(Spain - 1988)
Directed by Joseph Braunstein (Jose Larraz). Written by Joaquin Amichatis, Javier Elorrieta and Jose Frade. Cast: Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Moseley, Fred Holliday, Patty Shepard, Alicia Moro, Jack Taylor, Conrado San Martin, Joy Blackburn, May Heatherly, Elmer Modlin. (Unrated, 91 mins)
In recent years, there's been a resurgence of interest in the work of Spanish exploitation auteur Jose Larraz (1929-2013), perhaps best known for his 1974 British-made cult classic VAMPYRES, which really took the "lesbian vampire" subgenre--ushered in with Hammer's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS in 1970--just about as far as it could go. 1974 also saw Larraz helming his most serious film, the Roman Polanski-esque psychological thriller SYMPTOMS, which was actually nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes before falling into obscurity for decades until Mondo Macabro released it on Blu-ray a few years ago. Despite the Cannes accolades, Larraz went right back to his exploitation roots with films like 1977's THE COMING OF SIN (included on a 2019 Larraz box set from Arrow Video, along with VAMPYRES and his 1970 debut WHIRLPOOL), 1979's AND GIVE US OUR DAILY SEX (with Laura Gemser), and 1982's sleazy BLACK CANDLES. A pair of late '80s Larraz slasher films recently resurfaced for the first time since the VHS era courtesy of Arrow, because physical media is dead: 1988's EDGE OF THE AXE, and 1990's DEADLY MANOR, with another Larraz title from the same period, 1987's REST IN PIECES, rumored to be coming from Vinegar Syndrome later this year. Parts of AXE and all MANOR were shot in the US, with Larraz putting forth a lot of effort to make them look as much like American slasher films of the era (albeit a few years after the craze had passed) as he could, right down to hiding behind his Americanized pseudonym "Joseph Braunstein" on EDGE OF THE AXE.
NIGHTMARE WEEKEND. The comparisons to PIECES also extend to Holliday's McIntosh being the most useless cop in a pretend-American Spanish slasher movie since Christopher George delegated his entire caseload to "that kid Kendall" in pursuit of the chainsaw killer, plus there's an almost equally hilarious Agatha Christie-type moment where Larraz uses a fish-eye lens for extreme close-ups of all the suspects as they're gathered at a victim's funeral. Eurocult aficionados will find EDGE OF THE AXE of interest for the presence of Spanish exploitation stalwarts Shepard, Taylor, Modlin, and May Heatherly (best known to bad movie fans as the hysterical mom finding the nudie jigsaw puzzle in the opening sequence of PIECES), all American expats who spent virtually their entire careers in Europe, all seen here acting with live sound and using their actual voices, which were rarely heard in the era of post-sync dubbing (other than a couple of bit players, everyone is using their own voice, which explains Moro's thick accent). The appearance of these actors is also the tell on which scenes were shot in Big Bear, CA and which were done in Madrid, Spain. EDGE OF THE AXE bogs down a bit in the middle, but the murders are surprisingly brutal and the killer's reveal in the climax, while goofy as shit, makes for a pretty wild finish.
aka SAVAGE LUST
(Spain/US - 1990; US release 1993)
Written and directed by Jose Larraz. Cast: Clark Tufts, Greg Rhodes, Claudia Franjul, Mark Irish, Liz Hitchler, Jerry Kernion, Kathleen Patane, William Russell, Jennifer Delora. (Unrated, 86 mins)
Larraz's penultimate feature film and his last in the horror genre, 1990's DEADLY MANOR is a lifeless slasher outing that's about eight years late to the FRIDAY THE 13TH ripoff party. It feels even more unfashionably tardy when you consider that it wasn't even released in America until it went straight to video in 1993, misleadingly rechristened SAVAGE LUST, with cover art featuring someone who isn't even in the movie but bears a striking present-day resemblance to Brie Larson. A Spanish/US co-production shot in and around Suffern, NY in the summer of 1989, DEADLY MANOR doesn't have any of the usual suspects in Spanish exploitation in its cast and is Larraz's most American-looking film by far, and as such, it's surprising he uses his real name instead of his trusty "Joseph Braunstein" alias. It also reunites him with his VAMPYRES producer and holder of the world's most British name until the dawn of Benedict Cumberbatch, Brian Smedley-Aston, but they decidedly fail to recapture that old magic. A group of college kids en route to a camping excursion get lost, pick up a brooding, bad-boy hitchhiker (Clark Tufts) who knows the way, and decide to crash at an abandoned house in the woods when it gets dark. Despite the discovery of a smashed car, coffins in the basement, scalps in jars in a closet, and photo albums of nude corpses, they stick around and are soon offed one by one in predictable fashion.