Savage Lust 1989 Review
Savage Lust 1989
aka Deadly Manor
Directed by: José Ramón Larraz
Starring: Liz Hitchler, Claudia Franjul, Jerry Kernion
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This total obscurity came from the hands of Jose Ramón Larraz, a Spanish filmmaker most famous for his exploitation work during the seventies. Amongst his back-catalogue is Vampyres, a gothic rarity that to this day remains a cult classic. He also made a very good stalk and slash mystery called, Edge of the Axe in 1987. Unlike Axe, which was mostly an European production, Lust saw him accept directorial duties on US soil during the cycle’s dying days.
Opinions that I’ve seen and heard on this are split, with some generally positive tributes being mixed with harsh negativity. Larraz’s previous achievements have allowed him to build something of a hero status amongst underground film fans and I wasn’t sure whether that had contributed to the praise that I had seen posted about on the web. Keeping that in mind, I decided to push my Spanish patriotic loyalties to one side and focus on the film as I would any other…
Six youngsters head out on a camping trip deep into the wilderness where one of them knows of a beautiful lake. On the drive through the long winding roads, the group lose their way and pick up a mysterious hitchhiker that says he knows how to get to the area that they’re seeking. As the warm summer day gives way to a stormy night sky, the gang decides that they better find some shelter for the night. As they search the woodland for a place to settle, they come across an eerie derelict mansion shrouded by the darkness of the surrounding trees. Curiosities arise when they discover a car-wreck statue in the front garden that looks like some kind of bizarre shrine. On closer exploration of the premises they discover coffins in the basement and an array of photos of a beautiful woman. Although they feel uneasy, the weather has become unbearable outside and they realise that the only option is to stay for the night. Before long a masked psycho begins to brutally murder the kids one by one. But what is the reason for these ruthless unprovoked murders?
I remember when Andrij Shevchenko signed for Chelsea FC for a massive fee and fans of rival teams like myself were quaking in our boots at the thought of the former European Footballer of the year being added to their ranks. Upon his arrival though, it soon became apparent that his days of glory were long behind him and it was almost painful to watch a former legend struggling to adapt to the quick pace of UK football. I mention this because I had trouble believing that Savage Lust was the work of a filmmaker that had previously been touted as one of the most creative in exploitation cinema. For the first twenty minutes we cut from one flat and boring long-range shot to the next and the camera literally doesn’t move at all. It got so bad that you could hear characters speaking before they walked past the lens and then they would just simply stroll out of shot before the obligatory cut. I mean, they didn’t even zoom in on anyone! By 1989, when this began production, even shot on video flicks were using a dolly track or steadicam; but here it felt like Larraz just couldn’t be bothered to do anything other than point the camera at the actors. He even performed that menial task from as far away as humanly possible and with the flair of a road sweeper with a hangover.
If there’s a total lack of energy in the photography, then hiring a cast that are so wooden that they could camouflage in a timber yard certainly wasn’t going to help. One girl yelps, “I saw a woman’s face in a white mask at the window” like she’s asking for more milk in her coffee. Did they even bother giving these guys auditions? They stroll around the dilapidated house spouting lines so ignorant that you want to flinch away from the screen in disgust and at one point, I caught myself reading the small print on a crisp packet, because I was so intensely bored by the antics going on in front of me. In the time that it took to order, wait for delivery and then demolish a large pizza with two cans of Tyskie, no one got killed and whilst I appreciate that a good amount of mystery was built around the contents of the spooky hacienda, it was done at the pace of a queue at a funeral.
The killer eventually gets to work and begins slashing his way through the youngsters, but any suspense is ruined by the fact that on the copy that I had, I could barely see anything. If you’ve ever been in a pitch black room and tried to locate a darkly coloured object, you will have probably had more success than trying to see what’s going on during the kill scenes here. Lighting rigs are expensive and it’s understandable that pictures like this that are made on tiny budgets may struggle to afford perfect illumination. The likes of Sledgehammer and City in Panic have managed to overcome this with a touch of creative thinking though, so I wonder why they couldn’t have done so here..?
I’m disappointed by Savage Lust because it had the chance to be a lot more. The killer’s motive is superb and there’s a really dark, gothic and mysterious tone running rampant throughout the picture. Chuck on top of that a couple of voluptuous chicas, some slick art-direction, a creepy killer guise and this should easily be a four-star picture. The lack of motivation from the filmmakers is too evident though and you’re left asking yourself why they even bothered. A job worth doing and all that, right?
There’s not too much left to say, except that I wondered if this had been jinxed by a troubled production? It felt like there were two screenwriters that had never met, because how else can you explain that in one moment we get awesome dialogue about houses being haunted by evil energy and then in the next we are given lines that would embarrass a ten year old? I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has any information on this. Oh and I just realised that I haven’t even mentioned the score, which seemed to have been put together freestyle on a Casio keyboard in thirty seconds flat.
Savage Lust does at least include a deep-rooted moral to its story. If ever you’re out in the woods and you discover an ‘abandoned’ house that has coffins in the basement, strange occult signatures garnishing the walls and human’s scalps lying around freely on the mantelpiece, then it’s a good idea NOT to just ignore these signs and think that they’re ‘inspired’ décor. Instead you should realise someone with a severe mental impediment must be nearby and it’s a good idea to get in your car and head for somewhere else… on the double!
I am afraid that I just can’t see where all that positivity on the WWW stems from. I gave up about forty-minutes in to this and slept uninterrupted for nine-hours. When I woke up fully refreshed in the morning, I put it on again and had to fight against nodding off for a second time. I recommend that you stick with Edge of the Axe…
Final Girl √