GORE IN THE STORE
DEADLY MANOR ***
Directed by José Ramón Larraz. Starring Clark Tufts, Greg Rhodes, Claudia Franjul, Mark Irish, Kathleen Patane.
Horror, Spain, 87 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 17th February 2020.
Originally released in 1990, by which time the slasher boom of the 1980s had peaked and disappeared again leaving a trail of weak Freddy, Jason and Michael sequels, DEADLY MANOR begins pretty much like any other slasher movie from the previous decade by having a Scooby Gang of beautiful young people driving through the countryside looking for a lake resort to spend some quality relaxation time at, like most ‘80s teenagers did according to these movies. Naturally enough, they pick up a hitchhiker who tells them that the lake is a few hours’ drive away before they run into the local police force, who warns them about their dangerous vehicle.
So far, so every box ticked, and having decided that the lake is too far away to make that day they pull the truck off the road, up a dirt track and park up at a seemingly abandoned old manor house where strange pictures are plastered over the walls, one of the gang gets a bad feeling and leaves, and the hitchhiker takes a liking to one of the girls and a disliking to her boyfriend. And this is before the strange dreams and the dead bodies start piling up.
Lacking only a chainsaw to really finish off the checklist of clichés needed to make a peak-era slasher, DEADLY MANOR plods along for its first half, introducing a bunch of kids who don’t really seem to be friends with each other and have nothing to endear them to anybody watching, such is the nasty nature of their interactions. Pair that with a plot that is, at best, serviceable and you could be forgiven for writing off DEADLY MANOR as another low rent THE HILLS HAVE EYES/THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE knock-off, best filed away in the bin marked ‘Forgotten Horror Titles to Impress Your Film Studies Tutor With’.
However, DEADLY MANOR does have something about it. An offbeat and weird tone that harks back to Hitchcock – stick with it – albeit with a distinctly European flavour that tries to convince you that the movie is a product of the American movie system but it is fooling no one. Director José Ramón Larraz was also the filmmaker behind the erotic bloodsucking classic VAMPYRES, where he did a similar thing and tried to make a very British Hammer Horror movie (which, to all but the untrained eye, he basically did) and DEADLY MANOR repeats the trick, albeit with the American teen slasher and less successfully as the slow pace he seems to employ to everything works quite well in the gloomy and atmospheric setting of an English forest where naked female vampires can take their time to seduce their victims but for a slasher movie where audiences generally demand a kill every 10-15 minutes, not so much.
The kills themselves are generally bland and offer little to compete with Leatherface and his crew – with only one kill actually happening in the first half of the film - but there is plenty of sex and nudity to keep you entertained, and after a while even the dire acting seems to gel with the strange atmosphere to create something worth sticking to the end for. The pacing itself does pick up a bit after 45 minutes of wondering around a house clearly owned by a demented killer (and yet they still want to stay) and discover what we, the audience, already know. It isn’t the most shocking reveal ever, given that the clues are all there when the hapless kids enter the house, but it is quite a fun final dash for the credits, and even the comedy cops show up again, paying homage to Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT but without the accompanying daft music or truck full of chickens.
As a film on its own DEADLY MANOR doesn’t quite have enough going on to even put it in the same league as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTEN, which came out the previous year and marked the low point of the original Paramount run of movies and slashers in general. However, stick with it past its dreary and unoriginal opening act and it does have a bizarre appeal that only connoisseurs of the genre can appreciate. The 2K restoration looks stunning, with the vibrant colours of the rural landscapes popping out of the screen and the pitch blacks of the manor’s interiors contrasting sharply with the decor to create a suitably creepy location for the gang to wander around in, and extras include new interviews with actress Jennifer Delora and producer Brian Smedley-Aston, an archive interview with director José Ramón Larraz, an audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan and a trailer under the name of SAVAGE LUST, the movie’s original title.
Overall, if you are a slasher completist or simply must own every special edition of obscure horror titles that Arrow Video put out then there is a place in your collection for DEADLY MANOR, alongside EDGE OF THE AXE, THE MUTILATOR, PIECES, THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II, THE SLAYER and THE CHILL FACTOR to satisfy all of your second-rate slasher needs. To be fair, it is a lot more watchable than most of those movies (not PIECES - never better than PIECES) once it gets going but aside from the obvious charms of naked dream demons and bad actors getting their throats slit there is very little else going on. It does, however, look fantastic.