Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz - Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Mar 28, 2019
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz - Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Director

José Larraz

Release Date(s)

1970/1974/1978 (March 26, 2019)

Studio(s)

Cinemation Industries/Cambist Films/Jose Frade Producciones Cinematograficas S.A. (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: A-
  • Overall Grade: A-

Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Director José Ramón Larraz has a pocket-sized body of feature film work that spans two decades, from 1970 all the way up to 1990. From horror films to thrillers to European sex films, his work often runs the gamut of quality and everlasting appeal. Nonetheless, it has still managed to make its way into the hands of cult film fans over the years with many admiring it for the cinematography and unapologetic exhibition of both sex and violence. In Arrow Video’s newest boxed set offering, Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz, three of these films in particular are included: Whirlpool (1970), Vampyres (1974), and The Coming of Sin (1978).

In Whirlpool, a young model is brought to a secluded residence where a handsome, young photographer and his peculiar aunt are waiting. While she soon discovers that they want to do more with her than just take photographs, she also learns all too late that the photographer is hiding something that may not be in her best interest. In Vampyres, two beautiful young vixens lure men to a decrepit old mansion to feast upon their blood while a wary young lady takes notice nearby. In The Coming of Sin, a young girl who has dreams of a man on horseback goes to stay with a sophisticated but introverted woman in the country. Soon their passions for each other are unleashed, but things begin to change when the man of the young girl’s dreams appears to them, causing her to have a growing concern for their overall well-being.

“She died with her boots on... and not much else.”

Whirlpool (aka Perversion Flash) is a truly mixed bag. Elements of it are admirable, particularly the cinematography which, up until this release, wasn’t appreciable since it’s only been available in low-grade VHS bootleg form where that sort of thing couldn't be properly judged. Outside of that, almost everything else about it is questionable on some level or another. It attempts to mix eroticism, surrealism, and a suspense story together, but never coalesces into something that’s uniform. It explores the nature of an older woman’s desires, which is refreshing, but also tags on a murder mystery with an ending that is a flat-out precursor to The Last House on the Left. The performances are generally fine, but some of the dialogue is down-right atrocious and not appropriate for the scenes that it takes place in. This is also a film that takes its time, but to its detriment. Even during this period in time, movies tended to be a little more expedient with their pace, but Whirlpool is always several beats off, going more for the reactions and contemplations of each of the characters in a more drawn-out and reflective manner than one might expect.

Above all else, Whirlpool is an uneasy film, particularly because it’s not concerned with locking down on any one, singular idea. It's actually full of ideas, which is what makes it interesting viewing. It’s certainly not one that you want to pop in on a Saturday afternoon for a laid back romp through 1970s erotica, ala the Emmanuelle series – it’s far from that. Instead, it’s a bleak and uneven and bleak piece of filmmaking that has loads going on in it, but never to a successfully entertaining degree. After all, with a poster that promises a film that’s meant to be “More shocking than Psycho!,” “More sensual than Repulsion!,” and “More nerve ripping that Baby Jane!,” it’s perhaps too much to live up to anyway.

“Their lips are moist... and very, very red.“

In Vampyres (aka Daughters of Darkness), we’re treated to an entirely different scenario, but one with a bit more focus. Not much has changed as far as the amount of sex and nudity, although I would argue that it’s definitely more impactful (and dare I say sexy). Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska are not only gorgeous with or without their clothes on, but they’re entirely effective as vampires in hiding. There are heaps of bare flesh and fine crimson on display, which comes straight out of the gate, letting us know at the outset that this film is definitely not going to be a typical Hammer Studios vampire film with modestly revealing bustlines and tiny trickles of blood (although it is definitely reminiscent of one).

As far as the gory content is concerned, there’s even a sequence in which the two ladies go into a blood frenzy, feeding vivaciously off of one of their unwilling participants, even going so far as stabbing him in order to open up more wounds to drink from. Meanwhile, half of the couple camping outside is always suspicious of what’s going on in the large, dilapidated castle nearby (Oakley Court in Berkshire, which was used for many Hammer Studios productions, but is mostly recognizable to American film fans as Dr. Frank N. Furter’s castle in The Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Unfortunately, we’re never sure how these two women became vampires in the first place, and by the end of the film, we’re not even positive that they existed at all, or if it was all merely the hallucinations of a man with far too much to drink. So the ending is bit of a letdown, but everything up to that point is soaking in horror and eroticism that actually works. I would even go so far as to call Vampyres the most entertaining film offered in this set, at least for my particular tastes.

“She asked for it...“

Then we come to the final film of this release: The Coming of Sin (aka Violation of the Bitch). To be as tactful as possible without going overboard, this is absolutely one of sleaziest and worst films I think I’ve ever seen. There’s so much to talk about that I don’t even know where to begin, or if it’s even possible to cover it all in one review. From its flip-flopping of character motivations and attitudes to its nonsensical and constantly shifting development of plot and character relationships (not to mention its poor dubbing in the English language version), it’s a wearisome piece of work through and through. The only truly positive aspect of the film is how well it’s shot, whether its making use of interiors, exteriors, natural lightning, or even dark environments highlighted by stark colors. It also utilizes soft focus to give it more of a diffused and dreamlike quality.

However, everything else about the film is plain awful, as well as anger-inducing. I can’t recall a time where I’ve felt so incredibly frustrated while trying to follow along with a film’s storyline. Some might argue that with a film like this, story isn’t that important as it’s attempting to be more of an art piece, but I disagree. I eventually came to the conclusion that the sole reason this film exists is for the sex and the nudity, not unlike the other two films of course, but I didn’t feel cheated by those other films either. When you look at the original poster for the film under its alternate title of Violation of the Bitch, you’re likely expecting something more in line with Straw Dogs. Yet despite the poster being truthful to an event that does take place in the film, it feels totally fraudulent.

To put it bluntly, this film is a softcore porno. Many critics are likely to praise it as some unsung masterpiece (of that I have no doubt), but The Coming of Sin is definitely not one you’ll see me shouting from the rooftops about as having an abundance of fine quality. In essence, it’s the most disappointing title that this set has to offer, at least for me.

Arrow Video’s boxed set includes new transfers for all three films. According to the accompanying insert booklet. “Whirlpool is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with mono audio. The original 35mm camera negative element was scanned in 2K resolution on a 4K Arriscan at Lasergraphics Director at EFilm, Burbank. The film was graded on Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master and restored at R3Store Studios in London. The original audio mix was remastered from the optical negatives at Deluxe Audio Services, Hollywood. The version presented here is the 87-minute U.S. theatrical cut, in keeping with how the original camera negative has been conformed. For further information regarding alternate versions of the film, please refer to the bonus feature Deviations of Whirlpool, included on the Blu-ray disc.”

Vampyres is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono audio. The original 35mm camera negative element was scanned in 2K resolution on a 4K Scanity at R3Store Studios in London. Sections of a 35mm CRI element were also scanned at OCN Digital Labs, CT. The film was graded on Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master and restored at R3Store Studios in London. The original mono mix was remastered from the optical negative reels at OCN Digital Labs, CT. The original negative was made available for this project by producer Brian Smedley-Aston. The CRI and audio elements were made available from Films Around the World.”

The Coming of Sin/La Visita Del Vicio is presented in both English and Spanish versions in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono audio. The original 35mm camera negative element was scanned in 2K resolution on a 4K Scannity, graded on Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master and restored at R3Store Studios in London. Some instances of damage remain, in keeping with the condition of the original materials. The original mono mixes were remastered from the optical negatives by Deluxe Madrid. All materials for this restoration were made available by Pail Rich and Jose Fradé P.C.”

Each transfer is similar in quality, which is quite strong. Some minor leftover damage remains, which mostly comes down to scratches and speckling, and in one instance in Vampyres a damaged frame, but otherwise, everything is sharp and organic. Detail is high, whether it’s the swampy-looking waters seen in Whirlpool, the lavish interiors of Oakley Court in Vampyres, or the open grass-covered vistas of The Coming of Sin. Skin textures, particularly in close-ups, are rich and well-defined (those seen in The Coming of Sin are the exception which are deliberately softer). The color palette of each presentation is beautiful, containing a variety of lush hues and bold primaries, as well as natural skin tones. Black levels are often deep, although slightly lightened by the grain at times, but in a naturally-occurring manner. Overall brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect and everything appears refined and well-focused.

The soundtracks for Whirlpool and Vampyres are both presented in English mono LPCM with English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, while The Coming of Sin is presented in either Spanish or English mono DTS-HD with normal English subtitles. These soundtracks are fairly identical in quality. The dubbing is the most obvious in English for The Coming of Sin, but all seems well-synced for the other two films. Dialogue is always well-prioritized and each film’s score and music selection is often energetic without resulting in distortion. Sound effects are dated but are well-represented, and there are no major issues with crackle or dropouts. However, some mild hiss remains, as to be expected.

WHIRLPOOL (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): D+/A-/B
VAMPYRES (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/A-/B
THE COMING OF SIN (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): F/B+/B

As for extras, this set comes armed to the teeth. For Whirlpool, there’s an audio commentary with author Tim Lucas (always an entertaining and informative listen); Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films of José Larraz, a 24-minute interview with author and critic Kim Newman about Larraz’ body of work; A Curious Casting, a 9-minute interview with actor Larry Dann about his brief appearance in the film; Deviations of Whirlpool, the aforementioned 28-minute side-by-side comparison of the U.S. and European cuts of the film (the latter containing footage from a VHS bootleg since the original film elements for it cannot currently be found); a 13-minute interview with model and actress Vivien Neves for the BBC TV program Parkinson from 1972 (which I found to be a bit sexist, to be honest); a 4-minute archival interview extract featuring director José Larraz, which was filmed in the 1990s at his home in London; an image gallery containing 55 stills of posters, lobby cards, magazines, and behind-the-scenes photos; and the U.S. theatrical trailer.

For Vampyres, there’s an audio commentary with author Kat Ellinger (a self-confessed José Larraz “superfan”); a set of Cast and Crew Interviews: A High Stakes Enterprise – a 19-minute interview with producer Brian Smedley-Astin, “By This Sign, I’ll Recognize You...” – a 14-minute interview with actress Marianne Morris, Daughter of Dracula – a 14-minute interview with actress Anulka (aka Anulka Dziubinska), A Cut-Throat Business – a 19-minute interview with actor Brian Deacon, Unhappy Camper – a 12-minute interview with actress Sally Faulkner, Bloodletting on a Budget – an 18-minute interview with makeup artist Colin Arthur, and Requiem for a Vampyre – a 4-minute interview with composer James Kenelm Clarke; Reimagining Vampyres, a 22-minute interview with José Larraz’s friend and collaborator Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 remake (in Spanish with English subtitles); a 15-minute archival interview extract featuring Larraz, again filmed in the 1990s at his home in London; 10 minutes of footage from a screening of the film and a Q&A session at Eurofest in 1997 featuring José Larraz and Marianne Morris; 4 image galleries containing a massive archive of 245 on-set stills, 67 behind the scenes photos, 44 promotional images, and 12 script excerpts and on-set shots from the “Lost” Caravan sequence (which may or may not have been filmed in its entirety); and the U.S. and International theatrical trailers for the film. Not carried over from the Blue Underground DVD and Blu-ray releases (under the title Daughters of Darkness) is an audio commentary with José Larraz (itself carried over from the original Anchor Bay DVD release), as well as Return of the Vampyres, which features interviews with Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, and the film essay Vampyres: A Tribute to the Ultimate in Erotic Horror Cinema by Tim Greaves, which was available via DVD-ROM in .PDF format.

For The Coming of Sin, there’s an audio commentary with authors Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan; Variations on Vice: The Alternate Versions of The Coming of Sin, a 6-minute exploration of the film’s history with censors by exploitation expert Marc Morris; Memories of Larraz, a 35-minute interview with author and filmmaker Simon Birrell about his friend and collaborator; His Last Request, a 30-minute short film from 2005 by Simon Birrell made under the guidance of Larraz and starring Spanish horror star Jack Taylor; a 5-minute archival interview extract featuring Larraz, again filmed in the 1990s at his home in London; an image gallery containing 25 stills, including a behind the scenes photo, lobby cards, posters, and VHS covers; and the original Spanish trailer. Not carried from the Pagan Films U.K. DVD release is a 25-minute interview with José Larraz for the Channel 4 TV show Eurotika!, as well as several photo galleries.

In addition, there’s also an 80-page insert booklet with cast and crew details, photos, Dollops of Nudity and Hints of Perversion by Josephine Botting, Steve Powder in Space: An Interview with Composer Stelvio Cipriani, The Making of Vampyres by Tim Greaves, Vampyres II – The Unmade Sequel: An Interview with Writer Tim Greaves, Museum Piece: Vice Makes a Visit in Córdoba by Vanity Celis, and restoration details for all three films. All of this material is housed in handsome cardboard packaging with separate case housings for each disc.

For my money, I personally would have preferred a stronger film than The Coming of Sin to balance out the quality of this set (particularly with Larraz’s film Edge of the Axe on the release horizon), but as is, this is still a very strong effort from the folks at Arrow Video. None of these films are perfect and they tend to be quite sleazy, some more than others, but as far as deep cuts, these are some of the deepest of the deep for cult film fans. Despite my dislike of the third feature in this set, all of the other elements surrounding it outweigh it in terms of sheer bang for your buck. As such, this set comes highly recommended.

– Tim Salmons

Tags

1970, 1974, 1978, Alan Charles, Andrew Grant, Anulka Dziubinska, Arrow Video, Athena Film AS, Barrie Craine, Barry Craine, Bessie Love, Blood Hunger, Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc, box set, boxed set, boxset, Brian Deacon, Brian Smedley-Aston, Cambist Films, Carlo Reali, Ch Childs, Ch_ Childs, Cinemation Industries, Claude Bellot, Colin Arthur, Collector's Edition, D Daubney, Daisy Jules, Daughters of Darkness, David Thompson, David Thomson, Diana Daubeney, Douglas Jones, D_ Daubeney, Edwin Brown, EJ Fancey, Elliott Sullivan, Enrique Montserrat, Ernest C Jennings, Ernest C_ Jennings, eroticism, Essay Films, Essay Films Ltd, exploitation, E_J_ Fancey, Fernando Arribas, Geoff R Brown, Geoff R_ Brown, Gerald Case, Guillermo S Maldonado, Guillermo S_ Maldonado, Harry Waxman, Henry Bellot, horror, Jack Taylor, James Clarke, James Kenelm Clarke, Javis Cooper, Jerry Gross, Johanna Hegger, John Davenport, Jose Frade, Jose Frade Producciones Cinematograficas SA, Jose Frade Producciones Cinematograficas S_A_, Jose Larraz, Josephine Botting, JR Larrath, Julio Perez de Rozas, J_R_ Larrath, Karl Lanchbury, Kat Ellinger, Kim Newman, Larry Dann, Lea Candle, Lidia Zuazo, Limited Edition, Lisbet Lundquist, Lurco Films, Lydia Stern, Marc Morris, Margaret Heald, Marianne Morris, Michael Byrne, Monique Pastrynn, Montserrat Julio, Murray Brown, nudity, Patrice Grant, Patricia Granada, Patricia Lorne, Perversion Flash, Pia Andersson, Rafael Machado, Ralph Margulis, review, Sally Faulkner, Sam Lomberg, Samm Deighan, sex, Sibyla Grey, Simon Birrell, Stelvio Cipriani, The Coming of Sin, The Digital Bits, The Films of Jose Larraz, Thomas Owen, Tim Greaves, Tim Lucas, Tim Salmons, vampire, vampires, Vampyres, Vanity Celis, Victor Matellano, Violation of the Bitch, Vivian Neves, Whirlpool, William McDonalds
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