DEADLY MANOR (1990) / DIRECTOR: JOSÉ RAMÓN LARRAZ / SCREENPLAY: JOSÉ RAMÓN LARRAZ, BRIAN SMEDLEY-ASTON / STARRING: CLARK TUFTS, GREG RHODES, CLAUDIA FRANJUL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Deadly Manor is the third in a set of slasher horrors made by José Ramón Larraz at the tail-end of his long and varied career. The premise follows a typical outline for the genre as a group of horny young people get diverted by a storm into staying at a seemingly abandoned mansion packed full of photos of a strange, alluring (usually naked) woman on nearly every wall of every room. That’s after they pick up a hitchhiker who may or may not be bad news himself. Of course, the mansion isn’t as empty as first thought and blood gets spilled as the mystery reveals itself. It’s the type of stuff that played well on VHS box blurbs back in the halcyon days of rental stores.
Larraz was a rare talent but for this reviewer at least, there’s not much here to recommend. Events plod along to the expected conclusion, enlivened only by some incongruous but diverting nudity and some flourishes from Larraz that only serve to make you wonder how much better it would have been if he’d been more creatively invested in the material. Even the kills are largely dull, and the final explanation behind why is so flimsy it’s tempting to think the film works better as satire of the genre than straight horror.
Still, it’s pretty enough on this new Arrow release, with a vivid 2K restoration from the original film elements ensuring everything onscreen is pin-sharp and clear, particularly considering much of what happens is set over one stormy night. Where this release excels is in its selection of extras. A new, relatively brief interview with producer Brian Smedley-Aston works as an aperitif of sorts. This is followed by another new interview, this time with actor Jennifer Delora, who is both delightful and entertaining company as she discussed her career. There’s an extract from an archive interview with Larraz, an image gallery and a humorously spoiler-packed trailer from the film’s American release as Savage Lust.
The indisputable gem included here is a wonderful commentary from writers Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan. Although they couldn’t convince this reviewer Deadly Manor is a lost classic (nor are they trying to), their knowledge about genre film, enthusiasm for Larraz and for exploring his work and finding depth and nuance and joy in it, is a perfect example of what a commentary should achieve: providing context, developing understanding, appreciation and being a huge amount of fun while doing it. It will be a struggle for any other commentary this year to beat this one. While the film is no great shakes and is far from essential, the extras elevate this release into a recommendation, and consider that doubled for fans of slashers.