I never did get my hands on a review copy of Arrow’s spiffing Blood Hunger – The Films Of José Larraz box set and I certainly can’t afford to buy it (at this point, if you’ve got the required plugin, you’ll be able to hear the smallest violin in the world scratching away) but I did get to access their online Larraz resources while researching an interview with those comely Vampyres Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, affording me the opportunity to rewatch the director’s debut feature Whirlpool as it was intended to be seen, looking a lot better than the nth generation VHS dub of my previous acquaintance… and wow, it finally hit me what a bleak (and arguably mean-spirited) little film this is. I mean, it isn’t quite Saló but, you know, it’s unlikely to turn up anytime soon on the Talking Pictures channel, nestled in between Genevieve and The Good Companions, sponsored by Dormeo…
In furtherance of her model girl career, the lovely Tulia (Viv Neves) agrees to accompany intense young photographer Theo (Karl Lanchbury) to his Aunt Sara’s place in the country. Aunt Sara, as played by Pia Andersson, is a libidinous libertine involved in a dodgy sexual relationship with her nephew but also partial to a bit of old-girl-on-glamour-girl action. Plying Tulia with drink and surreptitiously administered Mary Jane (Larraz’s idea of smoking a joint can only be described as quaint), they draw her into a game of strip poker and then their lustful bed. Ooh er indeed, Missus.
Being the liberated young Missy that she is, Tulia’s quite happy with this arrangement but becomes increasingly troubled by traces of her disappeared predecessor in this menáge à trois, a certain Rhonda (Johana Hegger) who even returns in a dream sequence for a sleazy bit of rumpo-pumpo from beyond the grave.
While they’re taking a brief break from shagging, Theo takes Tulia to the pub to score some more “special fags” from his mate Tom (Andrew Grant), after which they all go for a drive in the country and Theo takes photos of Tom tearing Tulia’s clothes off and assaulting her. Whatever reservations Tulia might entertain about this treatment are soon apparently overcome and she wastes no time jumping back into bed with Theo and Sara. As difficult to swallow as this turn of events might prove for viewers, it seems for a while that we’re possibly headed for a similar plot twist to that in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (a film which seems to owe much to Whirlpool, which itself owes a certain something to Roy Boulting’s Twisted Nerve, 1968) whereby Neves will be revealed as Rhonda’s investigating / avenging sister or lover or whatever. But no… Tulia unearths a set of dodgy prints in Theo’s forbidden darkroom, depicting more rough sex in the woods and deduces from it (in an inspired / improbable joining of the dots) exactly what happened to Rhonda. Before she can even express her dismay, let alone extract any measure of justice, she is definitively – and quite shockingly – silenced.
Although her big screen career soon hit the buffers (with only one more appearance, as a sexy nun in Paul Morrissey’s 1978 Pete’n’Dud vehicle The Hound Of The Baskervilles) the undeniably statuesque Ms Neves (she was either Vivian or Vivien… sources vary) was perfectly cast in the role of a sexually adventurous, doomed early-70s “dolly bird”. She was one of the Sun’s first Page 3 girls (making her topless debut in May 1970) and the very first woman to appear naked in a British broadsheet when her Fisons Pharmaceuticals ad graced the pages of The Times on 17/03/71. She quit nude modelling in early 1973, expressing herself embarrassed and disillusioned, though in the mid-’80s she set up a glamour modelling agency and her daughter Kelly followed in her footsteps onto Page 3 during the ’90s. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1979, Neves passed away on 29th December 2002.
In his feature debut, José Ramon Larraz begins to embroider themes that he would continue to embellish through such subsequent offerings as Deviation (1971), The House That Vanished (1973), Symptoms and Vampyres (both 1974, with Lanchbury cropping up again in the latter)… country retreats in the spooky English countryside (as similarly portrayed by fellow Catalan Jorge Grau in Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, 1974), dangerous secrets, a sense that some tragic history is playing itself out again, emergent psychosis in a milieu of uninhibited and ultimately deadly sexual indulgence… Larraz obviously experienced a sense of artistic liberation in swinging England after escaping the repressive atmosphere of Franco era Spain, but if you can take the boy out of Franco era Spain… well, the converse is not necessarily true.
When Tulia is cut down before she can offer the expected rationale for continuing to participate in orgies with these obvious nut cases, one theoretical explanation… and the one that you might feel Larraz is nudging you towards… is that her character’s just an irredeemable hussy who simply “had it coming”. Despite the mitigating chuckles to be had along the way over some of Whirlpool’s wardrobe excesses and equally florid patches of dialogue, that remains the most troubling aspect of this truly troubling picture.
Alongside that Larraz box set, Arrow are also releasing Stelvio Cipriani’s haunting OST on vinyl, pop-pickers…