Posts Tagged With: Jose Larraz

You Need Your Bumps Feeling, Mate… José Ramon Larraz’s DEVIATION Reviewed.

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Deviation (Sweden / UK / Spain, 1971).  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

Oh to be in England, now that Autumn’s there. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… not to mention voyeurism, porno shoots, gerontophilia, drug abuse, black magic, lesbian vampires, murder and human taxidermy, if you happen to be visiting one of the country piles inhabited by Karl Lanchbury (pictured below in one of his more subdued moments) during some of the pictures made by Catalan Horror maven José Ramon Larraz in his English period (1970-74). We’ve already considered Whirlpool (1970), The House That Vanished (1973) and Symptoms (1974) on this blog and now turn our gimlet eye upon Deviation (1971), hitherto the most elusive of these films, recently discovered lurking on Youtube.

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After a disorientating title sequence (whose action is never really explained) and an opening scene which establishes that Julian (Lanchbury) is an intense young taxidermist (hm, remind you of anyone?) but relatively normal compared to his weirdo sister Rebecca (Whirlpool holdover Sibyla Grey), we find ourselves in the company of odd couple Paul (Malcolm Terris) and Olivia (Lisbet Lundquist… yes, like its predecessor Whirlpool, this is a Scandinavian co-production) who are driving through some dark woods, having an argument about his refusal to leave his wife. Their evening goes from bad to worse when Paul runs over a tripped out Satanist (“He didn’t know how to smoke”, we subsequently learn).

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Seeking refuge at Julian and Rebecca’s tumble down manor (some of whose underground tunnels bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones Marianne Morris and Anulka spend much of their time running up and down in during Larraz’s Vampyres, 1974), they are drugged by their hosts. Having already taken uppers to keep him awake while driving, Paul revives enough to have a poke around the house (discovering a cat obsessed, doom prophecying, Alzheimer’s addled Auntie) and becomes aware that some kind of ceremony is going on. Discovered, he is dragged down into the cellar to be sexually humiliated by Jules and Beccy’s hippy pals, until his obvious arousal so disgusts Rebecca that she stabs him to death.

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Olivia doesn’t seem unduly disturbed by Paul’s’ disappearance (readily swallowing the story that he had to get back to his office) and happily submerges herself in the ongoing drug party life style of Jules, Beccy and their far out mates. When Julian shoots her up with heroin she enthuses that anything is preferable to her dreary affair with Paul.

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Rebecca visits a sleazy old Dr Feelgood (former BBC announcer Geoffrey Wincott) to stock up on more dope and after initially seeming to succumb to his superannuated advances (inter generational sex crops up so regularly in these films, it’s fair to speculate that Larraz had a pretty keen personal interest in the subject), stabs him too. Back at the mansion, Olivia discovers Paul’s distinctive mermaid tattoo preserved as a taxidermalogical trophy and finally turns on her hosts / captors… the film’s bungled twist ending falls completely flat, accomplishing the difficult trick of making its opening look like a relative model of coherence and clarity.

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The first shot we see in this film is a brief glimpse of a phrenology bust, suggesting that for all those occult trappings, its actual narrative motor is sheer human craziness… deviation from some norm of “mental health”. Rebecca has clearly been sexually traumatised some time in her previous life (Larraz’s attempts to appropriate / approximate elements of Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965, would be more convincingly attained in Symptoms). There’s also a pretty on-the-nose statement about contemporary deviation from traditional moral norms… just as with Vivian Neves’ character in Whirlpool, we’re invited to conclude that Lundquist’s “had it coming”. You can take the director out of fascist era Spain but the converse isn’t, apparently, so easily achieved. Indeed, Deviation looks a lot like a dry run for a film Larraz made in Spain after the demise of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, 1982’s Black Candles (UK quad below).

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Deviation is, frankly, a right old mess (and typically of Larraz’s output in this period, the dialogue is clunky as fuck) but I was glad of the opportunity to watch it again for the first time in donkey’s years. Like Whirlpool it boasts a nifty OST from Italian maestro Stelvio Cipriani but the understandably crappy picture quality here makes it difficult to pass comment on the film’s visual merits or otherwise. Perhaps, if possible (one gathers the rights are in dispute) Arrow could continue the good work they began in their “Blood Hunger” Larraz BD box set by giving this one the kind of release it deserves. Fingers crossed.

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There Goes The Neighbourhood… THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED Reviewed

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The House That Vanished (UK / Spain, 1973) aka Scream… And Die! / Psycho Sex Fiend / Don’t Go Into The Bedroom / Please! Don’t Go Into The Bedroom. Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

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Made just three years after Larraz’s feature debut, the mortifying Whirlpool, THTV shuffles that film’s thematic concerns and its director’s personal obsessions (paranoia, glamour photography, gerontophilia) to ultimately disappointing effect. In contrast to its predecessor, the female lead glamour model character (“Valerie Jennings”) isn’t played by a for-real glamour model, though actual actress Andrea Allan, who inevitably brings more nuance and conviction to her role than Viv Neves could muster in Whirlpool, does remind me of Page 3 girl Gillian Duxbury (funny how I can’t remember what I did yesterday but retain encyclopaedic knowledge of women I fancied when I was a teenager… pathetic really, isn’t it?)

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Andrea Allan displays “nuance” (left) and “conviction”.

To the considerable chagrin of her photographer / sort-of-boyfriend Terry (Alex Leppard), Val won’t agree to do pornier shots. Maybe if he had some of those to sell, feckless Terry wouldn’t have to resort to petty crime. Driving Val back from a shoot, he takes a detour into the foggy countryside to burgle a house. Val’s not best pleased when she twigs what he’s up to, even less when it transpires that he’s forced entry into the wrong house, where he and Val are separated and she witnesses an unidentified nut job stabbing a prostitute to death. After escaping the scene and being stalked through a car breaking lot, Val hitches a lift home but loses any trace of where this traumatic incident took place (the house doesn’t actually disappear… though Terry does). Nor, under the circumstances, is she particularly keen to report what happened to the police.

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It wouldn’t be early ’70s erotica without that bloody wicker chair…

Her unease doesn’t exactly abate when Terry’s car turns up parked outside her flat, containing her photographic portfolio, from which one identifying shot of her has been conspicuously pinched. Things get creepier still when the sinister Mister Hornby (Peter Forbes-Robertson) moves into the basement flat with his collection of birds (you’ve seen Psycho, haven’t you?) There’s the possibility of a redemptive romance with art dealer Paul (Karl Lanchbury), then again he’s having it off with his aunt (you’ve seen Whirlpool, haven’t you?) Although veteran smut scribbler Derek Ford is credited with writing THTV, this Wayne Rooneyeque hangover from Whirlpool would seem to reflect the director’s own personal proclivities (yes, tastes in these matters can get more niche than “Page 3 girls from the ’70s”). Val’s friend Lorna Collins (Hammer and Pete Walker alumnus Judy Matheson, below) pays a visit and is promptly raped and strangled.

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Val decides it might be wise to accept Paul’s invite to spend the weekend at his place in the country and after a surprisingly tender love scene, she starts to get the feeling that (hands up if you didn’t see it coming) she’s been in this house before…

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The House That Vanished delivers enough sex and violence (and then some) to satisfy your average undemanding deviant’s cinematic desires but its plot, considerably more expansive than that of Whirlpool (which was effectively a chamber piece) hangs together significantly less well and the improbably upbeat ending packs correspondingly less of a punch than the bleak denouement to Larraz’s debut. This one fits the Spanish sleaze brief but to seriously diminishing returns. Fret ye not, Larraz still had it in him to tweak his ingredients yet again and come up with…

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… that’s “Vampyres”, in English money.

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Twisted Neves… José Ramon Larraz’s Mean, Mean WHIRLPOOL Reviewed.

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Now that’s what I call an alternative title…

Whirlpool (Denmark / UK, 1970) aka She Died With Her Boots On / Perversion Flash.  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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“Cor, that Viv Neves was one fit bird…”

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Re-Booty Call… Victor Matellano’s VAMPYRES Remake Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Soda Pictures. 18.

Victor Matellano makes no bones about his passion for the Spanish horror film tradition, having previously directed a documentary short about Jesus Franco and a feature length examination (Zarpazos! Un Viaje Por El Spanish Horror, 2013) of the whole Iberian genre shooting match, showcasing the likes of Franco, Jorge Grau, Carlos Aguilar, Eugenio Martin, Jose Larraz and Paul Naschy. He went so far as to incorporate archive recordings of Naschy’s voice into Wax, his 2014 variant on the much reworked Charles Belden chestnut, also finding room in its cast for such tapas terror stalwarts as Jack Taylor, Antonio Mayans and Lone Fleming… Mayans and Fleming return (joining Franco and Naschy alumnus, our very own Caroline Munro… though her role here is little more than a throwaway) for Matellano’s 2015 reboot (i.e. it’s hovering somewhere between remake and sequel) of Larraz’s Vampyres, a project which JL endorsed before passing away, as is clear from some of the supplementary material on this disc.

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In the roles made (in)famous by Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, Marta Flich and Almudena Leon are the eponymous sapphic sirens, luring unsuspecting dudes into threesomes where they end up donating more bodily fluids than the ones they were hoping to. Christian Stamm is the main victim but it is suggested, as it was in the 1974 original, that this character is some kind of supernaturally enhanced Van Helsing figure, doomed to pursue the toothsome twosome through successive incarnations…

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Poor Rupert…

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Rupert’s fate rebooted in 2015.

… this incarnation sticks pretty to close the original, down to the frequent recitation of its dialogue, verbatim and the recreation of specific scenes and shots (e.g. the ghoul girls running around in the woods, their capes flapping behind them), but starts to falter somewhat when Matelanno seems to lose his nerve about selling reheated early ’70s fare and introduces ill-advised elements of stalk’n’slash (the stalkees are ill-defined creative types camping out, for some reason, in the grounds of the girls’ gothic shag pad) and the dreaded “torture porn”, signalled by an unsubtle pinch from Eli Roth’s Hostel 2.

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The orginal Vampyres was at some level a love story (albeit an extremely kinky one) and a story of addiction (what’s the diff?) in which Larraz skilfully conveyed the compulsive nature of the title characters’ behaviour… though lethal, they remained attractive and ultimately pitiable. The current crop, when inflicting (unconvincing) tortures on their captives, just become petty, spiteful and bathetic.

Matellano has a good eye (by dint of which he generally manages to obscure this film’s budgetary shortcomings and mediocre locations, relative to the original) and his heart is obviously in the right place. His revisitation of Vampyres will do OK on the basis of its Barthorean levels of boobs and blood, but I’d like to see how this director gets on with some original material and a decent screenplay collaborator. His next effort, A Stop Over In Hell has been completed and its cast includes Italian action director in excelsis and occasional thespian, Enzo G. Castellari. Obscure credits buffs excited by that casting coup are exactly the kind of obsessives who’ll spot May Heatherly (from Cannibal Apocalypse and Pieces) in Vampyres 2015. Sad to report that she died shortly after it was made.

Bonus materials here include teasers / trailers, a mini-interview with Caroline Munro and a short “making of” featurette, narrated by Jack Taylor and apparently dating from a time when the film was entitled Universe Of Vampyres.

… and yes, Larraz’s original did play The Scala on more than one occasion so this timely Soda release gels nicely with our current Scalarama theme.

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La Repulsion… SYMPTOMS Reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Region Free. BFI. 15.

Do you remember, dear reader, when ITV (in its various regional incarnations) was actually worth watching? Before it was completely overrun with talent contests, reality programs and shit films, ITV was synonymous  with World In Action, The World At War and… late night screenings of really cool, obscure films. I distinctly remember Lucio Fulci’s “lost” meisterwerk Beatrice Cenci (1969) turning up in the graveyard slot on Granada during the late ’80s, round about the time we were cooking up Samhain… ditto Symptoms (1974) by Jose Ramon Larraz. The latter broadcast became the source of innumerable VHS bootlegs which were the only way to see and appreciate Larraz’s film for about thirty years, as all negatives seemed to have disappeared. Now you can chuck your bootlegs away because, after featuring it for some time on their “75 Most Wanted” list, the BFI have finally tracked down the required elements for Symptoms and issued this all-singing and dancing Blu-ray edition, on their more exploitation-oriented “Flipside” imprint… this, mind you, for the film which managed to bump Ken Russell’s Mahler as the UK entrant for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1974.

The first thing to say about Symptoms, the thing you really can’t avoid mentioning, is the obvious debt that it owes to Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965 (though that’s probably too simplistic a statement of the relationship between the two films… no less a pundit than David Pirie has argued that Larraz actually outdoes his avatar here.) In Repulsion Catherine Deneuve’s alienated young manicurist comes unglued amid the isolation of the big city, her repressed sexuality erupting into unconscionable violence before she retreats irrevocably into catatonia.

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Symptoms unfolds as though Larraz and his co-writers (Stanley Miller and Thomas Owen) have been pondering whether she might have achieved a more positive outcome by heading for the sticks and honouring the early ’70s tradition of  (in the vernacular of the time) getting her shit together in the country. The answer they arrive at seems to be… no! The shit hits the proverbial fan when this notional rural idyll turns out to be every bit as oppressively agoraphobic as any urban milieu. Perhaps this jaundiced take on our green and pleasant land is a particularly Spanish phenomenon… in the same year as Symptoms, Jorge Grau turned in his surreal and utterly alarming twist on English gothic, The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue.

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Helen (Angela Pleasance) invites her friend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to her old lake-side house so that the latter can get over the trauma of a romantic bust-up. It will transpire that Helen is getting over an even more drastic sundering, but for the time being it’s as well to note that she’s a bit odd…. intense. Presumably a classic screen beauty like Deneuve would have been beyond Larraz’s budget anyway, but Symptoms benefits immensely from the casting of Pleasance, whose peculiarly puckish presence draws the viewer into an ongoing guessing game regarding just WTF her problem is.

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Whatever it is, it’s got something to do with the disappearance of her “friend” Cora (briefly glimpsed in the shape of Marie-Paule Mailleux during intermittent flash backs)… nor do the vaguely sinister attentions of lurking handyman Brady (Peter Vaughan) in any way alleviate the growing tension, which builds beautifully for about an hour before a final third which maintains the film’s supremely creepy atmosphere while punctuating it with an escalating series of grand guignol eruptions. In Symptoms, Larraz reiterates Polanski’s point about sexual self-loathing and the potential it has warp the self and damage others, a concept whose relevance to real life is all too readily apparent at the time I sit here typing these words….

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I reacquainted myself with Symptoms during a thunderstorm which complimented the on screen events quite beautifully… then again I remember how wonderfully evocative and engaging the film was, viewed late at night in my parents’ lounge, all those years ago. This perfectly orchestrated chamber piece will  probably weave its disturbing magic in whatever circumstances it is seen. Larraz is exceptionally well served here by sympathetic collaborators… his cast, his DP Trevor Wrenn, his art director Ken Bridgeman and composer John Scott… also by his own polymath grounding  in comic book art, fashion photography and art history. There are frames of Pleasence’s face that suggest a Vermeer portrait. Elsewhere, some of the house’s William Morris interiors are echoed in the fronds which embrace the corpse of a woman discovered in the lake, a scene which itself strongly suggests a pre-Raphaelite rendering of Ophelia.

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Symptoms failed to garner anything like a feverish reaction at Cannes Festival or indeed anywhere else, but its editor Brian Smedley-Aston was sufficiently impressed by Larraz to remortgage his house to fund the directors’s Vampyres the same year, an altogether more lurid take on the “rural lesbian violence” schtick that also comes highly recommended. The witty Smedley-Aston is interviewed for this set’s generous compliment of bonus features, as are Pleasence and Heilbron. As well as his work with Larraz, he discusses editing (and being obliged to re-edit) Performance with Donald Cammell and his experiences on the  Jeff Lieberman films Squirm and Blue Sunshine. To her Symptoms reminiscences, Heilbron (now working as a psychotherapist) adds her reflections on Freddie Francis’s The Creeping Flesh (1973) and rhapsodises about acting alongside Peter Cushing. Pleasance is interesting, insightful and funny (e.g. when she reveals that her “perfectly circular head” saved her life when a heavy light fell on it during the making of Symptoms.) For all of these new interviews we have to thank our old mate Pete Tombs and the From Barcelona… To Tunbridge Wells episode of his 1999 Channel 4 series Eurotika! is also revived here (remember, dear reader, when Channel 4 was actually worth watching?) Pride of place though, must go to Celia Novi’s award winning 2011 feature On Vampires And Other Symptoms, an impressive, impressionistic mash up of JRL’s two most celebrated pictures, his autobiographical comic strips and what turns out to be a trip to the 2009 Sitges Film Festival (four years before his death) where the Catalonian director received an honorary award and was treated to a surprise reunion with Vampyres stars Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska…. those scenes alone were worth the price of admission.

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… it’s better than bottling it up! Larraz’s El Periscopio, 1979.

 

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