The number of bums on cinema seats may be falling and streaming platform’s as numerous as they are unstoppable, with home video falling somewhere between the two. Even so, there will always be a place for DVD and Blu-ray collectors thanks to labels giving boutique releases to the weird, wonderful and forgotten and it’s within those parameters that smaller scale companies can be a bit more enterprising. It’s just like indie gaming, smaller budgets mean bigger risks can be made. It’s through this status quo that companies like Eureka, Arrow, and Criterion have both prevailed and given fans of the odd opportunities to engage with films that mainstream distributions networks wouldn’t take a second glance at. Arrow have been one of the more adventurous organisations to pounce upon this freedom. Previously their Academy took a major left turn by releasing a band of Polish provocateur Walerian Borowyczk’s films – as I said, the lack of mainstream pressure can be liberating – following that up in 2019, through their Arrow Video label, is a set of Spanish provocateur’s José Ramon Larraz work (spotting a theme yet?).
On the back of the box is this comment, “[Larraz is] One of the most underrated and oft-neglected genre filmmakers of his generation“. Overlooked he certainly is, the only film of his to see any sort of decent release in the UK is Symptoms (1974), released as part of BFI’s sub-label Flipside and the official British Palme d’Or entry at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. His most known film is still solidly under the radar. Beyond that, he is almost a forgotten entity, one operating in the same style of horror cinema as Jean Rollin (Fascination, 1979) and Jesús Franco (Vampyros Lesbos, 1971) who are two larger than life members of the sexualised euro-horror movement of the 1960s and 70s. This new boxset from Arrow, titled Blood Hunger, should kick start readdressing his position within the growing Horror community.
Included in this set is Whirlpool (1971), Vampyres (1974) and made after the fall of the Franco regime, Coming of Sin (1978). The relevance of the Franco regimes demise is considerable as there is no way a fascist government would ever allow films such as Larraz’s to be made. His are films full of sex, lesbianism, and lashings of blood.
Unfortunately, this style of Euro-horror is more miss than hit, so I am only going to be discussing Vampyres with it being the best film of the three. Whirlpool is about an incestual nephew and aunt who lure young ingénues to their isolated woodland home, and with these young models, they are seduced into lesbian sex and elaborate rape traps – and all for the photos. It is a rather unpleasant film, one made all the more difficult by the crude filmmaking on display, the bad acting and a big bad with all the threat of a tweed sports jacket complete with leather elbow patches. There is a scene that explains the methodology of the photographer’s traps and where their previous visitor disappeared to shot in black and white that gives the film some degree of style. 1978’s Coming of Sin (AKA Violation of the Bitch… wow, that’s a title alright) follows much of the same plot, in that an illiterate young gypsy girl comes to live with a solitary female artist at her country chateau and bad stuff happens, sex stuff. Coming of Sin is the work of a much better filmmaker, it gets wilder (Pasolini-like, maybe? Which is why we’ve included no images of it) and it is from a director who has a nice sideline in obscure dreamscapes.
Vampyres is the best of the three just on the premise of it being so unlike the other two, also doesn’t hurt that it’s a pretty good film too. The 1974 film stars Marianne Morris (Fran) and Anulka Dziubinska ((credited as just Anulka) Miriam) as two beautiful women who run along the country roads late at night asking for lifts home from passing cars, the two take their chauffeur’s home and proceed to have sex with them then drink their blood at their massive country estate. It’s an odd set up for such a psychosexual film, one made all the odder by my favourite thing of all three of these films. In the garden of this massive country house is a caravan, home to John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner) who spend most of the film commenting on the weird things that are happening outside and questioning, in that classic ‘curtain twitcher’ way, what those women and Ted ((the vampires victim) Murray Brown) is doing – his actions are very erratic, after all. Their inclusion is a fun one.
It is a simple film in many ways, Vampyres, and a repetitive one that plays the cycle of ‘wander-trap-feed-repeat’. Boredom is successfully averted by incorporating pre-feed social trappings. If these “sirens” were truly effective they would pick their victim, take them home and feed. That isn’t their strategy though, they take them home, socialise, drink alcohol with them, or sleep with them, before literally drinking them. The big bad from Whirlpool, Karl Lanchbury, counts among the victims and I cannot lie it was very satisfying to see him killed off, a process which sees them stab him and as he is covered (literally) in blood the two vampires drink and lick blood from his flesh. If nothing else, Larraz has a pornographic aesthetic. The socialising is interesting as it provides a chance to use the adage of not playing with your food and transposing it onto vampire-kind, albeit a very English, middle-class vampire-kind. I was further compelled by the film through the music of James Kenelm Clarke (Two-Lane Blacktop, Hardcore (not that one), Ren & Stimpy and the Boondock Saints) who amplifies Vampyres vast emptiness and woozy weirdness with his equally oddball compositions.
Whether Jose Ramon Larraz is, as Arrow stated, “one of the most underrated and oft-neglected genre filmmakers of his generation”, remains to be seen. However, at his very best he is satisfyingly odd and it’s that which compels you to look further into his body of work. And in that regard, Larraz is no different than his peers: Franco, Rollin or the equally fringe Paul Morrissey (associate of Andy Warhol with a very peculiar history of his own). They are all the cultiest of cult directors, and whether a director of this class can be grouped along with the likes of those aforementioned Euro-Horror eccentrics or the deep crevices of Hong Kong’s Cat III, not one of them – or their films – can be described as anything less than fascinating, arty or wicked.
BLOOD HUNGER: THE FILMS OF JOSE LARRAZ IS OUT NOW ON ARROW VIDEO