these later efforts have a tendency to be dividing, the possible exception being Edge of the Axe which thanks to the internet has found its stock risen in recent years. Out of all three its Deadly Manor that seems to generate the most negative criticism. Perhaps its due to bad timing, as by 1990 the slasher subgenre had all but died down but if any slasher film could be considered “misunderstood”, its Deadly Manor, one of the more unique 90’s genre offerings.  

After picking up a mysterious hitchhiker, a group of six friends en route to a lake retreat for a weekend getaway decide to rest up for the night. While looking for a place to stop for the night the gang stumble upon a deserted old mansion and decide to explore. Seeking shelter from an oncoming storm the group decide to spend the night in the seemingly abandoned house despite getting some strange vibes while exploring, a decision which turns out to be against their better judgment as the friends discover the property isn’t as empty as they thought when later in the night members of the group begin turning up dead one after another.

At first glance Deadly Manor might not seem all that different from the countless number of slashers that came before it and indeed the film does feature plenty of the familiar tropes the subgenre is known for, however Deadly Manor quickly reveals itself to be something other than a by the numbers slasher as for every well worn motive employed in the film Larraz counters it with something so far out of left field a lesser director would have never even thought of including in a film like this. In typical Larraz fashion the film is a slow burn with Larraz preferring to gradually build tension and sense of mystery and not just the mystery of who is responsible for the killings but the ambiguity surrounding the house and what’s inside it and its here where Larraz’s unique little personal touches come into play and set the film apart from other slashers making unique use of simple things such as photos strewn about the house, a strange “monument” in the front yard, an ominous discovery in the basement, a crack in the wall, all contribute to the aura of weirdness hovering over the film. Naturally with Larraz behind the camera visually and atmospherically Deadly Manor is miles ahead of other slashers and from an aesthetic standpoint the film harkens back to Larraz’s 70’s films. Also, there’s really no two ways around it, the majority of the cast aren’t the most experienced of thespians although it becomes less noticeable the more the film moves forward.

Again, possibly due to the waning interest in slashers at the dawn of the 90’s Deadly Manor seemed to disappear into obscurity almost instantly after it was released straight to video as Savage Lust. Surprisingly the film did see a DVD release in the UK although there have been complaints about a murky picture quality making certain scenes impossible to see. The most convenient way to see the film would be to go with the DVD-R from Amazon made by Mr. Fat-W Video who also sell DVD-R’s of Larraz’s Stigma (1980) and Black Candles. While the film does have its share of fans it would appear that most who’ve discovered it over the years have dismissed it as cliché simply based on the slasher devices present while not noticing all the outside the box touches Larraz peppered throughout the film and that’s a shame as the film really is a breath of fresh air especially when compared to all the slashers the came before it and one that fans of the subgenre should give a chance. As for Larraz fans who’ve yet to see the film it’s a no brainer featuring all the trademarks that make his films stand out. Ultimately, Deadly Manor should be considered an important film simply based on the fact that it was the last horror film from Larraz, one of the greatest directors the genre had to offer.

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