Arrow Films have just released three early films from Spanish auteur Josė Larraz, one of the most underrated and oft-neglected genre filmmakers of his generation. Part of Arrow’s excellent and on-going Indicator collection, all three films in this boxed set are newly restored from original film elements, with Whirlpool and The Coming of Sin making their Blu-ray world premieres.
Whirlpool (Aka Perversion Flash)
Director: Josė Larraz
Script: J.R. Larrath (aka Josė Larraz)
Cast: Karl Lanchbury, Vivian Neves, Paia Anderson, Johanne Hogger, Andren Grant, Larry Dann, Barrie Craine
Running time: 87 minutes
Theo (Lanchbury) is an introverted young man who lives with an older woman, Sarah (Anderson), in a remote farmhouse near a lake. Theo is an obsessive photographer who likes nothing better than to photograph young women in distress, hence whenever Sarah brings a pretty model back from one of her fashion shoots in the city, (primarily in order to seduce them for herself), he enjoys getting involved in threesome activity with both women, but also in some more nefarious activities of his own, all at the expense of their young and pretty guest.
During the bulk of the film we follow the gorgeous Vivian Neve, who stars as Tulia, a young model who’s invited back to Sarah’s secluded country home for what purports to be a quiet weekend retreat – but soon transpires to be anything but!
Whirlpool is Larraz’s debut feature, and hitherto before this release was ultra-rare, appearing only on some unofficial releases of scratchy prints. As with all of Larraz’s UK shot films the director nicely captures the Englishness of the settings, complete with an undercurrent of something ‘not quite right’ lurking the ancient British countryside.
The film is quite slow-paced, but maintains the interest for the most part due to its rather sleazy atmosphere, copious bouts of onscreen nudity and bizarre conversations between the leads. For example, at one point Tulia says to her host: “I sense an evil atmosphere of darkness in which strange, fearful powers predominate; terrifying powers beyond all understanding, which can twist and torture you.” Err, sure you do, he’s frequently sitting right next to you!
It’s also quite a mean-spirited film with more than a hint of Straw Dogs (1971) about it, especially during the final act. In fact, I was quite shocked by the level of sexual humiliation on display here and it made me think that if this film had had a more substantial release during the 1980s it would most certainly have languished on the DPP’s ‘video nasties’ roll call of ‘dubious honour’! In fact, there’s a flashback scene involving one poor lass being sexually assaulted by a much older gentleman that is somehow much more disturbing than all the other assaults put together. However, as with many of these kinds of films, Whirlpool has its heroine act in a strange way, and I’m sure if she’d reacted like most ‘normal’ women would have under the circumstances (i.e. getting ‘the hell out of dodge’ early on – perhaps when she sensed(?) evil) then she’d have probably been okay.
The film is nicely shot, with uniformly good cinephotography, and the music by Stelvio Cipriani really enhances the overall tone and mood of the piece. The main let-down is the rather stilted script, complete with some inconsistencies, and it’s not helped by some continuity gaffs. Sadly, both the horror and sex film genres seem to have disowned Whirlpool over the years, probably for being too grim and depressing to be either titillating or exciting!
As per usual Arrow Video has done a good job with the extras which include:
Audio commentary with Tim Lucas from Video Watchdog;
Obsessive Recurrence: The Early films of Josė Larraz (24 mins) – Author and film critic Kim Newman reflects on the recurring themes and obsessions of Larraz’s films.
A curious casting (9 mins) – Actor Larry Dann talks about his casting for Whirlpool and how he was eventually dubbed, even though his character was only that of the barman who hardly said anything!
Deviations of Whirlpool (27 mins) – Compares the two cuts of the film – both the US and European versions.
Vivian Neves on BBC’s Parkinson (July 72) (13 mins) – An interesting interview with the actress as she’s being interviewed on the same show as Patrick Moore who pulls some very funny expressions during her rather candid chat with the overrated Yorkshire presenter.
Archive interview with Josė Larraz (4 mins) –Here Larraz tells us that the film cost £50K to make.
US Theatrical Trailer – (2.53 mins) – This gives away far too much, and makes it sound more like a Hitchcockian thriller than it is.
Image gallery– 56 stills, including quite a few posters;
The Coming of Sin
Director: J.R. Larraz
Script: Monique Pastrynn
Cast: Patrice Grant, Lydia Stern, Ralph Margolis, David Thompson, Len Candle, Daisy Jules, Montserrat Silio
Running time: 90 minutes
The Coming of Sin, or La Visita del Vicio, in its native Spanish, sees young gypsy girl, Triana (Lydia Stern or Lydia Zuazo according to IMDB), experiencing a violent sexual awakening when a friend/guardian, Sally (Montserrat Silvio), and her grumpy husband, Malcolm (David Thompson), leave her to stay with a mutual friend, Lorna (Patrice Grant or Patricia Grant according to IMDB), for the summer, while they’re away in the UK. Lorna lives a solitary existence, as an artist, in the Spanish countryside, in a grand villa surrounded by fields and near to a lake. All very familiar for a Larraz film!
Over the years Triana has had a series of vivid, sexually explicit dreams that feature a naked young man on horseback who pursues her with lust in his eyes. So, when a handsome young man, Chico (Ralph Margulis or Rafeal Margulis according to IMDB), actually turns up at the villa, riding naked on horseback, and continues to reappear regularly, Triana starts to freak out, fearing the worst. What makes matters worse is the fact that Lorna seems to encourage the young man to spend time with Triana and herself, seemingly trying to encourage a potentially dangerous relationship to blossom between the two youngsters.
The Coming of Sin is primarily an erotic thriller, with the emphasis firmly on the ‘erotic’ since there are few actual thrills to be had here. That’s not to say that The Coming of Sin is a bad film per se, it’s just quite disappointing considering its intriguing central premise, which could have been developed into something so much better than what does actually happen.
Once again Larraz is fascinated by throwing together strong, often weird personalities into a remote location, who then have to quickly adapt in order to survive their potentially dangerous situation. All Larraz’s earlier films seem to reflect this scenario to some degree or other.
The Coming of Sin is nicely shot and fairly well acted; well, at least by a few of the actors. The young woman who plays Triana was apparently not a proper actress and it sadly shows – her performance is very uneven, although, to be fair, she improves as the film progresses.
The film is languidly paced, and there seems to be quite a bit of padding, such as the inclusion of a whole flamenco dance sequence, which isn’t really necessary and doesn’t move the plot forward one inch, not on Cuban heels or otherwise! However, there is something mesmerizing about the movie, especially Lydia Stern, (who was a gypsy girl in real life) who had very distinctive looks, especially her piercing green almond-shaped eyes, which get shown off to good effect throughout the film.
There’s quite a bit of sultry, sweaty sex to be seen throughout the movie, to keep the dirty raincoat brigade happy, but the film only has a few truly positive points, these being the attractive central cast (who are all pleasing eye-candy), the twist ending (which I could see coming a mile off, but still appreciated) and one scene involving a hollowed-out metal horse and the naked Triana inside it, which is very memorable in a peculiarly dream-like way!
Special features include:
Variations of Vice: The alternative versions of The Coming of Sin (6 mins) – Exploitation expert Marc Morris chats about all the different versions of the film, which is also known as: Sodomia, Violation of the Bitch and Triana, to name but a few.
Memories of Larraz (35 mins) – Author and filmmaker Simon Birrell shares his memories of his collaborations with Josė Larraz. He tells a funny story of when he first saw one of Larraz’s early films in a sex cinema in Spain, and he reveals that Larraz’s favourite of his own films was Symptoms, which was critically acclaimed but didn’t do well at the box-office.
His Last Request (28.5 mins) – Simon Birrell’s short black & white film that he made, with help from Larraz, back in 2005. This is nicely shot and quite good fun in a silent film kind of way.
Archival interview with Josė Larraz (5 mins) – Cathal Tohill and Andy Starke talked to Larraz back when he was still living in Kent. Larraz, at that time, thought that the story of The Coming of Sin was rubbish, but that the film looked good. I kind of have to agree.
Image gallery – 25 stills, including some cool video covers;
Spanish Theatrical Trailer – (3.20 mins);
Audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Sanm Deighm
Director: Joseph Larraz
Script: D Daubeney
Cast: Murray Brown, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, Marianne Morris, Anulka, Karl Lanchbury, Bessie Love, Michael Bryne, Margaret Heald, Gerald Case, Douglas Jones
Running time: 87.5 minutes
Two young women are shot dead whilst making love to each other in a remote English mansion during the pre-credits romp of Larraz’s most infamous film, Vampyres. The rest of the film then follows the antics of the two women’s ‘ghosts’ as they suck the blood of the living in order to continue to exist (sort of) in the place where they were murdered.
A travelling businessman, Ted (Murray Brown), picks the slightly older of the two women up and gives her a lift back to the decaying manor house that she shares with her blonde friend, Miriam (Anulka). She encourages him to drink plenty of wine and rapidly seduces him. After a long night in the sack, Ted wakes up the next afternoon dazed and wondering if he dreamt the whole thing, especially when he can’t find his new sexy friend, Fran (Morris). As the film continues we cut between Ted’s attempts at getting laid as much as he can by the luscious Fran (and why wouldn’t he?), with the seduction of a number of other male visitors to the old house, after the women have first lured them back into their web of blood and intrigue. The men’s bodies keep turning up as staged accidents in their cars, to be rapidly loaded into old-school (“nee-naa, nee-naa”) ambulances waiting nearby.
Over time Ted becomes suspicious that all is not well and he tries to escape from the clutches of the pair of femme fatales, which, in this case, is quite an apt description of these two mysterious and dangerous women. However, in doing so, he puts other lives at risk…
Watching much of this all ‘going on’ is a young couple out caravanning in the grounds of the mansion (actually Oakley Court, where many Hammer films were shot). The woman, Harriet (Sally Faulkner – probably the biggest ‘name’ in the film at that time) is convinced that all is not right and provides a running commentary to her bored partner, John (Brian Deacon) as to the comings and goings both to and from the stately home. John would rather just quietly get on with his fishing!
All the key characters coalesce during the final act with startlingly violent consequences for nearly everyone, and those viewers with a little grey matter between their ears will quickly figure out what’s really been going on; well, at least at the very end.
I first saw Vampyres, in a cut form, on a rental version of the film back in the early nineties, but have since been more fortunate to see it uncut, at least twice, on the big screen at various horror film festivals around the UK. And, over the years, it’s turned out to become one of my favourite horror movies. Don’t ask me why, as I couldn’t really tell you, but there’s just something about it that I really like, and, no, I’m not just talking about all the lovely female flesh on display, although, it has to be said, that is a major bonus too!
Key things that I admire about Vampyres are: its consistent intangible dream-like quality; the great photography of even quite mundane things and actions; the mix of beauty and extreme violence; the soundtrack by James Clarke, which works so well throughout (especially that weird wind noise that comes and goes throughout the film); the sense of black humour running, like a twisting vein, through the movie; and the two lead actresses who, considering they weren’t professional actresses, do an amazing job of keeping a straight face and ‘keeping it real’.
The plethora of special features include:
Cast & crew interviews featuring interviews with:
Producer Brian Smedley Aston (18.5 mins) – An excellent interview where Brian reveals that he took out a second mortgage on his house to make the film, which cost about £75K for a three week shoot.
Actress Marianne Morris (14 mins) – Morris discusses the tough shoot and reveals that Larraz had nicknames for everyone; Oh, and that she did Rollerball next!
Actress Anulka (13.5 mins) – She talks about the blood tasting of peppermint and having turned down the film: The Story of O.
Brian Deacon (18.5 mins) – The actor talks about fearing for his life at one point when Morris was wielding a real knife in front of his throat!
Sally Faulkner (12 mins) – Admits to accepting the role in Vampyres purely as a way of getting back into acting after having had some time out of the industry to have a baby!
Colin Arthur (18 mins) – The film’s make-up artist talks about communication issues with Larraz, who didn’t speak much English at the time, and how he thought it looked like they were making a ‘soft porn’ film!
James Keneim Clarke (4 mins) – Reveals that he was paid with two bottles of champagne to score the film.
Victor Matellano (22 mins) – The filmmaker talks about his relationship over the years with Larraz and how he and the Spanish auteur were trying to get more of Larraz’s un-filmed scripts off the ground, even in recent years, including the intriguing sounding ‘Encounter with Lucifer’!
Archival interview with Josė Larraz (14 mins) – Here he reveals that he made his ‘vampires’ out to be more like ‘dangerous cannibals’ rather than the romanticised figures of popular culture.
1997 Eurofest Q & A (10 mins) – The great man is asked about the likes of his film Black Candles, his retirement, storyboards and extended continental versions.
Image galleries: Stills – 246, including some nice B & W shots; Behind the scenes – 68, which reveals some interesting shots of naked cast members eating sarnies; Promotional – 45, which includes an awesome poster where Vampyres is on a double bill with the very cool The Northville Cemetery Massacre.
Lost caravan sequences – Some stills with explanations as to what might have happened to the lost footage.
Theatrical Trailers – US (3 mins) & International (2.5 mins)