directed by Jose Ramon Larraz
starring Jennifer Delora, Claudia Franjul, Clark Tufts
In the late ’80s the money dried up in the European film market forcing Eurocult directors to work in America within the framework of American slashers, but their less obvious, plot driven impulses made their American films a bit off model. José Ramón Larraz’s Deadly Manor avoids the overly jokey approach that marred so many horror films of the last ’80s in the wake of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. This film had to be a jolt to slasher fans looking for a by the numbers teen slasher movie and instead getting a deliberate inversion of slasher tropes by mixing in gothic horror elements and a refusal by the director to stay with the formula.
A group of college students are lost in upstate New York trying to get to the lake for a weekend camping trip. The pick up a hitchhiker who says he can help get them to their destination. As daylight starts to wane they come across an big abandoned house in the woods and they decide it would be safer to stay there for the night rather than continuing on in the dark. The house has a huge altar with a wrecked car in the front of the house. The gang decide it is weird but not a deal breaker, nor are the coffins in the basement, or black and white nude photos of the same woman plastering the walls of the house, or the scrapbook of dead bodies, or the collection of scalps, so they settle down for the night. During the night things get weirder and eventually the body count begins and the whole thing just goes full on crazy town including a finale where the ghost woman turns out to be alive, disfigured from the car crash memorialized on the altar, with her husband helping her kill teens and bikers, until the walls of the house burst open spilling forth corpses in front of our suitably traumatized final girl.
The Blu-Ray for Deadly Manor boasts a striking 2K restoration from original film elements and a respectable slate of extras including a commentary, interviews, and a trailer from a VHS release when the film was re-titled Savage Lust.
In Making a Killing producer Brian Smedley-Aston recalls some anecdotes from making the film with his old friend and collaborator Jose Ramon Larraz. It doesn’t add a lot to the Deadly Manor experience, but he does discuss how the how the used for shoot was scheduled for demolition, so they were able to burn the house and that footage didn’t make it into the final film.
Daughters of Darkness podcast hosts and frequent writing and commentary cohorts Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan sound off on the audio commentary. In their usual meticulous yet fluid style they discuss Larraz’s defiance of genre norms by mixing tropes to keep viewers expectations off kilter, Larraz’s focus on the perverse aspects of female sexuality and his use of female antagonists in his late career slashers, and they compare the more mature approach to sexuality with European directors compared to the prudish and juvenile approach in so many American slashers. The pair are continually bemused by the characters being so nonchalant considering the levels of weirdness surrounding them in an abandoned house covered in nude photos of a woman, coffins in the basement, and a collection of human scalps. Kat reads an excerpt from the local paper during the production about the house used in the film. It was actually an old family home that had been sold to developers and was scheduled for demolition so the old women who lived in the house allowed Deadly Manor to make the film, while they still lived in the house and they became set moms for the cast and crew passing out sandwiches and sweaters. The upside to this track is it helps make some sense of the movie and may uncover some of the method behind the considerable madness. Deadly Manor is a film that has been mostly forgotten since its brief VHS shelf life decades ago. This release allows the film to be seen and reevaluated under pristine conditions which it was never afforded during its initial home video release.