‘Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz’ reviewed

❉ Beautifully restored extravaganzas from underrated low budget maestro José Ramón Larraz.

“Far more classy in his ambitions than Jess Franco, far more commercially minded than Jean Rollin, and far more polished and accessible than Walerian Borowczyk, Larraz was not only able to pull off genuinely well made pieces of entertaining exploitation on budgets that wouldn’t have covered Hammer’s catering bills, but was also able to bring brains as well as boobs and blood to the table.”

Thank Bog in Heaven that we still live in an age of physical media and box sets. Long may it continue, for there’s something really special about possessing a real life copy of a film, along with whatever supplementary goodies might accompany it. Arrow’s latest offering is a three piece suite of beautifully restored extravaganzas from criminally underrated low budget maestro José Ramón Larraz.

Far more classy in his ambitions than lysergicly prolific fellow Spaniard Jess Franco, far more commercially minded than French hippy lesbian vampire dream purveyor Jean Rollin, and far more polished and accessible than Polish porn surrealist Walerian Borowczyk, Larraz was not only able to pull off genuinely well made pieces of entertaining exploitation on budgets that wouldn’t have covered Hammer’s catering bills, but was also able to bring brains as well as boobs and blood to the table, so much so that his 1974 film Symptoms (not included here) found its way into the Cannes film festival as the official British entry.

Whirlpool (1970)

Larraz’s debut feature, is, like much of his early work, a low-budget British affair. It pretty much sets the scene for Larraz’s reoccurring methodology; gather a small group of morally questionable characters in an isolated residential location, season with sleaze, and leave to simmer until the whole shebang bubbles over in a froth of sex and death. Predatory aging fashionista Sara (Pia Andersson) lives in an isolated cottage with her “nephew” Theo (Karl Lanchbury), a pornographic photographer. Sara picks up young models at fashion shoots and takes them back with her to seduce and for Theo to photograph. Naive ingénue Tulia (Vivien Neves) is their latest victim.

‘Whirlpool’/’She Died With Her Boots On’ UK Front of House card (The Tim Greaves Collection).

Now fully restored, and while the acting is often shaky, visually, it has a stark, pale, sickly quality reminiscent of later films like Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) and Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982). But while those films were both urban nightmares, here the setting is the English countryside; bleak woodlands filled with thin, black, leafless trees contrasted against a washed out sky, and the sparse, white interiors of Sara’s cottage. At times, the film suddenly switches gear and veers off into dark fairytale territory, with the woodlands and the nearby river seemingly awakening to become threatening characters in their own right, or when Tulia begins to express her reservations about staying at the cottage by launching into a speech about sensing “terrifying powers beyond all understanding, which can twist and torture you.”

A true giallo, there’s a really effective use of black and white during a major revelation, and the deep, satanic red of pixie-like Theo’s darkroom somehow reminds us of the alchemical nature of the photochemical image.

WHIRLPOOL CONTENTS

  • Original US Theatrical Cut
  • Brand new audio commentary by Tim Lucas
  • Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films of José Larraz – author and critic Kim Newman reflects on the recurring themes and underlying obsessions linking together the early productions of José Larraz
  • A Curious Casting – actor Larry Dann on the strange story behind his casting in Whirlpool
  • Deviations of Whirlpool – featurette comparing the differences between the US Theatrical Cut and a previously circulated, alternate cut of the film
  • Extract from an archival interview with José Larraz
  • Image Gallery
  • Original US Theatrical Trailer

Vampyres (1974)

Probably Larraz’s most widely seen film. It may also be his best. Murdered lovers Fran and Miriam (Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska) prowl the autumnal countryside looking for men. They take their prey back to their huge, dilapidated mansion and do what bloodsuckers do. 70s exploitation film lesbianism occurs surprisingly graphically and frequently. Suspicious caravanners are suspicious. For some reason you can’t put your finger on, the film’s absolutely extraordinary even though it should be a complete pile of crap (and that one sentence applies to the majority of Larraz’s output from the 70s).

Of course, there’s more to it than any description can really attain. Right from the opening scene, what promises to be titillating is negated by sudden and graphic violence—often realistic violence—and there are hints throughout and all the way up to the ambiguous ending that something a lot weirder and darker is going on. Tragic even. The shameless use of Oakley Court, which was so overused by Hammer due to its proximity to Bray Studios, and which later turned up in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) for precisely that reason, feels less like a cost cutting measure and more like a big “fuck you” to the declining studio that had dominated the industry for so long, but whose output had, by 1974, become horribly conventional and repetitious.

‘Vampyres’ (The Tim Greaves Collection)

The death scenes are frequently traumatic, and the way in which the vampiric women’s male victims who—as in Jonathan Glazer’s later Under the Skin (2013) —are all lonely, forsaken men picked up on the road, are left as discarded trash in ditches or abandoned cars is genuinely disturbing. Interestingly, the credited screenwriter “D. Daubeney” is a women—the D standing for Diana—and it shows; at a time when most British horror movie victims were mere pneumatic damsels in distress needing to be rescued like objectified prizes by bland heroes and paternal authority figures, or pretty victims destined to become pretty (and still weirdly sexualised) corpses, it’s no wonder that a female-penned response would be so mercilessly ferocious.

VAMPYRES CONTENTS

  • Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
  • Brand new interviews with producer Brian Smedley-Aston, actors Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, makeup artist Colin Arthur and composer James Kenelm Clarke
  • Reimagining Vampyres – a brand new interview with Larraz’s friend and collaborator Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake
  • Extract from an archival interview with José Larraz
  • Jose Larraz and Marianne Morris Q&A at 1997 Eurofest
  • Image Gallery
  • Trailers

The Coming Of Sin (English Dub, 1978)

The Coming of Sin, here reviewed under its less evocative international English title of Vice. Makes a Visit (which, at least, is more restrained, if not as intriguing as another of its alternative monikers, The Violation of the Bitch) is one of those odd films that might seem unremarkable upon first viewing but that somehow worms its way under your skin until you can’t stop thinking about it. On paper, the plot is pretty bare bones; beautiful but illiterate Gypsy servant girl Triana (Lidia Zuazo, credited as “Lydia Stern”) is left in the care of artist Lorna (Patricia Granada, credited as “Patrice Grant”) by her rich, middle-aged employers whilst they go off to England. Triana is haunted by reoccurring nightmares of a psycho-sexual-equine nature, and stalked by pretty-boy naked horseback rider Chico (Rafael Machado, credited as “Ralf Margulis”). Soon Triana and Lorna have become lovers, but then Chico insinuates himself into Lorna’s villa, and the deeply unhealthy sexual tension reaches boiling point.

More of an arthouse potboiler than softcore romp, the whole thing has the languid, heated atmosphere of a darkly sexual adolescent dream so vivid one still can’t shake off its memory even in old age. Lorna and Triana’s first love scene is not only sweatily erotic, but it feels earned as opposed to gratuitous, and fans of David Lynch may find themselves getting a sense of déjà vu; if Lynch hasn’t seen this, and wasn’t consciously or unconsciously channelling the scene whilst filming the love scene in Mulholland Dr. (2001) I’ll eat my own chin. Even if you’re only vaguely aware of the film, you’ll probably be familiar with the infamous nightmare sequence (perhaps inspired by an untrue urban legend regarding Catherine the Great), featured over the years on numerous posters, video covers and documentaries; it wouldn’t have been out of place in Caligula (1981) or perhaps the works of Jodorowsky.

The cinematography is often painterly, with even the egregious film grain in the under-lit museum sequences working to the film’s advantage; presumably a result of not being able to fill the location with lights and a need to push-process the footage, the image ends up mirroring the look of the fading, soot-stained works of art hanging on the walls. For the most part, though, the film has the look of a glossy Technicolor giallo, belying its budget with a strong colour scheme and beautiful, soft-focus compositions. The physical casting is masterful; not only are the three leads easy on the eye but they resemble the models in the old oil paintings Lorna is so obsessed with, and Larraz allows long sequences to play out with little more than lingering glances, masterly compositions and a suggestive but restrained score. The version under review is the English dub; obviously, you’ll really want to stick to the original Spanish language version.

THE COMING OF SIN CONTENTS

  • Spanish and English language versions of the feature
  • Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
  • Variations of Vice: The Alternate Versions of The Coming of Sin – exploitation expert Marc Morris on the strange and scandalous release history of José Larraz’s most censored film
  • Remembering Larraz – author and filmmaker Simon Birrell shares his fond and extensive memories of his long-time friend and collaborator José Larraz
  • His Last Request (2005, 27 mins) – short film by Simon Birrell made under the guidance of José Larraz and starring Spanish horror legend Jack Taylor
  • Extract from an archival interview with José Larraz
  • Image Gallery
  • Original Spanish Trailer

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Three films from José Ramón Larraz: Whirlpool, Vampyres and The Coming of Sin, all newly-restored in 2K from original film elements
  • Newly-produced, extensive bonus features and unseen archival content
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for all features
  • Newly comissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
  • 80-page perfect bound book featuring new writing by Jo Botting, Tim Greaves and Vanity Celis

❉ ‘Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz’. Featuring Whirlpool, The Coming of Sin and Vampyres. Out Blu-ray 25th March from Arrow Video.

❉ Order today: https://arrowfilms.com/product-detail/blood-hunger-the-films-of-jos-larraz-blu-ray/FCD1852

❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Jonathan Sisson studied Moving Image at the University of Central Lancashire and produced several short films. After that, he became an actor and has appeared in several film and television productions. 

❉ Jonathan Sisson’s 2001 film ‘The Institute’ is now online on Vimeo and can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/193049022

Like this feature? Why not support us on Patreon?
No announcement available or all announcement expired.

Be the first to comment

Have your say...