José Ramón Larraz: From Comics to Cinema

José Larraz was born in Barcelona in 1928. Graduating as a Doctor of Philosophy from that city’s university he moved to Paris where he studied Art with the Louvre based Rachel Boyer Foundation. Staying in Paris for the next decade, he worked as a comic book artist with illustrations world-syndicated by King Features and Opera Mundi in the publications ‘Creepy and “Eerie’. During the Swinging Sixties he became a fashion photographer doing many top spreads and covers for ‘Femme D’Aujourd Hui’ and ‘Vogue’. Vivian Neves, one of the era’s most famous models, posed for him and subsequently starred in Larraz’s feature film debut Whirlpool (1970). In addition to directing under his own name, he’s worked under the pseudonyms Joseph Braunstein (his middle name and his mother’s surname), Jonathan Larraz, and probably a host of others.

Larraz said, “I never knew how to make movies. WHIRLPOOL happened by pure accident. My Belgian publisher had made lots of money from a children’s comic and was looking for investments. At that time the soft-core sex film market had come of age and many distributors were turning over tidy profits from miniscule budget quickies. We decided to have a go ourselves and wrote a simple story containing loads of sex. I’m not biased towards exploitation but we had to make a surefire return on the £20,000 budget and there was no other way to sell it. We shot it in one week in England and had it certified in Denmark to hype up the sex-angle even more. We sold the distribution rights in America for £125,000. Not a bad return, yet it did me a disservice. It was a lousy start for my career. I was labeled a cheap, sexy movie director forever afterward”.

Released in Britain two years later, Whirlpool (1970) was hilariously re-titled SHE DIED WITH HER BOOTS ON with the running time cut by ten minutes. Produced by Larraz under the pseudonym Remo Odevaine, it told the turgid story of aspiring model Neves being invited by permissive Karl Lanchbury and Pia Anderson to join a mé•nage à trois at their country cottage. After a few sex games – pretend rape in the local woods so she can register “violent emotion” for photographer Lanchbury – Neves enters his forbidden darkroom to discover the girl she’s replaced was brutally murdered and the same fate lies in store for her. A lurid Victorian melodrama update, WHIRLPOOL set the seal on Larrazi career. It relied heavily on over-emphatic gestures, pregnant pauses and sinister glances to tell a nonsensical slice of psycho-slashing more than the perfunctory hints of forbidden passion as upfront as they were for the time.

Deviation (1971) After a nocturnal car accident in the English countryside, an unfortunate couple is invited to a mysterious house occupied by a creepy embalmer who throws sexy drug parties there.

The House That Vanished (1973) Alternate titles: Scream and Die, Don’t Go in the Bedroom
London fashion model Valerie Jennings travels into the countryside with her photographer boyfriend, Terry, who is searching for an abandoned house; he intends to find something there, but does not tell her what it is. They discover the house at nightfall, and while exploring it, Valerie discovers numerous women’s passports in a bedroom. Another couple—a woman and an unseen man—enter the house. Panicked, Valerie and Terry hide in a closet. They watch as the woman is brutally murdered with a switchblade. While the killer washes his hands in the bathroom, Valerie flees, unaware that Terry is not following behind her. When she finds the keys to their car missing, she runs into the woods and the killer chases her into an abandoned wrecking yard where she manages to evade him by hiding inside a car.

The next day, Valerie reaches a road and hitchhikes back to London. She enters her apartment, and while standing at the kitchen window, sees Terry’s car parked on the street. She finds it unlocked, and inside discovers her modeling portfolio with a photo missing. Perplexed, she goes to Terry’s apartment but finds he has not returned home. Panicked, Valerie visits her friend Mike and his girlfriend, Stella, who urge her not to go to the police, fearing she will implicate herself in Terry’s burglary. Later at a modeling shoot, Mike introduces Valerie to his friend Paul, a young and shy artist who makes masks for a living. Paul invites Valerie over for dinner, but they are joined by his domineering Aunt Susanna. After Valerie leaves, Paul and Susanna have sex.

Still concerned over Terry’s absence, Valerie agrees to bring Mike and Stella to the house. She leads them to the wrecking yard, where they inexplicably find Terry’s ravaged car. Despite their efforts, they are unable to find the house. Back in her apartment building, Valerie becomes unnerved by the presence of Mr. Hornby, an eccentric new neighbor who moves in below her, and who keeps pigeons in his home. She is relieved when her flat-mate Lorna, also a model, returns from a job out of town. One night while Valerie is out with friends, an intruder breaks into the apartment and murders Lorna after raping her.

Unsettled by Lorna’s murder, Valerie is invited to go out of town with Paul, to which she agrees. He takes her to a remote manor house owned by his family. While there, he confesses to her that his father committed suicide in the home. At night, Valerie hears noises coming from upstairs, but Paul assures her no one is there. She goes to investigate, and notices a taxidermy animal identical to one she saw in the house she entered with Terry; she realizes she is in the same house as before. In the bedroom upstairs, she discovers a blood-stained bed. Hearing someone come up the stairs, she again hides in the closet, and sees Susanna enter the room, calling for Paul and chastising him. In the closet, she discovers the bodies of Terry and Stella. Valerie flees downstairs where she is attacked by Paul. Susanna encourages him to kill Valerie, but he turns on her, stabbing her to death. Valerie runs outside, where she is met by police. Inside, Paul sits in the hallway in silence.

La muerte incierta (1973) A planter who lives with his son in a remote area of India has an affair with a native girl. On a trip to England he remarries and the native girl commits suicide. On his return he is seized by a superstitious fear, and his wife and son become attracted to each other.

‎Emma, Dark Doors (1974) Emma, puertas oscuras After a car accident, Emma wakes up in a hospital. But nothing feels right. Emma’s brain is now full of dark shadows and hidden passages, all of which are affecting her relationships. Soon, she’s forced to act on these feelings of paranoia, aggression, and depression . . . with the help of a straight razor. , leading to a regrettable series of violent deaths.

Next сame Symptoms (1974), an evocative, if minor, journey through the female interior landscape littered with Larraz’ warped brand of male anxiety images.

The reclusive Helen invites her friend Anne, a writer, to stay the weekend with her at her family’s estate. The large manor, located near a lake in a forest, is overgrown with foliage and has mostly been untouched for an extended period of time. Helen, a translator, has recently returned to her native England after working abroad, and had lost touch with Anne. The two have dinner, start a fire in the hearth, and talk over tea before going to bed.

The next morning, Helen stops by a drugstore in town, where the clerk Mr. Burke asks about her friend, Cora Porter; she tells him she is not with her. Back at the manor, Helen and Anne go for a walk through the woods. At the lake, Helen tells Anne that someone drowned themselves there. The two women take a boat out onto the water, which unnerves Helen. En route home, they encounter Brady, a handyman who lives in the stables on the property; Anne comments that he was staring at Helen, and Helen responds by saying he disgusts her. Later, Helen spies on him with binoculars from the house.

Helen has continuous trouble sleeping at the house, and hears voices emanating from the attic one night. The following morning, Anne borrows Helen’s car to drive to town. On the way home, she stops by the lake and smokes a cigarette, where she is confronted by Brady, who introduce himself. He mentions Helen’s friend Cora, whose photograph Anne recalls seeing in the house. Anne returns to the house where she finds Helen distraught over her absence. She confides in Anne that she is ill, and Anne suggests they return to London, but Helen refuses, and then kisses her.

That night, Anne is awoken by moaning noises. She asks Helen if someone else could be living in the house, but Helen dismisses the idea. John arrives at the house to pick up Anne, but Anne insists on staying a few days longer due to Helen’s fragile emotional state. That night, Helen’s attention is drawn to an attic door in her bedroom, and she begins to masturbate furiously; simultaneously, Anne goes to investigate a noise coming from the attic, and is startled by a figure who stabs her to death.

Hannah, the housekeeper, arrives in the morning, and finds Helen asleep on the couch; Helen asks her not to return for several days, saying she needs solitude. Later at the drugstore, Hannah tells Mr. Burke about the interaction, and recalls that she once saw Cora having sex with Brady in the stables, and has not seen her since. While walking through the woods, Helen is confronted by Brady, who asks her about Anne’s whereabouts; when he intimates that she murdered Anne and Cora, Helen runs away in a panic.

At the house, Anne’s dead body sits in a chair in Helen’s bedroom, and Helen is plagued by disembodied voices and other phenomenon. During a rainstorm, John arrives looking for Anne, and enters though an unlocked door. Upstairs, Helen stabs him in the head and neck numerous times, killing him. That night Brady stops by Helen’s house to confront her about Cora, whose decomposing body he found in the lake. He tells Helen he witnessed her push Cora in, but she coolly denies it. When he threatens to blackmail her, she stabs him repeatedly in the face and the back of the head, killing him. The next morning, Hannah, Burke, and his protege Nick arrive at the house. In the living room, they find Brady’s corpse. While searching upstairs, they find John’s body in the hallway, and Helen staring blankly through the window. In the yard, she watches as Brady and Cora embrace.

Retitled THE BLOOD VIRGIN in some Eastern territories, and shorn by ten minutes to tighten up the story in Britain, Angela Pleasence played the pathologically jealous lesbian with all the subtlety she could muster, surrounded by subjective razor stabbing, sudden glimpses of phantom sex maniacs in mirrors and touches of necrophilia. Pleasence wasn’t Larraz’s first choice to play Helen Ramsey. “Jean Seberg was”, he said, “When she turned down my offer I asked Rita Tushingham before considering Angela. SYMPTOMS has many thoughtful and persuasive touches. The horror verged, on the ordinary because I wanted to slowly build the intensity of her madness”.

Vampyres (1974)

El mirón (1977) Roman and Elena (Alexandra Bastedo) find themselves at a crossroads in their marriage stemming from Roman’s fetish of watching his wife with other men. Despite trying to fulfill her husband’s fantasies, even going so far as agreeing to let Roman bring strangers home, Elena can never fully go through with sleeping with any of them, much to Roman’s frustration. With the rift in their marriage growing wider, the two become more withdrawn from each other with further complications arising when Elena becomes friendly with a young neighbor.

Luto riguroso (1977) After the death of his father, Piedad directs her family life by virtue of tradition and moral values in a small town in the provinces.

El fin de la inocencia (1977) A young student moves into the house of her sadistic uncle.

La ocasión (1978) Couple Pablo and Anna return to their beachfront home only to find it trashed after having been broken into. Pablo immediately suspects a group of young hippies that have been staying at the farm next door and is determined to get rid of them while Anna, who isn’t exactly thrilled with the group also doesn’t approve of Pablo’s overly antagonistic attitude. Pablo eventually reports them to the police in hopes of finally being rid of them for good, that is until the leader of the group decides to pay him and Anna a visit.

Around this time the political climate began changing back in Larraz’ home country. General Franco had died and Spain’s censorship laws relaxed, allowing explicit soft-core items to be promoted under the ‘S’ – for Sex – rating. Naturally Larraz was one of the first directors to take advantage of the situation and the result The Coming of Sin (1978).

Lorna is a beautiful widow living all alone at her country chateau, with only her books and paintings for company. Then one day Triana, a wild gypsy girl who has been raised in an orphanage is brought her home by her friend Sally and her husband. She asks her to take care of her while they are away. She takes the girl under her wing, an sensuous relationship develops between them. Soon the pair are lovers. But Triana has a dark secret that manifests itself in frightening dreams of domination and humiliation. She has recurring nightmares of a naked man on horseback assaulting and abusing her. At the same time, the naked horseman begins to appear in reality. The girl, convinced that he represents her doom, resists him; but the artist is intrigued and a bizarre erotic triangle is established.

It opened in Britain as THE VIOLATION OF THE BITCH in 1980 with fifteen minutes of hard eroticism missing.

Then came “one of the worst films I’ve ever been involved with” admitted Larraz. ” The Golden Lady (1979)” was a female James Bond spoof set in the world of high finance and oil cartels. It was written by some pretty boy who couldn’t write aj letter home to his mother let alone a script! One of the props was a briefcase with Top Secret printed on the side. That’s how stupid it was”. Starring Christina World, Suzanne Danielle and, in the tiniest walk-on, Desmond (Q) Llewelyn, THE GOLDEN LADY experience made Larraz determined to head back to the Costa Del Terror where he reigned in Spain for the next few years.

Julia Hemingway (Ina Skriver, credited as Christina World), a British female mercenary, is hired by wealthy businessman Charlie Whitlock in order to help him eliminate the competition on the purchase of some oil fields in Saudi Arabia. Hemingway coordinates a team of 3 sexy women to go undercover to complete the task, but is unaware that Whitlock plans on double crossing her so he won’t have to pay for her services.

El periscopio (1979) …And Give Us Our Daily Sex Verónica and her friend (Laura Gemser) are two very sexy bisexual nurses who live upstairs from a rather boring couple and their teenage son. In a science class at school he learns how to build a periscope, and uses it to spy on the nurses sexual antics. Meanwhile, Albert’s mother is being even naughtier than her precious boy, sneaking off for some extra-marital sex while her hair-obsessed husband is at the salon, having his follicles tended to. This all gets to be too much for the young lad as he soon starts to suffer from unexplained pains in the groin area. It all comes to a head when the parents of the boy ask the nurses to come and check him out and Laura proceeds to realize what the problem is. So she promptly wanks the boy off in front of his parents.

Polvos mágicos (1979) Alternate title: Lady Lucifera Arturo and Paco arrives at a castle where Paco is going to marry Sulfurina, who turns out to be a witch.

The horror movies he made there were very hard to see then, virtually impossible now, and Larraz is deliberately hazy about them himself, “Most were backed by a fruit exporter. I’ve always seen that as one of my major problems. I’ve never had a proper understanding producer, only Philistine moneymen telling me what I should do… Estigma (1980) is the only movie I have made containing no sex.

Polvos mágicos (1979) Alternate title: Lady Lucifera

The death of Sebastian’s father engenders in him pathological fears and hallucinations. His death wishes seem to cause horrible accidents, which he is unable to control. When his older brother dies, he feels that he has caused it. He undergoes hypnosis, but his apparent supernatural powers continue. As his own life nears its end, he becomes even more violent and sadistic

It mixed CARRIE and THE FURY in a tale of psychic reincarnation. It starred Alexandra Bastedo who also appeared as a grief-stricken widow in a Larraz directed PEEPING TOM inspired thriller titled El mirón (1977) and the highly successful domestic black comedy, The National Mummy (1981) La momia nacional An old mummy of an Egyptian princess, who returns to life in Spain at the end of the 19th century, is ready to recover the lost centuries in which she has not been able to have sex.

Madame Olga’s Pupils (1981) (as Joseph L. Bronstein) Madame Olga is the owner of a luxurious brothel in London. When one of her girls dies while with a client, a young man, Rafael, girl’s friend comes and asks about her death. But soon he starts to work for Olga as a pimp. When he meets Lavinia, one of Olga’s girls he falls in love with her. But when she resists him in bed, he sleeps with her mother Betty.

But there is one movie Larraz hates talking about even more Black Candles (1982). “Oh! No. You can’t have seen that surely! What can I say? I am a free-thinker and my family had to eat. Larraz, “It’s the one film I’m truly ashamed of”.

A young woman travels to England after the abrupt death of her brother. Staying with her sister-in-law, she finds her companion soon drawn into a satanic cult based in the house, whose rites seem to centre on large-scale sexual congress.

After the unexpected success of LA MOMIA NACIONAL, Larraz was offered an avalanche of sexy horror comedies. “That’s all anybody thought I could direct from that point on”.

Juana la Loca… de vez en cuando (1983) The Catholic Monarchs care about Torquemada’s obsession to prosecute everyone. Cisneros presents senile amnesia, Infanta Isabel has become republican, and Juana is in love. A comic and sui generis vision of the Court of the Catholic Monarchs.

So he surprised everyone by taking on his most auspicious project to date, a highly-acclaimed six hour miniseries based on the life of GOYA. Then it was back to horror basics as Larraz helmed two direct-to-video Spanish/ American co-productions under the pseudonym Joseph Braunstein.

Juana la Loca… de vez en cuando (1983)

A young, married couple move into the wife’s aunt’s estate after inheriting the sprawling property. Soon, weird occurrences begin to happen around the house, and they start to suspect the tenants are responsible.

“I shot, REST IN PIECES (1987) in Spain with a boring script. An idiot script means an idiot film but I enjoyed working with Dorothy Malone”.

“I shot Edge of the Axe (1988) in Spain too with four days of Los Angeles locations. It was a PSYCHO movie with lots of blood. Gore is horror porno and has no real value anymore. Principal photography of Edge of the Axe occurred in Big Bear Lake, California in 1987. The cast was made up of a mixture of American and Spanish actors, with the leading performers being primarily American. The majority of the exterior scenes were filmed in Big Bear Lake, including the opening credits sequence in which Faulks’ character rides his motorcycle through town. Some interior sequences were shot in Madrid, such as the inside of the car wash featured in the opening scene; in post-production, the exterior of the car wash, which was filmed in California, was cross-cut to create the illusion that they are the same location.

In the rural Northern California mountain community of Paddock County, nurse Mirna Dobson is viciously murdered by a masked murderer with an axe while driving through a car wash. Meanwhile, Gerald Martin, an eccentric young man who is obsessed with computers, has recently moved into a cabin on the property of an elderly hermit named Brock. One morning, Gerald accompanies his friend Richard, an exterminator, to investigate a putrid smell in the basement of a local tavern. There, they find the rotting corpse of Mary West, a missing female barmaid, lodged in an attic crawlspace. Her death goes unsolved.

Gerald soon meets Lillian Nebbs, the daughter of another local tavern owner who is home from college. The two bond over their mutual fascination with technology. Late one night, local beautician and prostitute Rita Miller is brutally murdered while walking through town. Her body is found the following morning, crushed by a train on the railroad tracks. Officer Frank McIntosh begins investigating the recent rash of killings. Meanwhile, while entering search commands on a computer Gerald gave her, Lillian finds a list of the three women who have been killed. When she asks him about it, Gerald explains that he regularly makes lists of data for amusement.

During a windstorm one night, another local woman is attacked by the killer, who has infiltrated her home for a second time, having previously broken in and left one of her hogs’ severed heads in her bed. The woman flees to her barn, but the killer strikes her in the back with the axe before bludgeoning her to death. While boating on the lake the next day, Richard finds the severed head of a nurse from a local psychiatric hospital. Later that night, Anna Bixby, a leader of Lillian’s church choir, finds her dog murdered in her home. When she goes to retrieve her shotgun, the killer, hiding in the pantry, chops her fingers off before hacking her to death.

Lillian confides in Gerald that she has recently discovered her cousin, Charlie, was released from a mental hospital he was admitted to years earlier following a head injury caused when she pushed him from a swing set. She suspects Charlie may be responsible for the killings. Later, Lillian uses Gerald’s computer, claiming to be researching a graduate program at the University of Portland. Gerald is puzzled when he finds a list of psychiatrists in the computer’s search results log. Lillian admits that she was attempting to research more information about Charlie.

That evening, Laura, Richard’s middle-aged artist wife, gets drunk with local Christopher Caplin at the Nebbs’ tavern after discovering she is bankrupt. She leaves with Christopher, but crashes her car en route home. She briefly exits the car and rests against a tree. Upon returning to the vehicle, she finds the masked killer in Christopher’s seat. The assailant pursues her into the woods and kills her. The next morning, Richard arrives at Gerald’s, and tells him Laura never returned home; he claims that she emptied their bank account before disappearing. Laura and Christopher’s bodies are found in the woods later that evening. At the crime scene, McIntosh finds a pin from the Nebbs’ tavern, leading him and his officers to go question Lillian and her father.

Meanwhile, Lillian, who is home alone, hears strange noises downstairs. Upon investigating them, she is met by Gerald. A frightened Lillian accuses Gerald of in fact being Charlie. He responds by telling her that Charlie is a figment of her imagination; on the computer, he confronts Lillian with supposed medical records of a head injury she sustained years prior, as well as documentation of her psychiatric confinement. Additionally, he produces a list of all the victims, each of whom were either hospital employees who cared for Lillian, or women who were romantically interested in her father. Believing she is being gaslit, Lillian attempts to attack Gerald with an axe. The two fight, and Lillian flees outside with Gerald pursuing her. McIntosh and his deputies arrive just as this occurs, and they swiftly shoot Gerald to death. McIntosh consoles Lillian, who begins to smile maniacally over his shoulder.

As luck would have it Brian Smedley Aston contacted Larraz in 1989 to direct “a creepy story” for him and the finished product, Deadly Manor (1990), was heavily promoted at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. The FRIDAY THE 13TH retread, was shot on location in New Jersey last Autumn and concerns a bunch of teenagers forced to stay the night in an old, dark house inhabited by a deranged, scarred model, victim of a Hell’s Angels attack, seeking vengeance on youth in general. The film was shot on location at Hillburn Manor, a derelict 100-year-old mansion in Suffern, New York in the fall of 1989. The Davidson sisters, who inherited the home, resided in it while the film was shot over a period of five weeks. The crew consisted of approximately 35 people. The home, which was in a state of significant disrepair, was demolished after filming completed.

Larrax explained, “I had the idea based on an actual incident that happened to me a long time ago. The wife of a Belgian friend died in a car crash and he kept the smashed-up vehicle in his garden as a monument to his grief. he spent hours in the wreck playing the same songs they heard that day over and over again. It’s hardly a new concept putting kids in a scary situation but the strangeness of finding the car, the coffins and bodies buried behind walls seemed slightly different”. in a car crash and he kept the smashed-up vehicle in his garden as a monument to his grief. He spent hours in the wreck playing the same songs they heard that day over and over again. It’s hardly a new concept, putting kids in a scary situation but the strangeness of finding the car, the coffins and bodies buried behind walls seemed slightly different”.

He continued, “It’s a very modest movie. I deliberately didn’t set out to make just another slashing exhibition. I don’t use the stormy mansion concept in the obvious way. The mood is what sets Deadly Manor (1990) apart from other similar movies aimed solely at video rental”.

Two couples—Tony and Helen, and Rod and Susan—are traveling via car through upstate New York to visit a lake, with their friends, couple Peter and Anne, following behind on a motorcycle. En route, the group pick up Jack, a hitchhiker who claims to be familiar with the area, but is in reality an escaped convict. As night falls and they fail to arrive at the lake, Rod decides to pull off onto a side road and camp overnight. At the end of the winding road, they come across an abandoned house and decide to spend the night there. In the yard, the group find a burned, damaged car oddly parked atop a stone monument. Inside is a photo of a beautiful young woman, along with articles of clothing; they determine it to be a bizarre shrine of some sort.

Helen finds the home profoundly frightening, and refuses to spend the night there; she leaves, telling the others she will go on to the nearest town, but is murdered in the woods by an unseen assailant. The group manage to break into the home, and begin exploring. In the basement, they find a number of sealed coffins, and more photos of the unknown woman pasted on the walls. Further evidence suggests someone has recently inhabited the home. They are further disturbed when they come across a closet full of mementos, including what appears to be a human scalp. The group fall asleep in a parlor after starting a fire in the fireplace, the heat of which begins to cause a plaster wall to crack. Tony, unable to sleep, continues to explore the upstairs of the house. In a drawer, he comes across a photo album containing pictures of what appears to be nude corpses. Tony eventually falls asleep on a bed, where he dreams of having sex with the woman in the photographs. Tony returns to the basement, and finds one of the coffins, labeled “Amanda,” open. Jack confronts Tony in the basement, accusing him of stealing items from the house. Tony goes outside and sits in the car atop the stone monument to smoke a cigarette.

Rod and Susan awake and go upstairs to have sex. When Rod goes outside to the car to retrieve condoms, he is attacked and killed. Moments later, Susan sees a woman wearing an expressionless white mask staring at her through the window. Susan subsequently has her throat slashed when she goes to find Rod. Meanwhile, Tony finds Helen’s bloody corpse concealed inside the wrecked car. His screams awaken Peter and Anne, who find him crying over Helen’s corpse outside. In the adjacent barn, the three find numerous vandalized motorcycles buried in hay, including Peter and Anne’s. When Tony attempts to start his car, he finds it has been tampered with. Peter and Anne flee to the nearest road to flag down help, while Tony searches the house for Rod and Susan. He is confronted by a dying Jack in the stairwell, his throat slashed. Tony flees into the basement, where he is stabbed to death by the assailant.

Peter and Anne manage to flag down an aristocratic middle-aged man, Alfred, passing by in a car. When Anne notices yet another photo of the mysterious woman on the dashboard, Alfred stabs Peter in the throat with a hunting knife. Anne flees into the woods with Alfred in pursuit, and returns to the mansion. She discovers the bodies of Tony, Rod, and Susan. Upstairs, she is confronted by the killer—Amanda, the wife of Alfred and woman in the photos, who was horribly disfigured in a car accident caused by a reckless biker gang. Driven by vengeance over her disfigurement, she and Alfred trap and murder young people passing through the area.

Anne unsuccessfully attempts to reason with the psychotic Amanda, and is cornered by her and Alfred downstairs. In a struggle, the cracking plaster wall gives way, revealing a cache of corpses. Before Alfred can stab Anne, he is shot to death by police officers who have arrived at the mansion to arrest Jack, who had been spotted in the region. A distraught Anne and raving Amanda are escorted away from the house in separate police cars.

Sevilla Connection (1992) Two police officers fights a gang of drug traffickers operating in Seville during the Expo 92.

Interview with director José Larraz
Tell us about your early years.
José Larraz: In the early ’50s, Spain was a very limiting place. There were censors everywhere, and they were especially hard on comic books and paperbacks. I once painted a book cover that was censored, and the publisher told me it was because I painted big tits on the girl. There could be no nudity, you understand-to paint a naked girl at that time in Spain was a sin. It was ridiculous! Things loosened up over the years, but still, it wasn’t my cup of tea; a girl in a bikini was a sin, and I liked girls in bikinis. So I left when I was 22 years old. I moved to France and was lucky enough to immediately find work drawing a comic strip for France Soir, a very important newspaper. I was also employed by King Features Syndicate, an American company who found work for me all over. I was thrilled, because even then I was enthralled by everything about America. My work was basically aimed at children-action stories and fantasies—though I had an agent in Belgium who sent my È work to horror magazines like Creepy and Eerie. Anyway, I worked in comics until I was 40, everywhere but America. Everyone always asked me why I didn’t go there, even my own mother. But I was a little bit afraid…America E impressed me so much.

Horror wasn’t your first love.
José Larraz: No, not at all. I like adventure stories; I spent a couple of years in Africa as a photographer, and that had a strong influence on me. I like mysteries more than I like blood and guts, but when I started to make movies I learned very fast that if you were going to make something low budget with no stars, the only way to make it profitable was to do a horror movie with sex and blood–the things I’m not too keen on.

Your first film, Whirlpool, was made in 1969. How did you make the transition from comics to movies?
José Larraz: Believe it or not, I had never set foot in a studio or even spoken to anyone involved with film before I began making them. I had never heard the word “moviola” until I was making my first film. In 1969 I was living in Brussels. One very cold, snowy night in January I went to the cinematheque. There were only two of us in the theater, an elderly man and myself. During the intermission we smoked a cigarette together and got to talking. And it turned out that this elderly gentleman was Josef von Sternberg. We watched the next movie, and then went out afterwards for a beer. I told him it was my dream to make movies, but I didn’t know how to start. And he told me that when he made The Blue Angel, he had no distributor, the cast and crew were all his friends—Marlene Dietrich made fried eggs for everyone and they just went ahead and did it. I never spoke with him again—he died maybe six months later-but for me this was a revelation. About a month later I told my publisher that if he could get me 1 million Belgian francs—which was nothing, peanuts—I could make a film with it. He came up with the money, and I got additional financing from a producer in Barcelona, who explained a little bit about the mechanics of making a film. I shot it in London; it was an ugly story of a girl who wants to become a model and falls into the hands of an amateur photographer who is a sadistic murderer. But it was a success in every country except Spain, where it was banned. And I sold the film to an American distributor, Jerry Gross, for $120,000—at that moment I loved America more than ever! The reviews were appalling: they complained that it was just sex, sex, murder and sex. Of course, this film did have a lot of sex. But beautiful sex, not porno sex—this is an important difference. Then I made Symptoms [1974].

That film has been compared to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.
José Larraz:I read that, but I don’t know…certainly, I am a big fan of Polanski and Repulsion is a brilliant film. The story was by an English writer, and certainly I noticed similarities; they both dealt with a schizophrenic girl in an isolated house. But I don’t think they were the same at all. I got a fantastic editor [Brian Smedley-Aston] who edited all of Tony. Richardson’s films, and after the picture was done he told me that if I could make a film like Symptoms, but more exploitative—and I knew immediately what he meant by that: naked girls and blood—he would produce it. Well, I needed money and anyway, I liked making films. So I made Vampyres (1974).

That’s probably your best known film, and many people think it’s the best lesbian vampire film ever made.
José Larraz: Well, that’s a fine thing. Naked girls and lots of blood, that’s what Vampyres is about. Soon after that, Generalissimo Francisco Franco died, and I thought about working in Spain again. A friend suggested I come back to make a couple of films, and since not very much was being produced in England, I thought, “Why not?” The first one was El mirón (1977), which I wrote with a psychiatrist friend of mine in England and originally tried to make there. It is a film about a voyeur, but people who went to the theaters expecting a sex film were very disappointed! It’s only about mental problems, about a very bourgeois, Catholic man who is compelled to peep in windows, and how this destroys his life. Then I got together with someone who made co-productions with Italy, and did Stigma [1979]. It’s about a boy who bleeds from his lips whenever anyone is going to die; it first happens right before his father is killed in an accident, and then many times after. But the thing is, the people who die are the people he hates. Then I made two films that were horror comedies in the style of Young Frankenstein. The first was called Juana la Loca… de vez en cuando (1983). It was a send up of witchcraft films, set in the 19th century, with very good production values. There are two friends, and one is going to marry a young girl in Castille. When they arrive at her castle, they find that the bride is a witch. It was that year’s second highest grossing film in Spain. The only thing I wasn’t happy about was that my script was changed a little to put more emphasis on politics. You know, in Spain, everything is politics. You get in a taxi and the driver wants to talk about politics: the socialists this, the right-wing that…it’s unbelievable. The minute you disagree, you’re a fascist. Anyway, the other comedy was The National Mummy (1984). The title was a reference to Franco, who was mummified-embalmed after he died. People made jokes about Franco as a mummy, coming back from the grave and so on. Or, because Spain is very Catholic, they would say things like, “Can you imagine if after three days that bastard rises again?” That’s the film I wanted to make, but I couldn’t find a producer with enough balls to do it they all said no, it was too much. So the film I shot didn’t have anything to do with Franco. It was about an Egyptologist who brings a mummy to Spain, and the mummy comes to life. You can imagine the rest, I’m sure.

What about the film Black Candles (1981)? That was very controversial.
José Larraz: That is a very, very strong film. Again, that was shot in Spain, dealing with witchcraft. I’m not particularly religious I’m more a poetic person-but I’ve always been very interested in black magic and the black mass. Once in France I was almost able to attend one, but at the last minute I was rejected. Anyway, I wanted to make a film about black magic, based on all the research I had done. So I went to my producer and said that if I was going to make a film about the black mass, I was going to shoot a black mass exactly the way it is. The result was too intense, mostly because of one scene that was cut in most countries where the movie was shown. It’s a scene with a Sabat, where a girl is having sex with a goat. Well, the shock when I showed this was terrible! I thought, so what…it’s a nice animal, a goat; the goat has the right to enjoy itself too. But people were horrified. Actually, I’m sure many people enjoyed Black Candles, maybe even got turned on by it, but they thought it was more decent to say, “Oh, no, no…this is terrible.” I’ll tell you something else if I had shot that film while Franco was alive, you wouldn’t be talking to me on the telephone; you’d be talking to me through a medium, because I would be one dead man.

That film was also called The Sexual Rites of the Devil, right?
José Larraz: Yes, that was the clever idea of the Spanish distributor he thought it would sell more tickets.

What about The Edge of the Axe?
José Larraz: That was another Spanish film, which I made for a producer who was very anxious to introduce his product in America. Right at the beginning, I told him that was like the saying, “Bringing ice to the Eskimos.” The cast was American, most of the crew was Spanish…it was all a mix. We shot four days in San Bernadino, and it was a very nice time, but the film wasn’t very good at all. Before that I made another film for the same producer called Rest in Pieces. A bad script with American and English actors, including Dorothy Malone. She was a fantastic lady, still sexy, a good actress and a nice person. The movie dealt with zombies; the man who wrote it wanted to make something like Rosemary’s Baby, but with zombies, putting them in a modern setting. It was terrible. The writer was a zombie.

Tell us about your most film, Deadly Manor.
José Larraz: That story began a long time ago. I had a friend in Brussels-a writer of horror books—who knew a man who had been in an automobile accident that killed his wife. He kept this car the rest of his life, exactly as it was after the accident. He spent a lot of time sitting inside, looking at the bloodstains, with a portrait of his wife and a tape of the music that had been playing at the time of the accident. This story is the basis for Deadly Manor, and I added a bunch of young people on holiday in the country who discover this situation. I set it in America, partly because the producer felt it would be more commercial, but mostly because I wanted to shoot it in America. I tell you, shooting in America was like a holiday for me. I love the way that people who have a problem say it in your face. Very straightforward. Also, when I thought about shooting in Spain, I realized that the country houses there don’t really work with this kind of story; they’re ranch style, like in California-not so impressive When Alfred Hitchcock shot Psycho, he didn’t use a ranch house. Plus Spain and Italy are too sunny for a horror story; northern countries are more mysterious and romantic, while in the south it’s more, “Olé, olé.” I can’t imagine Frankenstein making a monster in the Costa de Sol or in Malibu Beach-he’d be too busy putting on bronzing oil.

José Ramón Larraz/SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY
Whirlpool (1970)
Deviation (1971)
Watch Out Gringo! Sabata Will Return (1972)
The House That Vanished (1973) Alternate titles: Scream and Die, Don’t Go in the Bedroom
La muerte incierta (1973)
‎Emma, Dark Doors (1974) Emma, puertas oscuras
Symptoms (1974) Alternate title: Blood Virgin
Vampyres (1974) Alternate titles: Daughters of Dracula, Blood Hunger
El mirón (1977)
Luto riguroso (1977)
El fin de la inocencia (1977)
The Coming of Sin (1978) Alternate title: The Violation of the Bitch / LA VISITA DEL VICIO
La ocasión (1978)
The Golden Lady (1979)
El periscopio (1979) …And Give Us Our Daily Sex
Polvos mágicos (1979) Alternate title: Lady Lucifera
Estigma (1980)
‎The National Mummy (1981) La momia nacional
Madame Olga’s Pupils (1981) (as Joseph L. Bronstein)
Black Candles (1982) Los ritos sexuales del diablo Alternate title: Sex Rites of the Devil
Juana la Loca… de vez en cuando (1983)
Rest in Pieces (1987)
Edge of the Axe (1988)
Deadly Manor (1990) Alternate title: Savage Lust
Sevilla Connection (1992)

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Gorezone#017
The Dark Side#002
The Dark Side#203
The Dark Side#201
Rue Morgue#55

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s