The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - BLOOD HUNGER: THE FILMS OF JOSÉ LARRAZ | The Movie Waffler


Three restored movies from cult Spanish filmmaker Jose Larraz.

Reviews by Eric Hillis

Directed by: José Larraz


Using original film elements, Arrow Video have restored in 2K and collected together in this box-set three films from cult Spanish filmmaker José Larraz - his little seen 1970 debut Whirlpool; his most famous work, 1974 lesbian vampire thriller Vampyres; and his oddball 1978 Spanish thriller The Coming of Sin.

Whirlpool (1970)
Belonging very much to the cycle of early '70s grimy British thrillers that play as reactionary retorts to the swinging '60s, Whirlpool is a sleazy slog, enlivened occasionally by some striking imagery courtesy of Larraz and cinematographer Julio Pérez de Rozas.

The plot serves as an excuse for some softcore lesbianism and the obligatory early '70s rape scene. Creepy young 'photographer' Theo (Karl Lanchbury) and his nominal 'aunt' Sara (Pia Andersson) get their kicks by luring models to their country home with the promise of putting together impressive portfolios. Of course, their true intentions are of a sexual nature, and to be fair to the pair, it seems to be going well for them. What Sara doesn't know is that Theo has murdered her favourite model, Rhonda (Johanna Hegger), and dumped her corpse in the local river, which looks a lot like the one from the old 'Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water' public information film.

Taking Rhonda's place is the leggy Tulia (Vivian Neves), who might be the dumbest heroine in all of '70s sleaze cinema. It's clear from the off that her hosts are a pair of wrong 'uns, but Tulia sticks around, even after an attempted rape by Theo's drug dealer.

What we have here is essentially a sexploitation riff on Hitchcock's Rebecca, if Joan Fontaine's protagonist was a mini-skirted dollybird and Mrs Danvers' lesbianism wasn't implied but rather pushed front and centre. It's nowhere near as interesting as that comparison might suggest, and with some tortuously bad acting (Neves is particularly wooden) and somnambulistic pacing, Whirlpool is one for exploitation obsessives only.

Vampyres (1974)
If Hammer's Karnstein trilogy (The Vampire Lovers; Lust for a Vampire; Twins of Evil) is the commercial entry point to the world of '70s vampiric eroticism, and the films of Jean Rollin the esoteric ultimate destination, Vampyres lies somewhere in the middle, a British horror with a very continental sensibility.

The movie opens with two female lovers - Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska) - gunned down after being caught in the throes of passion. Cut to some later point and Fran and Miriam are now the undead, living in an abandoned country manor and surviving on the blood of the various men they lure with the promise of sex (a promise, it must be said, they fully deliver on).

Most '70s sexploitation movies have all the erotic charge of Donald Trump holding hands with Theresa May, but if Vampyres doesn't stir your loins you probably have even less of a pulse than its undead stars. Morris and Dziubinska are an entrancing double act, and they genuinely seem enchanted by each other during their intimate scenes - there's none of the awkward fumbling seen in the other two movies in this set. This may be down to the contributions of screenwriter Diana Daubeney, who was married to Senor Larraz at the time. Many of the key horror movies of the '70s - Halloween; Suspiria; Messiah of Evil - were co-written by their directors' romantic partners, and the female input here lends Vampyres a verisimilitude largely lacking elsewhere in the lesbian vampire genre.

Morris and Dziubinska may have been chosen for their striking looks, but both give subtly impressive performances here. Watch the cheeky little glances they give each other while a victim-to-be delivers a mansplaining lecture on the finer points of wine.

It's difficult to justify calling Vampyres a feminist horror movie, given it was made primarily for an audience of men in raincoats, but I don't think it's a coincidence that we root for Fran and Miriam as they dispatch a series of male plonkers, only changing our allegiance in the final act when they turn their attention to a potential female victim.

Shot in the scenic surrounds of Oakley Court (also the setting for Hammer horrors The Brides of Dracula, The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies), Vampyres offers one stunning image after another. The cinematographer here was no less than Harry Waxman, whose CV includes such British genre classics as The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Nanny and The Wicker Man, and Vampyres ranks among his best work, looking particularly gorgeous in Arrow's restoration. The sound design is also a standout. Eschewing an oppressive score, Larraz instead accompanies his atmospheric scenes with an eerie effect that sounds like wind blowing through a metal tube, which I suspect may have been borrowed by Ridley Scott for Alien later in the decade.

The Coming of Sin (1978)
the coming of sin
Following the death of General Franco, Spanish society transformed almost overnight from a regressive, fascist state to a typical liberal Western European nation. Like many artists who had chosen to work in exile, Larraz returned to his homeland and took advantage of the relaxed attitudes to onscreen sex with a string of sexploitation movies.

As with Whirlpool, The Coming of Sin is a sleazy thriller centred around a love triangle. Wealthy artist Lorna (Patricia Granadaagrees to take in orphaned gypsy teenager Triana (Lidia Zuazo) when her foster parents shoot off to London on business. The sullen Triana is haunted by a nightmare involving a naked man on horseback, who materialises in the form of Chico (Rafael Machado), a handsome gypsy who lives in a shack by the river. Just as Triana has embarked on a steamy affair with Lorna, Chico ingratiates himself also, and Triana's jealousy threatens to erupt in violence.

The Coming of Sin feels like a reactionary middle finger to the late Franco on the part of Larraz. Lorna represents the middle classes, seeking to exploit the lower classes in the form of her gypsy lovers, who turn the tables on her in gruesome style. Larraz has something to say about cultural appropriation here too, with Lorna enjoying the music of the gypsies but mocking Triana for her superstitious beliefs. What negates this intent however is that while Lorna views gypsies with contempt, Larraz doesn't exactly portray their culture in a positive light himself.

Larraz struggles to stretch his thin plot out to feature length, padding the film out with extended flamenco sequences and much softcore groping. It often resembles a Jess Franco movie, but Larraz knows exactly what he's doing here, so we're denied the unintentional laughs provided by Franco's unique mix of innovation and ineptitude.


Vampyres is accompanied by an audio commentary by author and horror expert Tim Lucas; critic Kim Newman discusses the early films of Larraz; interview with actor Larry Dann; archival interview with Larraz; a featurette comparing the US theatrical cut and the alternate cut that had previously been in circulation; image gallery; original US trailer.

Whirlpool includes a commentary by critic Kat Ellinger; new interviews with producer Brian Smedley-Aston, actors Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, makeup artist Colin Arthur, composer James Kenelm Clarke and Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake; archival interview with Larraz; a 1997 Q+A with Larraz and Morris; image gallery; trailers.

The Coming of Sin gives you the option of Spanish and English language versions; commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan; genre expert Marc Morris discusses the various cuts of the film; interview with author and filmmaker Simon Birrell, a long-time friend of Larraz; His Last Request - a short film directed by Birrell; archival interview with Larraz; image gallery; original Spanish trailer.

Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz is released on blu-ray by Arrow Video March 25th.