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José Ramón Larraz's 1990 film Deadly Manor (also known as Savage Lust), the second to last feature he's direct, follows a group of interchangeable and unremarkable young adults as they decide to head out to a remote lake for a little rest and relaxation. Rod (Mark Irish) is the leader of the group, and he's accompanied by pretty Susan (Liz Hitchler), tough guy Tony (Greg Rhodes) and his potentially crazy girlfriend Helen (Claudia Franjul), an unruly biker guy named Peter (Jerry Kernion) and his main squeeze Anne (Kathleen Patane), who could clearly do better. They get lost along the way, quite predictably, but their luck changes when they pass a hitchhiker named Jack (Clark Tufts) who claims to know exactly the right way to get to their destination. They tell him to ‘hop in' and they're off, but of course, his directions turn out to be bunk.
Lost in the middle of nowhere with a big ol' storm coming into the area, the group decides to take shelter for the night at a big and dilapidated old mansion nearby. As characters are wont to do in movies like this, the group starts poking about the old place and it isn't long before they come across some serious red flags, all of which they ignore. There are a lot of pictures about featuring a mysterious but beautiful woman (Jennifer Delora), there are coffins in the basement, there are weird photo albums and things more ominous than any of that which we shall not spoil here, but rather than brave the bad weather and get out of a clearly bad place to be, they stick it out. Helen eventually gets weirded out enough that she splits, but that too proves to be a bad move. Soon enough, they realize that the old house isn't nearly as abandoned as they thought it to be, and then someone starts killing them off, one by one.
Not nearly as inspired or original as Larraz's better efforts, Deadly Manor is nevertheless an entertaining low budget slasher film with a couple of interesting twists and just enough style to work. It's no unsung classic of the genre, in fact the story is full of clichés and it all feels like something we've seen done before (and done better at that), but the location works quite well and the cinematography isn't bad at all. Cengiz Yaltkaya's score is also interesting, sounding more akin to something that could have come out of an old Mario Bava movie than a 1990 direct to video B-picture, but it is pretty effective even if it doesn't quite mesh with the visual style.
The performances aren't really anything to write home about, most of the main cast members play their generic characters as just that: generic characters. Still, Jennifer Delora looks great here and has a pretty interesting love scene that definitely stands out! She's the best performer in the film and seems to be more invested in the part than the rest, though she doesn't really get as much screen time as the others and feels underused.
Had the pacing been better (the first half is a little on the slow side) and the characters been more interesting this might have ranked higher. It lacks the sexy sophistication of something like Vampyres and the fantastic tension of a picture like Whirlpool but it does have a couple of decent kill scenes. This would turn out to be the last horror picture that Larraz would direct and it does seem to be a less personal or involved project than his other genre entries. Don't go into this one expecting a work of stark originality, but it's an entertaining enough time killer.
Deadly Manor looks excellent on this Blu-ray release from Arrow Video. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and the elements used for the transfer, which was the film's original 35mm negative, were clearly in great shape. Detail is always nice and strong and there's impressive depth and texture in pretty much every frame, save for a few shots that have an intentional softness to them. Colors are reproduced beautifully and get nice, deep black levels as well. The transfer shows no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement and is free of noticeable compression artifacts. Arrow has done an excellent job here.
The English language LPCM Mono track is clean, clear and properly balanced. You won't have any issues understanding or following the dialogue, the score has a reasonable amount of depth to it and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. It's understandably limited in range, but it sounds just fine. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan provide an audio commentary that covers all the bases. They talk about where Larraz's career was at this point and how you can see some of the themes and ideas that he toyed with in his earlier (and admittedly more respectable) pictures creep into this lesser but still enjoyable work. They cover the involvement of the different cast and crew members, the film's production history, how and why Larraz wound up shooting it in the U.S. instead of in Europe and quite a bit more.
The best extra on the disc is House Of Whacks, a reasonably unhinged thirty-three-minute interview with actress Jennifer Delora who speaks quite candidly about working with Larry Revene and Chuck Vincent on some of their non-adult work before then getting the gig on this picture. She describes Larraz as a total sweetheart and seems to have really enjoyed working with him and also discusses her thoughts on doing nudity in films as well as what it was like in the main house used as the picture's primary location (they didn't need to do much set dressing at all!). She tells a pretty amazing story about filming the love scene in the picture and also details the makeup appliances that she had to use in the picture and quite a bit more. She doesn't hold back here, this interview is as entertaining and genuinely funny as it is interesting.
Making A Killing is a seven-minute interview with Brian Smedley-Aston, one of the film's producers. He speaks about working with Larraz, who he got to be good friends with, on this and other pictures, where the financing for the film came from, casting the film himself and where they got some of the ideas for the story from.
The disc also contains a four-minute archival interview that was done by Pete Tombs where he speaks about shooting the love scene, telling the same story that Delora does in her interview. It's quite funny. Larraz's accent is very thick and this doesn't have subtitles but it's worth checking out. Rounding out the extras are a one-minute tape sourced trailer under the alternate Savage Lust title, a four-minute promo reel (basically a lengthy VHS-sourced trailer), a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. The BD-Rom equipped can also pop this disc into their computer and access PDFs of the original shooting script and the schedule.
Arrow packages this release with some nifty reversible cover art and the first pressing includes a color insert booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray disc as well as an essay on the film by John Martin.
Deadly Manor is far from Larraz's best work but it is an entertaining horror picture from his later period that gets enough right to make it worth a watch. It isn't as interesting as his better-known films and it plays to slasher picture conventions more than it might have needed to, but it entertains. Arrow Video's Blu-ray release is excellent, presenting the picture in great shape and with nice audio and some solid extra features that document its history. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.