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Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz Blu Ray (Arrow)

This boxed set features a trio of films directed by the Spanish-born genre filmmaker José Ramón Larraz.

Watch a trailer:

Whirlpool (1970)

Karl Lanchbury plays Theo, a rather creepy photographer who lives in a country house with an older lesbian woman named Sara (Pia Andersson) who poses as his aunt. When the latter takes a trip to London and brings home a beautiful model named Tulia (Vivian Neves), the pair of them work to seduce her so that she will participate in a series of erotic fantasy shoots with them. After spending some time doing everything from smoking dubious cigarettes to playing strip poker with this decidedly odd duo, Tulia starts to pick up on the fact that they frequently talk about another young woman named Rhonda (Johanna Hegger), who previously came to stay with them but disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

José Larraz’s debut feature is ostensibly an erotic thriller but, in reality, the latter part of the equation is more plodding and nasty than tense or suspenseful. The pacing is slow and the acting during the dialogue scenes is as stiff as an ironing board. However, the soft-core sex scenes pack a genuine erotic charge and believability about them which is glaringly lacking in, for example, the Fifty Shades films. Larraz’s direction, while not overly stylish per se, still manages to effectively conjure up an appropriately gothic ambience. This is particularly true of the eerie scenes set in the woods surrounding the central house. The score by infamous Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani is relatively restrained but does add an additional layer of menace during some crucial flashback sequences.

Whirlpool (1970) directed by José Ramón Larraz

On the other hand, any pleasure which you might derive from the film’s better aspects is tempered by its excessive wallowing in brutal scenes of rape and sexual violence. Throw in an unremittingly downbeat conclusion and the end result is a singularly grim piece of work. It’s a film which is too unpleasant to make for satisfying entertainment but doesn’t offer enough substance to be worthy of serious critical acclaim. While it is evident here that Larraz possessed some talent for filmmaking even at this early stage, it’s still a hard one to recommend to anybody who isn’t a connoisseur of the more sordid end of the cinematic scale.

Runtime: 87 mins

Dir: José Ramón Larraz

Script: José Ramón Larraz

Starring: Karl Lanchbury, Vivian Neves, Pia Andersson, Johanna Hegger

Vampyres (1974)

Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska play Fran and Miriam, a pair of lesbian vampire lovers who live in a gothic-style stately home in rural England. They sustain their bloodsucking habit by posing as hitchhikers and luring unsuspecting men into their lair. One of their victims is Ted (Murray Brown), a middle-aged man who goes along with Fran on the promise of some sexual companionship. By chance, a young painter named Harriet (Sally Faulkner) and her boyfriend John (Brian Deacon) also decide to stop their caravan off on the estate and soon begin to suspect that something is amiss.

Vampyres (1974) directed by José Ramón Larraz

Vampyres features many of the same qualities as the earlier Whirlpool: languid pacing, a disquieting blend of eroticism and violence, some distinctively gothic touches and a plot involving ill-starred characters being seduced into a closed sexual environment and, ultimately, their own doom. Here, however, the various elements are blended together in a much more accomplished and cohesive manner. The gothic atmosphere is more vividly rendered and the slow-burning tension is more effectively sustained. The acting is also a lot better. Okay, so it isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy and some of the line delivery does sound a bit stilted, but it’s still good enough to hold the interest during the gaps between the sex and bloodshed. Marianne Morris is a standout as the elegantly sultry Fran, as is Brian Deacon (from The Triple Echo) as Harriet’s sarcastic and vaguely patronising partner.

The horror elements here tease at some queasily perverse areas (the licking of bloody wounds and french kissing between reddened mouths) but, at the same time, possess a few dashes of knowing humour. A lengthy sequence where the vampire couple discovers that one of their would-be victims is a self-proclaimed wine expert pays off in a particularly neat manner, as does the final scene where an estate agent discusses their mansion’s sinister history with a pair of prospective buyers. There’s also a distinctive feminist undercurrent to the proceedings: the two female vampires are vivid, memorable characters who possess an inexorable influence over their hapless male victims. Mirroring this, Harriet is clearly a lot more clued up that something is “off” about these two black-cloaked women than her overly self-assured boyfriend is.

Vampyres is an underrated, low-budget horror gem with its own distinctive take on the vampire mythos. This release features the complete uncut version (for the first time in the UK).

Runtime: 87 mins

Dir: José Ramón Larraz

Script: Diana Daubeney

Starring: Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Murray Brown, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, Michael Byrne, Karl Lanchbury

The Coming of Sin (1978)

Whereas the previous two films here were filmed in England, The Coming of Sin was shot in Larraz’s homeland of Spain. Here, Lidia Zuazo plays Triana, a gypsy servant girl who has recurring dreams about a mysterious naked man who rides a horse. One day, her employers decide to relocate to London and leave her in the hands of their friend Lorna (Patricia Granada), an artist living in the countryside. Just as these two disparate women begin to bond with each other, they are visited by a handsome man named Chico who, like the figure in Triana’s dreams, rides horseback in the nude. Thus begins a fateful and ultimately fatal ménage à trois.

The Coming of Sin (1978) directed by José Ramón Larraz

This thinly-plotted mystery-cum-bonkfest is known by at least two other English-language titles: Vice Makes a Visit and the über-misogynistic Violation of the Bitch. It’s atmospheric in a hazy, soft-focus sort of way and, as with the first two films in the set, the sex scenes play out with considerable erotic vigour. However, it’s easily the most boring of the three, taking an hour and a half to crawl, excruciatingly slowly, towards an unsatisfying nonsense of an ending. Admittedly, the way in which various traditional superstitions are woven into the narrative (dreams, tarot cards, palm reading) helps to imbue it with an intriguing fairytale air. Nonetheless, it is all for naught because there’s very little actually going on for the most part. When the characters aren’t shagging, they’re doing little apart from bickering endlessly or watching lengthy flamenco dance sequences.

To cap it all, there’s one moment where a person is supposed to have been killed but the actor playing them is still visibly breathing (we can see their chest rise and fall).

Runtime: 90 mins

Dir: José Ramón Larraz

Script: José Ramón Larraz, Monique Pastrynn

Starring: Patricia Granada, Lidia Zuazo, Rafael Machado

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

All of these films are shoestring budget 1970s efforts. As such, you would best prepare yourself for lots of grainy photography and post-production sound dubbing. Nonetheless, Arrow has done about as well as can be expected given these limitations. The colours are bright and appealing, evoking an authentic 1970s fleapit feel.

Extras

As you might expect, this collection comes with a veritable mountain of special features. These include an 80-page perfect bound book featuring new writing by Jo Botting, Tim Greaves and Vanity Celis. On the discs themselves are the following:

VAMPYRES CONTENTS

Original US Theatrical Cut

Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger

Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films of José Larraz - author and critic Kim Newman reflects on the recurring themes and underlying obsessions linking together the early productions of José Larraz

A Curious Casting - actor Larry Dann on the strange story behind his casting in Whirlpool

Deviations of Whirlpool - featurette comparing the differences between the US Theatrical Cut and a previously circulated, alternate cut of the film

Extract from an archival interview with José Larraz

Image Gallery

Original US Theatrical Trailer

WHIRLPOOL CONTENTS

Brand new audio commentary by Tim Lucas

Brand new interviews with producer Brian Smedley-Aston, actors Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, makeup artist Colin Arthur and composer James Kenelm Clarke

Reimagining Vampyres - a brand new interview with Larraz’s friend and collaborator Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake

Extract from an archival interview with José Larraz

Jose Larraz and Marianne Morris Q&A at 1997 Eurofest

Image Gallery

Trailers

THE COMING OF SIN CONTENTS

Spanish and English language versions of the feature

Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan

Variations of Vice: The Alternate Versions of The Coming of Sin – exploitation expert Marc Morris on the strange and scandalous release history of José Larraz's most censored film

Remembering Larraz – author and filmmaker Simon Birrell shares his fond and extensive memories of his long-time friend and collaborator José Larraz

His Last Request (2005, 27 mins) - short film by Simon Birrell made under the guidance of José Larraz and starring Spanish horror legend Jack Taylor

Extract from an archival interview with José Larraz

Image Gallery

Original Spanish Trailer

Overall:

While Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz is a three-film set, it is perhaps best taken as a new release of his classic Vampyres with two bonus films thrown in. While Whirlpool and The Coming of Sin have some points of interest, they offer little real entertainment value beyond some well-shot erotic scenes. At the same time, the package as a whole contains plenty for fans of fringe genre cinema to get their teeth into (no pun intended).

Whirlpool

Movie: ☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

Vampyres

Movie: ☆☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

The Coming of Sin

Movie: ☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆☆

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