In Deadly Manor, a vacationing cadre of hot teens find a manor out in the forest. It proves to be quite deadly.
It was originally released in the United States under the title Savage Lust, which implies a much more sexy experience than these unmemorable antics shot like a bad TV movie. By 1990, the slasher flick was already a long-time resident of the “been there, done that” retirement home for overdone exploitation genres, and Deadly Manor / Savage Lust is essentially immobile — powered by brief glimpses of a story you loved a dozen times before, done better than this. It’s the sort of movie that garnered infamy on VHS, when video-store culture allowed mid-grade schlock to take on legendary status.
José Ramón Larraz retired after directing this one. Larraz is famous for his similar sex- and gore-filled horror films, having risen to fame with Vampyres and Symptoms. Of the two, I’ve seen Vampyres, an extraordinarily graphic erotic vampire thriller that feels like a classic Hammer Horror with the soft-core energy turned up to 11. Forget the comparatively tasteful exploitation of gore and cleavage of Scars of Dracula; Vampyre opens with its two vampiresses straight-up fucking before being shot by a would-be assassin. They subsequently seduce and kill men while arguing about their relationship. Its intersection of surprisingly emotional same-sex relationships, patriarchy destruction, sexual exploitation and violence actually make Vampyres feel increasingly relevant to contemporary horror culture.
But, as I told Aly, maybe I just enjoyed it because I’m a pervert.
Vampyres and Symptoms have been cult classics for some time, though Manor has not seen the same fate, and has never been widely available on disc format until now. That’s probably because it is tragically dull. Gone are the Gothic stylings of Larraz’s previous work. Although always low-budget, there’s something that English country homes or the streets of Madrid bring to a production that a backwoods American manor just doesn’t quite capture. Additionally, the gonzo stories of his previous entries give way to a much more standard slasher story in Manor, up to and including the “shocking” reveal of the killer. Larraz’s subsequent retirement seems pretty justified. He clearly had better things to do while making it, too.
Given Larraz’s reputation and the erotic horror subgenre in which he made his name, is anything particularly erotic here? No. But the titular manor is all cracked plaster, beautiful woodwork, and grimy windows, a real blessing to look at. I used to live in a house like that; I was nostalgic for the many better movies watched while living there. To wit, I was also never haunted by a masked serial killer, nor were my walls covered in explicit nude photographs of said killer with her mask off. Anyway, nudity is largely contained to these photographs, save for one extraordinarily fierce sex scene that made Aly look up from her computer and say something inaudible. It’s good smut, when it happens.
None of the “kills” are any good. Low-grade throat slashing, mostly. The budget is visible. The 84-minute running time feels particularly filled with meandering dialogue and silly contrivances, like a basement filled with coffins (“Motherfucker, there are coffins in the basement!”) and camping kids searching for condoms (Wood and condoms — what more could a young couple need in the 1990s?) One character whose name I never bothered retaining is the loudmouthed loser of the group, but his presence only reminded me of how great Crispin Glover was in Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, which was released seven years prior to this. If you can’t mess with the best, give it a rest!
Extras include a new audio commentary, new interviews, original VHS trailers and a number of other features. Many films like Deadly Manor are more fun to learn about than they are to watch. Actors returning to share stories about their time filming the movie and film historians providing context are welcome, and really add something to the otherwise shallow experience. As always, Arrow has done a bang-up job on the packaging. It’s a gorgeous case, with stellar artwork and a nice booklet. Although I wasn’t enthralled by the movie, it’s hard to complain that Arrow is going to the trouble of finding these esoteric films and giving them grade-A releases.