DirectorJose Ramon Larraz
Release Date(s)1990 (February 25, 2020)
Studio(s)Castor Films/Filmworld International Productions (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
One of the last films directed by Jose Ramon Larraz (Vampyres, Edge of the Axe) before his semi-retirement from the industry, Deadly Manor (aka Savage Lust) was released late in the slasher cycle of the 1980s—not making its way to the US until 1990. On the surface, it’s an unremarkable if poorly executed horror film, filled with all of the predictable tropes you would expect from a post-Friday the 13th era genre movie. It has since, however, been reappraised by a handful of critics as a misunderstood satire of sorts. Whether that’s accurate is debatable.
The setup is fairly straightforward: a group of vacationing teenagers looking for a campsite pick up a local hitchhiker along their way, but are waylaid by a flat tire. Left with few alternatives, they hole up in what appears to be an abandoned old mansion nearby, one that's complete with cracks in the walls, cobwebs in the corners, dirty old furniture, and oddly enough, an upstairs bedroom littered with pictures of a nude woman on the walls, as well as a wrecked car sitting upon a concrete altar outside. After deciding to stay there overnight anyway and avoid the cold and the rain, it soon becomes apparent that maybe the house isn’t empty after all, and that someone or something is looking to do away with these newly-arrived squatters, one by one.
Looking at Deadly Manor, purely from a genre standing, there’s nothing particularly special about it. The performances leave much to be desired, as does the overall pace. Hardly anything occurs for the first hour outside of one death, which takes place offscreen. The majority of the running time is filled with unlikable characters repeating variations of the same lines over and over again about the state of things. That’s one way to approach the film. Another way is to look at it as a satire, meaning that Jose Ramon Larraz was intentionally taking the piss out of traditional horror clichés. It’s a difficult argument to make because of how long and drawn out the film is at times. If the point was to intentionally drag the story out for effect then it might have been a good idea to tighten things up and emphasize the satire in a more obvious manner.
That said, there are certainly moments worthy of attention. For instance, an exchange of dialogue between characters, attempting to rationalize why they shouldn’t stay in the house, is so bafflingly awful that it becomes funny after it goes on and on with no end in sight. It’s certainly a point in favor of the film being more of send-up. But the last half hour or so is when things really start cooking. When the killer, or killers in this case, are revealed and one murder starts occurring after the other, it’s really when the film finds its genre footings. The crowning moment, when a crack in the wall busts open to reveal an abundance of dead bodies tumbling out—some freshly dead, others not so much, is really the chief reason to see the film.
Deadly Manor certainly didn’t light any fires upon release, and it’s mostly looked down upon today for its lesser qualities, whether they were intentionally baked into the film or not. It’s not easy to recommend for sure, but for genre buffs who are scraping the bottom of the barrel and looking for undiscovered treasure, it might be worth their time—specifically with a group of like-minded friends, their alcohol of choice, and a willingness to overlook any potential flaws.
Arrow Video brings Deadly Manor to Blu-ray utilizing a 2K scan of an original 35mm interpositive element. It's a terrific-looking transfer that brings much more of the film’s look than any previous home video release, of which there were few. Grain levels are maintained while fine detail is abundant, even in the darkest of shadows, and especially on special effects make-up, which doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. The color palette offers a decent variety of hues, mostly during daytime sequences in the outdoors where foliage and skies can be seen, but also on the colors of cars, signage, and clothing. Skin tones are also natural in appearance. Brightness and contrast levels are ideal and there are no visible leftover instances of damage to be seen. Everything appears stable and clean.
The audio is included in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It doesn't offer much in terms of dynamics, but it also isn’t that active of a soundtrack to begin with. Occasional ambient and atmospheric activity does occur, but it’s never impressive. However, dialogue exchanges are fine, as is the score. Sound effects occasionally have heft behind them, but for the most part, it’s a very laid back track. It’s also free of hiss, distortion, and dropouts.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Authors and Critics Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
- House of Whacks: Jennifer Delora on Deadly Manor (HD – 32:53)
- Making a Killing: Producer Brian Smedley-Aston on Deadly Manor (HD – 7:03)
- Archival Interview with Jose Larraz (HD – 3:42)
- Savage Lust VHS Trailer (HD – 1:00)
- Original Promo (SD – 4:23)
- Image Gallery (HD – 170 in all – 2:50)
Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan spend their commentary defending the film as an intentionally satiric take on the genre while also discussing the cast and crew, especially the director. Jennifer Delora talks about how Deadly Manor was the last B movie she ever took part in, what it was like shooting in the old house, and what the cast and crew were like. Brian Smedley-Aston mentions his reconnection with Jose Ramon Larraz after their collaboration on Vampyres, talks about the film’s shortcomings, and mentions that the film originally ended with the house burning down. The interview with Jose Ramon Larraz was filmed in the 1990s wherein he speaks briefly about the film, albeit in a thick accent without subtitles. The VHS trailer appears to have been recreated using HD footage while the promo is an extended trailer of sorts cut together to promote the film to investors. The image gallery contains 170 behind-the-scenes photos. Also included is a 28-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information; The House That Kept Reappearing: Jose Larraz’s Deadly Manor by John Martin; and restoration details.
Deadly Manor is one of those films that is likely to cause one to reexamine their friendship with the one who introduced them to it. It has its moments, but doesn’t offer enough of a substantial horror experience, or a good/bad movie experience for that matter. It’s also not an obvious parody, if it is indeed one in the first place. On the other hand, Arrow Video’s presentation of it, including their nice-looking transfer, is the best way to experience it.
– Tim Salmons