Color, 1990, 86 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by "Joseph Braunstein" (José Ramón Larraz)
Clark Tufts, Greg Rhodes, Claudia Franjul, Mark Irish, Jerry Kernion, Kathleen Patane, Jennifer Delora
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
With European horror directors finding their local industries caving due to changes in distribution and other factors like TV and home video, Spanish filmmaker José Ramón Larraz followed suit after returning to his homeland for nearly a decade. Off he went to the U.S. for a trio of very low budget horror films starting off with a pair under the name “Joseph Braunstein,” Rest in Pieces and Edge of the Axe. The last film of the cycle (and Larraz’s penultimate feature overall), Deadly Manor (also shown under the baffling title Savage Lust) is probably the most “normal” of the bunch since it’s basically another variation on a bunch of kids spending the night in a spooky house and getting bumped off one by one. Of course, this being Larraz he can’t help spicing things up a little with oddball touches here and there, particularly a berserk climax that really must be seen to be believed.
Heading out into the woods for a weekend at the lake, three young couples end up taking refuge at an abandoned house where the walls crack open and the cellar’s filled with coffins. They’ve also brought along a long-haired hitchhiker, Jack (Tufts), whom they picked up after his ride in a Bob’s Big Boy truck. One of the vacationers, Helen (Franjul), takes an immediate dislike to the place and pays the price for her intuition, while the others end up on the potential kill list as someone in a white mask starts picking them off one by one before a sinister motive is finally revealed.
Though the plotting of this film is really shaggy at best, that quality also makes it stand out a bit since there’s really no way you can possibly predict who will make it to the end or why they’re even being killed in the first place (despite a bunch of nudie photos lying around to provide clues). Horror fans will also get a kick out of seeing Jennifer Delora (of Frankenhooker and Robot Holocaust fame) in a small but very pivotal role that sends the film out on a high note, and she gets to appear in a very Larrazian erotic dream sequence that actually ties in with the plot. The rest of the cast is fairly generic body count fodder, but they have some silly lines at times and get to run around in the dark a lot. Overall this won’t give Vampyres or Symptoms any competition as Larraz’s best film, but it’s a diverting time killer with enough atmosphere and eccentricity to merit a visit or two.
Initially released in the U.S. by the astonishing cheapo label AIP (under that Savage Lust title with a ridiculous cover), Deadly Manor has mostly flown under the radar since then until Arrow Video’s simultaneous U.S. and U.K. Blu-ray releases. The transfer is up to their usual very high standards and definitely equal to the impressive work on Edge of the Axe, touted here as a "new 2K restoration from original film elements." Whatever that may entail, it's a much easier film to appreciate here than before and suffused with a nice, dark sense of atmosphere throughout. The LPCM English mono track (with optional English subtitles) is also in top condition here. A new commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan is another entertaining notch in their Larraz track belts as they contextualize the film's place in the horror genre at the time (especially the weirdness carried over from his Spanish period), the pop culture fears at the time involving serial killers, the rationale (or utterly lack thereof) displayed by the characters, the genre tropes that get upended along the way (especially the climax), the deliberate "brain fog" instilled by the film, and plenty more. In the new featurette "House of Whacks" (32m53s), the always energetic Delora chats about being cast (when the film was called Forgotten Flesh for some reason), her work philosophy, the creepiness of the house location in upstate New York, and her great rapport with Larraz. In "Making a Killing" (7m3s), occasional Larraz producer Brian Smedley-Aston explains how he got involved in the American batch of titles and wound up doing more duties than planned on this film, which wasn't the happiest shooting experience with less than stellar acting talent involved. Finally an archival Larraz interview (3m42s) recorded in England in the mid-'90s by the Mondo Macabro gang (from the sessions used for Eurotika! by the look of it) is quick and very difficult to understand as he talks about translating his scripts into English and shooting female nudity versus nonexistent male exposure. Also included are a Savage Lust trailer, a "greatest hits" promo (4m23s), and a very rapid photo gallery (2m50s) featuring some great shots of Larraz on set. Popping this in a computer drive will also give you access to a BD-Rom script and shooting schedule.
Reviewed on February 17, 2020