Thursday, March 31, 2022

Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz: Limited Edition – Arrow Video (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Dates: Denmark/UK, 1970 (Whirlpool), UK/Spain, 1974 (Vampyres), Spain, 1978 (The Coming of Sin)
Director: José Ramón Larraz (All Films)
Cast: Karl Lanchbury, Vivian Neves, Pia Andersson (Whirlpool), Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Murray Brown, Brian Deacon (Vampyres), Patricia Granada, Lidia Zuazo, Rafael Machado, David Thomson (The Coming of Sin)

Release Date: March 25th, 2019 (UK), March 26th, 2019 (USA)
Approximate running times: 86 Minutes 42 Seconds (Whirlpool), 87 Minutes 35 Seconds (Vampyres), 89 Minutes 51 Seconds (The Coming of Sin)
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Whirlpool), 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Vampyres, The Coming of Sin)
Rating: 18 (UK), NR (USA)
Sound: LPCM Mono English (Whirlpool, Vampyres), LPCM Mono Spanish, LPCM Mono Italian (The Coming of Sin)
Subtitles: English SDH (Whirlpool, Vampyres), English (The Coming of Sin)
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: OOP

"One of the most underrated and neglected genre filmmakers of his generation, Spanish-born director José Ramón Larraz (Symptoms) finally receives his due with this collection of his work bringing together a fascinating cross-section of films from the first half of his lengthy cinematic career. 

In Larraz’s debut feature, the hitherto ultra-rare Whirlpool (1970), Vivian Neves stars as Tulia, a young model invited to a photographer’s secluded country home for what purports to be a quiet weekend retreat – but soon turns into a descent into deadly depravity. 1974’s Vampyres – perhaps the best known and most widely-released of all José Larraz’s films – sees a duo of blood-hungry female vampires prowling the British countryside, from where they lure unsuspecting male motorists back to their imposing, dilapidated mansion. Meanwhile, in 1978’s The Coming of Sin (La Visita del Vicio, in its native Spanish), a young gypsy girl experiences a violent sexual awakening as her dreams of a naked young man on horseback become reality. 

By turns terrifying, titillating, artful and scandalous, these three films assembled here collectively offer film fans a unique perspective on the fascinating, highly-varied career of one of the horror genre’s most overlooked auteurs." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 4.25/5 (Whirlpool, Vampyres), 4/5 (The Coming of Sin)

Here’s the information provided about Whirlpool's transfer, "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 mono mi was remastered from the optical negatives at Deluxe Audio Services, Hollywood."

Whirlpool comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 35.2 GB

Feature: 23.7 GB

Here’s the information provided about Vampyres' transfer, "The original 35mm camera negative element was scanned in 2K resolution on a 4K Scanity at R3Store Studios, London. Sections of a 35mm CRI element were also scanned 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 Labs, CT."

Vampyres comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 43.8 GB

Feature: 23.9 GB

Here’s the information provided about The Coming of Sin's transfer, "The original 35mm camera negative element was scanned in 2K resolution on a 4K Scanity, 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."

The Coming of Sin comes on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 38.7 GB

Feature: 24.4 GB

The sources for these three films are in excellent shape, and any source-related imperfections are minimal. Colors and flesh tones look correct; contrast, black levels, and image clarity look solid throughout. There are no issues with compression and though the grain remains intact, at times the grain for The Coming of Sin’s transfer looks noticeably thicker.

Audio: 4/5

Whirlpool and Vampyres each come with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in English, and The Coming of Sin comes with two audio options, a LPCM mono mix in Spanish and a LPCM mono mix in English. All of the audio mixes are in great shape. There are no issues with distortion, dialog comes through clearly, everything sounds balanced and, range-wise, the ambient sounds are well-represented. Subtitle options include English SDH for all three films and English for The Coming of Sin’s Spanish Language track.

Extras:

Extras for Whirlpool include an image gallery (posters/stills/lobby cards/press), U.S. theatrical trailer (2 minutes 53 seconds, LPCM mono English, no subtitles), an archival interview with director José Larraz (3 minutes 47 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an archival interview with actress Vivian Neves from BBC’s Parkinson from July 1972 (13 minutes 19 seconds, Dolby Digital mono English, no subtitles), a featurette comparing the differences between the US Theatrical Cut and a previously circulated, alternate cut of the film titled Deviations of Whirlpool (27 minutes 12 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with actor Larry Dann titled A Curious Casting (9 minutes 10 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with author/film critic Kim Newman titled Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films of José Larraz (24 minutes 1 second, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles) and an audio commentary with author/film critic Tim Lucas.

Extras for Vampyres include image galleries – stills (245 images), behind-the-scenes (67 images), promotional and miscellaneous (44 images) and the ‘lost’ Caravan sequence (this extra consists of text, script pages and stills, since this scene no longer exists). U.S. theatrical trailer (2 minutes 57 seconds, LPCM mono English, no subtitles), international theatrical trailer (2 minutes 33 seconds, LPCM mono English, no subtitles), José Larraz and Marianne Morris Q&A at 1997 Eurofest (9 minutes 26 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an archival interview with José Larraz (14 minutes 20 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with José Larraz’s friend and collaborator Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake titled Reimagining Vampyres (21 minutes 57 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Spanish with removable English subtitles), an interview with producer Brian Smedley-Aston titled A High Stakes Enterprise (18 minutes 29 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with actress Marianne Morris titled By This Sign, I’ll Recognize You… (14 minutes 12 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with actress Anulka Dziubinska titled Daughter of Dracula (13 minutes 18 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with actor Brian Deacon titled A Cut-Throat Business (18 minutes 30 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with actress Sally Faulkner titled Unhappy Camper (12 minutes 4 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with make-up artist Colin Arthur titled Bloodletting on a Budget (17 minutes 57 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles), an interview with composer James Kenelm Clarke titled A Requiem for a Vampyre (3 minutes 49 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo English, no subtitles) and an audio commentary with film critic Kat Ellinger.

Extras for The Coming of Sin include  an image gallery (stills/lobby cards/posters/home video art), theatrical trailer (3 minutes 19 seconds, LPCM mono Spanish with removable English subtitles), an archival interview with José Larraz (4 minutes 55 seconds, LPCM stereo English, no subtitles), a short film by Simon Birrell made under the guidance of José Larraz and starring Spanish horror legend Jack Taylor titled His Last Request (28 minutes 23 seconds, shot like a silent film with English language inter-title cards), an interview with author/filmmaker Simon Birrell titled Remembering Larraz (35 minutes 3 seconds, LPCM stereo English, no subtitles), a featurette about the various versions of The Coming of Sin titled Variations of Vice (6 minutes 10 seconds, LPCM stereo English, no subtitles) and an audio commentary with film critic Kat Ellinger.

Other extras include reversible cover art for each film and an eighty-page booklet with cast & crew information for each film, an essay titled Dollops of Nudity and Hints of Perversion written by Josephine Botting, Steve Powder in Spain: An Interview with Composer Stelvio Cipriani, an essay titled The Making of Vampyres written by Tim Greaves, Vampyres II – The Unmade Sequel: An Interview with Writer Tim Greaves, an essay titled Museum Piece: Vice Makes a Visit in Cordoba written by Vanity Celis and information about the restorations.

Summary:

Whirlpool: The narrative opens with an unnerving moment where an unnamed character is in a rowboat on a lake as he searches for something or someone he has lost. And there is a lack of dialog throughout this sequence, which further enhances this sinister moment. It is almost seven minutes into Whirlpool before a character speaks.

Content-wise, Whirlpool is best described as a psychological thriller. The narrative revolves around two deviant characters who satisfy their sexual perversions by enchanting women. With that being said, despite its subject matter, Whirlpool is one of José Ramón Larraz’s more restrained films when it comes to nudity and erotica.

Performance wise, the cast are all very good in their respective roles, especially Karl Lanchbury in the role of Theo, an aspiring photographer who pushes his model to the extreme. Another strength of this film is the chemistry that he has with Pia Andersson, who portrays his aunt Sara. And Vivian Neves, in the role of Tulia, more than fulfils the role of the object of desire.

From a production standpoint, Whirlpool achieves all its goals. The premise is well-executed and the narrative moves forward with good momentum. Visually, Whirlpool does not disappoint, and the score does a superb job of reinforcing the forbidding mood.

Standout moments include a scene where the three main characters play strip poker; a sex scene in Theo’s dark room where the image is drenched in red; a scene in the woods where Theo photographs a man who he’s paid to sexually assault Tulia; and a flashback sequence that reveals the fate of Rhoda, the woman who Tulia replaced.

Vampyres: The narrative keeps things simple, with the bookend opening and ending being anchored by a series of blood-soaked soft-core romps that make up the bulk of Vampyres. What Vampyres lack in character development and logic, they more than make up for with their abundance of atmosphere. The one area where Vampyres does not gel is in the subplot involving a young couple who are camping in a trailer near the remote estate where the two women have lured their victims.

The main reason Vampyres works as well as it does is because of the performances of its two lead actresses, Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, who are cast in the roles of the female vampires. Both women more than hold their own from a psychological standpoint, and it is not hard to see how so many feel prey to their seductive charms.

Vampyres have many similarities content-wise that echo themes that are prominent in many of Jess Franco's and Jean Rollin's films. These similarities and the way Vampyres plays up its more exploitative elements are why it holds up as well as it does. Ultimately, Vampyres is a down and dirty exploitation film that never strays too far away from its greatest asset: lesbian vampires, who never shy away from showing a little skin.

The Coming of Sin: Without a doubt, the most fascinating aspect of The Coming of Sin is how this film is bound to divide its audience. For instance, if you are someone who has watched any of José Ramón Larraz’s more celebrated work within the horror genre, There is a high chance that you may find The Coming of Sin underwhelming. Whereas someone who’s unfamiliar with the cinema of José Ramón Larraz might be more willing to embrace The Coming of Sin for what it is.

Content-wise, though, The Coming of Sin has many elements that have since become synonymous with erotica cinema. When compared to other 1970’s soft-core erotica, The Coming of Sin is rather tame. With The Coming of Sin’s most provocative moment being a dream sequence where a naked man on a horse chases a gypsy girl.

The most surprising aspect of The Coming of Sin is its performances. What they lack in experience, they more than make up for in psychical presence. Especially Lidia Zuazo in the role of a gypsy girl named Triana.

Not to be overlooked are the soft-focus visuals and how they carry The Coming of Sin, a film that is all about mood, and the visuals are overflowing with atmosphere. Standout moments include the scene where the naked man who rides a horse in Triana’s dream rapes her by the river, a dream sequence where Triana’s naked body is inside of a horse, and The Coming of Sin saves its most shocking moment for its finale.

Blood Hunger: The Films of Jose Larraz is an exceptional release that comes with a wealth of extra content and all three films have never looked or sounded better on home video, highly recommended.

It should be noted that this limited-edition release is now OOP and Arrow Video has re-released it in a standard edition that drops the eighty-page booklet.





















Written by Michael Den Boer

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