Monday, June 30, 2014

Rest in Pieces (1987)

When talking about the films from the major figures in European cult cinema, more often than not the majority of the discussion is rooted in the films from the 70’s. Not surprising in the slightest seeing as said decade was easily the golden age for the style of filmmaking perfected by directors like Jess Franco, Walerian Borowczyk, Jean Rollin and José Ramón Larraz amongst several others. While the films to come from the 70’s were unquestionably important, some of the later output to come from these transgressive auteurs is equally worthy of the same attention and unfortunately has a tendency to get dismissed. The most obvious example would be the later digital films from Jess Franco with only the most devoted Francophiles coming to their defense. José Ramón Larraz is an interesting case. Larraz basically retired from feature filmmaking in 1992 so the late period films from him to get somewhat swept aside would be his last three horror films, 1987’s Rest in Pieces, Edge of the Axe (1988) and Deadly Manor (1990). The main criticism of these films seems to be that Larraz was trying to cater to the American rental market. Really a perplexing critique especially when the film in question is Rest in Pieces, one of Larraz’s most unusual and wacky horror films and a film that is certainly unlike any American horror film to come from the late 80’s.

Following the death of her Aunt Catherine, Helen and her boyfriend Bob move into the estate of the recently deceased Catherine which Helen has inherited along with Catherine’s remaining fortune. Almost immediately after arriving however strange occurrences around the house begin to plague Helen including seeing visions of her aunt. The odd behavior of their new neighbors, all of whom were very close with Catherine don’t make things any easier for Helen either. Bob however isn’t content with giving up his new life of luxury and talks Helen out of leaving, although he too becomes suspicious of the neighbors when questions are raised regarding Catherine’s money and their behavior becomes increasingly more antagonistic making it clear that there something the neighbors aren’t telling them, and Aunt Catherine has plans for Helen from beyond the grave.  

Aside from sharing a few very faint thematic similarities with films like Carnival of Souls (1962) and Jess Franco’s A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971), Rest in Pieces is really incomparable to anything else. A strange meeting of supernatural and slasher components rounded out with instances of oddball humor, Rest in Pieces represents Larraz as his most offbeat while working in a genre. Obviously the film doesn’t take itself 100% seriously but it wouldn’t be fair to label the film as a true “horror comedy” as the horror elements far outweigh the comedic but when the film does go for laughs it works, particularly because most of the films humor is rather absurd and fits right in with the horror story. Even one of the films most memorable violent moments has somewhat of a comical tone to it due to the utter randomness of it. The story itself is quite original and becomes quite ambitious with Larraz throwing in all sorts of bits about suicide, cannibalism, and even a side plot involving a slight mystery dealing with the mental health history of Helen’s family similar to what he had done previously in La muerte incierta (1977).  At times it might seem a bit convoluted especially later on in the film but it takes some creative twists and the way Larraz eventually brings it full circle in the end is pretty unique and despite the films very slim budget Larraz was also able to conjure up his typical atmospheric artistry in select scenes.

It has to be mentioned that two of the neighbors in the film are played by (American born) Eurocult legends Jack Taylor who portrays a blind man with a retractable blade at the end of his walking stick and the late Patty Shepard. Unsurprisingly, whenever Shepard is involved in a scene she’s the most magnetic presence on screen. Shepard’s last role was in Larraz’s Edge of the Axe which also features Taylor although both are in considerably smaller roles. Edge of the Axe is also the one film Larraz’s last run in the horror genre to have been rediscovered as of late and has gained a decent fan base. What’s also interesting about Rest in Pieces is that it was the first time Larraz worked with Brian Smedley-Aston since Vampyres (1974) who edited the film. Aston of course was the editor on Symptoms (1974) and the producer on Vampyres and would go on to produce Larraz’s last horror film Deadly Manor three years after Rest in Pieces. With Rest in Pieces being a Larraz film obviously it doesn’t have a DVD release but it did get a VHS release and low priced used copies are fairly easy to find as are DVD-R’s. Its not Larraz’s best film to be sure, but it’s a fun and fairly creative horror film that not just Larraz fans but horror fans in general should give a chance.    


  1. I rented this flick several years back, and I remember liking it. But that's all I remember. Apparently, I need to get on the ball and scope out this Larraz fellow.

  2. That cover is totally one you'd randomly stumble across in the horror section back in the day and go "I gotta see this!". So while the distributions obviously catered to the rental market the actual film doesn't. Well worth seeking out again as are most of Larraz's films.