Retro-review: New on BluRay from Arrow Video!

DEADLY MANOR (1990)

aka SAVAGE LUST
Directed by José Ramón Larraz
Written by Larry Ganem, José Ramón Larraz, Brian Smedley-Aston
Starring Clark Tufts, Greg Rhodes, Claudia Franjul, Mark Irish, Liz Hitchler, Jerry Kernion, Kathleen Patane, Douglas Gowland, William Russell, Jennifer Delora, Richard Rohr

In 1980, FRIDAY THE 13TH was released to the masses and while HALLOWEEN was the one that kind of sparked the slasher phenomena of the 80’s, the FRIDAY THE 13TH series ended up owning the 80’s and becoming the mainstream master of the subgenre. Of course, the film was almost a direct lift from Mario Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD before it, but by the 1990’s the blueprint of the slasher was set in stone and ripe for the self-referential era of the 90’s that cruelly mocked the very subgenre it was attempting to emulate. This brief history lesson was prompted by my watching DEADLY MANOR, the last film by Spanish director Jose Ramon Larraz. DEADLY MANOR, though it was made at the end of the slasher era, feels much more like an homage to the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, but because it was made a decade later, it feels too late to the game in terms of being relevant. Still, as a representative of a subgenre which was petering out in the early 90’s, this one is a gloriously schlocky one.

A group of free-wheelin’ kids are headed to party at a lake house when the weather becomes rough and they decide to hole up at an abandoned mansion for the night. Ignoring the weird shrine inside of a totaled car on the front lawn filled with candles, blood stains, torn clothing, and pictures of a lovely woman and ignoring the windows that close by themselves and ignoring the secret room filled with scalps, these Brainiacs decide it’s safe enough to hunker down in and squat for the night. Of course, a shadowy figure waits for them as darkness falls.

Unlike EDGE OF THE AXE, which Larraz made a few years prior to this one and offered up a fresh take on the slasher genre, there’s nothing really original about DEADLY MANOR. The kids are dumb as rocks and ignore all the signs of something being wrong. They mock the police and go off into the dark alone to be easily picked off. And of course, the group is whittled down to one final girl to do an extended battle with the monster in the shadows. If you’ve seen any FRIDAY THE 13TH film, you know the drill. The thing is, believe it or not, those first few F13 films actually did have some heavy themes of psychological horror, trauma, and unbridled vengeance. They were well acted and well produced. They were schlocky, but still had a sense of fun and thrill. DEADLY MANOR didn’t notice this when it was looking at the F13 script to cheat off of in class. All they nabbed was the basics and none of the nuance. So even when it is aping the style of the slasher, it forgets all of the substance. So much so that none of the kids stand out as to who is the final girl until there simply isn’t anyone else to be last on the chopping block. I guess this could have been somewhat revolutionary decision by those behind DEADLY MANOR. Not being able to predict the pecking order of who dies first to last is the best thrill this one has going for it. There’s no way one can predict it. But the main reason one can’t predict it is because no one is focused on long enough to have a shred of character. And even when they do, they are quickly eliminated from the playing field. This leaves DEADLY MANOR to be more of a randomly plotted film that didn’t feel like much thought was put into stuff like character or theme.

Still, I don’t want to be too hard on this film. I do think some skill was put into the filming of DEADLY MANOR. There are a few scenes that actually are a bit suspenseful as the kids wander around the dark house and into the killer’s clutches. It is gory in bits. It feels as if it is going for a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE vibe with its set design. It offers quite a bit of nudity and mayhem. It does go through the motions of a slasher, but does so in a way that makes me think that not many of the people behind the camera saw many slasher films.

DEADLY MANOR does have pacing problems with the action finally really starting at the 40-minute mark, leaving a rushed final half that is filled with much carnage—cliched carnage, but still a lot of it all at once. The ending is almost a beat for beat rip from the slasher 101 playbook, false final scare included. I think somewhere in DEADLY MANOR could have been a great film. Hell, it might be a fun film to sit around and watch and laugh at/with. I mean, EVIL DEAD had some horrendous acting moments and it’s considered to be a classic. It just feels as if Larraz rushed to get this one done and didn’t take the time he spent with many of his previous classics. DEADLY MANOR is only for the most dedicated of horror lovers. Browsers in the horror aisle should keep on walking and check out some of Larraz’s stronger films like EDGE OF THE AXE and SYMPTOMS.