Monday, July 15, 2013
Years before he directed Euro horror classics such as Vampyres (1974) and Black Candles (1982) for which he is best known for, the still unheralded brilliant Spanish filmmaker José Ramón Larraz made a name for himself in the world of comic book art. This was during the rule of dictator Francisco Franco, and much to Larraz’s annoyance the tyrannical censorship imposed by Franco’s government (which also led to fellow Spaniard, the late, very great Jess Franco leaving his home country to make films) was felt by all forms of art, including comics. In the 1999 Channel 4 documentary series Eurotika! episode dedicated to his films, “From Barcelona to Tunbridge Wells”, Larraz recounts a particularly petty issue the censors had with an image he drew of a woman with her lips partly separated, which was considered way to sensual, therefore it had to be cut from the publication. After leaving Spain, Larraz told a friend how he’d been interested in making films for a while to which, according to Larraz, his response was a “romantic view of the film industry” consisting of just get a camera and actors and make the film you want to make, don’t worry about any studios. Sound advice, which Larraz followed when he came out of the gate swinging with his first film as a director, Whirlpool, a definite statement from a first time filmmaker of there ever was one.
Tulia, a young, beautiful yet extremely naïve model agrees to spend some time at the cabin home of Sara, an acquaintance of her photographer boss, and her shy nephew Theo, who also happens to be a photographer. Tulia and Theo quickly develop a bond, and not long after Tulia lets go of all her inhibitions and becomes a player in Sarah and Theo’s sexual games. The entire time however, Sarah and Theo are constantly speaking of Rhonda, their previous guest at the cabin whom Sarah was rather fond of. Tulia eventually becomes increasingly suspicious of what happened to this Rhonda, and when a stranger claiming to be Rhonda’s lover shows up inquiring about her whereabouts, her curiosity becomes even greater leading Tulia to try and seek out the truth about what really happened to Rhonda.
Whirlpool is clearly a sign of things to come from Larraz with future films like Deviation (1971) and Scream and Die (1973) with its themes of voyeurism and incest, its jolting blend of sex and violence and its isolated countryside setting along with the sense of isolation that comes with it. Despite this being his first film, Larraz already had a pretty good handle on these devices and puts each to excellent use to add fuel to the mystery that’s central to the film. Whirlpool is a slow burn make no mistake, yet not one boring moment is to be found thanks to Larraz’s presentation of the story. Sure, clues are dropped thorough, but Larraz makes nothing obvious, waiting until the moment is crucial to reveal information pertaining to the mystery, the intrigue lasts until the films final moments. This was an amateur production with hardly a budget to be found which is something that shows in certain parts of the film and its not without its moments of questionable dialogue and clunky delivery of said dialogue but these moments are few and far between and in no way does it throw off the films consistency at all, in fact leading man Karl Lanchbury, who would become Larraz’s go to guy for the next few years, is quite impressive in the role of Theo. He has a very charming boy next door-ish quality about him, but he also has the ability to turn on a dime make things very awkward and uncomfortable.
For the longest time Whirlpool was thought to have been lost until a few years back a beat up time coded print was miraculously discovered and began making the grey market DVD-R circuit. As a whole, its not horrible looking, although the picture is very soft and certain portions of the film seem to look more murky and washed out than others. The sound can get a big muffled at times too, but that may also be a speaker issue and again there is a timer running across the top of the screen for the entire film. Of course nobody has attempted to clean it up and give it the proper release it deserves which sadly is par for the course when it comes to the majority of Larraz’s films, so until that day comes that’s the only way to see the film. A tagline such as “She died with her boots on… and not much else” certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination, and while its true that thorough the course of Whirlpool Larraz does offer up a healthy amount of sleaze, the film offers a hell of a lot more than what those tantalizing words on the poster might lead one to believe. Part psychological thriller, part mystery, part sexploitation, Whirlpool is an important film that’s not to be missed by not only Larraz fans but fans of Eurocult cinema in general.