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Edge of the Axe & Deadly Manor | A double-dose of slice and dice chills from Jose Ramon Larraz on Blu-ray

Following Arrow Video’s release last year of a fantastic box-set of Jose Ramon Larraz’s early shockers (Whirpool, Vampyres, The Coming of Sin) now comes two slashers made at the very end of his film career on Blu-ray, restored and released in the UK for the first time, with a host of extras – Edge of the Axe (1988) and Deadly Manor (1990).

‘Seven killings in two weeks, this place stinks of death’
When the rural community of Paddock County is rocked by a series of vicious murders by an axe-wielding psychopath, officer Frank McIntosh (Fred Holliday) sets out to investigate. Meanwhile, Lillian (Christina Marie Lane), the daughter of a local tavern owner who is home from college, is starting up a tender friendship with computer geek Gerald (Barton Faulks) when she comes across the names of three women who have been killed.

Gerald explains that he enjoys making lists for fun, and Lillian believes him. She then confides in Gerald that her cousin Charlie has just been released from a mental hospital (having been placed there as a young boy following a head injury which Lillian caused), and suspects he might be responsible for the killings…

While set in California, this 1989 US/Spanish co-production (originally titled, Al filo del hacha) was primarily shot in Madrid (with the American scenes shot around Big Bare Lake in San Bernardino) and director José Ramón Larraz (going by the name Joseph Braunstein here) imbues his late entry hack-and slash thriller with some typical giallo trappings – some good, some excruciatingly bad.

The film’s primary colour palette – courtesy of cinematographer Tote Trenas – lends a Bava-esque meets comic-book sheen, Javier Elorrieta’s music is suitably weird (think Friday the 13th cross with country and western), and the special make-up effects are suitably gory. But the story (littered with trademark giallo twists, turns and red-herrings) is all over the place and the dialogue is downright hilariously bad. If it didn’t take it self so seriously, it could play as a spoof on the slasher genre. Oh and the computer technology looks really lame by today’s standards – but even so, the use of voice activation was a little ahead of its time.

Bizarrely, the violence is raw and rather nasty – which feels out of kilter in a slasher that’s loaded with unintentional laughs (incidentally, the UK video version was cut by 26 seconds to tone down the axe murders). And one scene that is guaranteed to make your sides ache is when genre legend Jack Taylor (playing a boozed-up local) is being driven home by one of the killer’s victims. He plays it so OTT it’s actually worth checking out the film just for this scene alone.

Another disturbing feature is the creepy smile that the actress playing Lillian sports for most of the film. I couldn’t work out if she was putting it on or whether that was her actual smile. I suspect it was the latter seeing this was her only screen role. If you do survive (all that laughig) for the climax, then you are in for some pure hysteria – but guess what? The nightmare isn’t over when those credits roll.

Edge of the Axe is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.

• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• English and Spanish language versions of the feature
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Spanish soundtrack
• Brand new audio commentary with actor Barton Faulks
• Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
• Newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks
The Pain in Spain: a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Justin Osbourn
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes

‘People collect stamps, baseball cards, ancient Incan artifacts. No one collects scalps!’
Bound for a camping trip to the lake, six friends and a hitchhiker are forced to stop for the night when a storm hits, and find a seemingly abandoned mansion as the perfect place to chill. But there’s something decidedly not right with the place – there’s a bloodstained car wreck in the front garden hat’s been turned into a memorial, there’s coffins in the basement and scalps in a closet, and photographs of a beautiful woman are plastered on the walls all over the house. Of course the teens decide to stay only to be picked off one-by-one by a mystery killer…

Released on VHS in the US under the title Savage Lust, Larraz’s penultimate film of his career is frankly dire. The scenario is unimaginative, the acting tragic, there’s little in the way of suspense or horror, and nothing actually happens for ages (except lots of heavy petting). And when it does its an anti-climax. Even the kills are nothing to get excited about. And as for the disfigured face make-up – OMG! truly amateurish. The only redeeming feature is the creepy house used for the setting and maybe scream queen Jennifer Delora’s OTT performance (and her interview is a scream too), but frankly this Deadly Manor is a deadly bore.

• Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
• Newly-filmed interview with actress Jennifer Delora
Making a Killing: a newly-filmed interview with producer Brian Smedley-Aston
• Extract from an archival interview with Jose Larraz
• Original Savage Lust VHS trailer
• Image Gallery
• Original Script and Shooting Schedule (BD-ROM content)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Adam Rabalais
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by author John Martin

Blood Hunger: The films of José Larraz | A trio of delights from the Spanish auteur

One of the most underrated filmmakers of his generation, Spanish-born director José Ramón Larraz (Symptoms) finally receives his due with this collection of his work, the first of its kind, 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 transpires to be anything but. 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 for draining… in more ways than one. Meanwhile, in 1978 s The Coming of Sin (La Visita del Vicio), 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 collected here – all newly restored from original film elements, with Whirlpool and The Coming of Sin making their Blu-ray world premieres – collectively offer film fans a unique perspective on the fascinating, highly-varied career of one of the horror genre’s most-overlooked auteurs.

Out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video

• Three films all newly-restored in 2K from original film elements
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for all features
• Newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s book featuring new writing by Jo Botting, Tim Greaves and Vanity Celis

• Original US Theatrical Cut
• Brand new audio commentary by Tim Lucas
• Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films of José Larraz – author and critic Kim Newman reflects on the recurring themes and underlying obsessions linking together the early productions of José Larraz
• A Curious Casting – actor Larry Dann on the strange story behind his casting in Whirlpool
• Deviations of Whirlpool – featurette comparing the differences between the US Theatrical Cut and a previously circulated, alternate cut of the film
• Archival interview with José Larraz
• Image Gallery
• Trailer

• Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
• Brand new interviews with producer Brian Smedley-Aston, actors Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, makeup artist Colin Arthur and composer James Kenelm Clarke
• Reimagining Vampyres – a brand new interview with Larraz s friend and collaborator Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake
Archival interview with José Larraz
• Jose Larraz and Marianne Morris Q&A at 1997 Eurofest
• Image Gallery
• Trailers

• Spanish and English language versions of the feature
• Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
• Variations of Vice: The Alternate Versions of The Coming of Sin exploitation expert Marc Morris on the strange and scandalous release history of José Larraz’s most censored film
• Remembering Larraz author and filmmaker Simon Birrell shares his memories José Larraz
• His Last Request (2005, 27 mins) – short film by Simon Birrell
• Archival interview with José Larraz
• Image Gallery
• Trailer

Symptoms (1974) | The once lost British horror gets a world premiere restored release from BFI Flipside

Symptoms (1974)

A young woman (Lorna Heilbron) is invited to stay at the remote country mansion belonging to her girlfriend (Angela Pleasence). But the peaceful retreat is interrupted by the menacing presence of the local gamekeeper (Peter Vaughan)…

And so begins Symptoms, director José Ramón Larraz’s modern gothic horror story and the official British entry for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1974. Slipping into obscurity following its release, the film has long been considered lost, appearing on the BFI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list of 75 missing films. But with the negatives found and the film restored following a 2K remastering, Larraz’ eerie master class in suspense and terror will be released by BFI Flipside in a Dual Format Edition on 25 April 2016, with the following extras…

From Barcelona… to Tunbridge Wells: The films of José Larraz (Andy Starke and Pete Tombs, 1999, 24 mins): Archive documentary, featuring interviews with Larraz, Brian Smedley-Aston and Marianne Morris.
On Vampyres and other Symptoms (Celia Novis, 2011, 74 mins): Archive documentary on Larraz’s most acclaimed films.
• Interview with star Angela Pleasence (2016, 10 mins)
• Interview with actress Lorna Heilbron (2016, 18 mins)
• Interview with editor Brian Smedley-Aston (2016, 17 mins)
• Original trailer.
• Collector’s booklet.

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