... aka: Savage Lust
José Ramón Larraz
First released in the U.S. as Savage Lust by A.I.P. (and now on DVD under its original title Deadly Manor), this came very late in the game for the 80s slasher flick craze. Even Jason, Michael and Freddy weren't pullin' 'em in like they used to by 1989, as the disappointing box office results of Friday 8, Halloween 5 and Elm Street 5 can attest. This was also the final genre film for prolific Spanish director Larraz, who made many films in England and Spain in the 70s and then came to America to wither and die dismally with age with three less-than-exceptional direct-to-video efforts. The other two were the dull small town slasher-mystery EDGE OF THE AXE and the confusing ghost tale REST IN PIECES (both 1987). Lust is actually the best of these later films. And by "best" I mean relatively speaking. This isn't great. Many things about it are so painfully stupid you won't believe your eyes or ears, but there's something fun and charming about this simple film that's difficult for me to really put my finger on. Starting out cutting from nude corpses strewn in some bushes along a country road to a close shot of a Bob's Big Boy statue definitely doesn't hurt matters.
Three couples - wisecracking pothead fat guy motorcyclist Peter (Jerry Kernion), his girl Anne (Kathleen Patane), bad boy Tony (Greg Rhodes), his possibly psychic girlfriend Helen (Claudia Franjul) and normal guy Rod (Mark Irish) and his sweet blonde girlfriend Susan (Liz Hitchler) - are driving through the country on their way to some lake for the weekend. They pick up a long-haired hitchhiker named Jack (Clark Tufts) who claims to know the area and offers to show them the way. After having a run-in with a nosy cop (Douglas Gowland) who shows them the penny test, everyone gets tired and decide to go somewhere to rest. Rod pulls off the road, goes deep into the woods and ends up at a large, secluded country home. The place apprears to be abandoned and is strange right off the bat. In the front yard, there's a crashed car set up on an altar. The car's interior has blood stains on the seats and is decorated like a shrine, with pictures of an attractive woman everywhere. As one character aptly puts it, "Major weird!" But certainly not "Major weird!" enough for them to go elsewhere... and just wait till you get a load of the inside of the house!
Helen immediately gets bad vibes, refuses to enter the home and decides to walk back to the highway all by herself. She doesn't make it out of the woods as someone decides to sneak up on her and slash her throat. And herein lies one of the strange charms of this movie. This film refuses to give us an actual protagonist and I had absolutely no clue who from this group was going to survive. Actually, a character one might least expect to make it through at the very beginning is the one who does. That lends a certain unpredictability to the proceedings. After busting down a door, our not-so-bright characters take a gander inside. There, they find 1. pictures of an angry-looking woman adorning nearly every wall. 2. unoccupied coffins in the basement. 3. a closet full of human scalps and body parts pickled in jars 4. a photo album filled with pictures of naked corpses and 5. yesterday's newspaper. And guess what? These boneheads still decide to spend the night! Naturally, they each get what's coming to them as a killer in an expressionless white mask shows up to cut all of their throats.
OK, so much for plot, logic and believable character actions, but I enjoyed this all the same. So how does it overcome its massively clichéd premise to emerge as a watchable time-filler? Simple. There's some amusing dialogue ("Take it easy? Take it easy?! There's a smashed car outside, coffins in the basement, and scalps in the closet, and you're telling me to take it easy? What's next; Uncle Fester on the patio?") and a likable cast of enthusiastic unknowns, some creepy moments and cool little touches strewn throughout, including a surprise about what's tucked away behind a cracked wall in the living room. There's some nudity, one sex scene (which is naturally what the Lust alternate title tries to capitalize on), just enough blood and an adequate wrap-up flashback to explain things. Manor is also one of the dreariest, more atmospheric U.S. slashers of its time, with a decent shooting location, effective art direction inside the home and incredibly dark and gloomy photography. It's dumb, but surprisingly watchable. Repetition in the murders may disappoint those wanting a bigger variety of murder / gore scenes, though.
Jennifer Delora, who plays Amanda - subject of the photographs and owner of the home, along with her creepy, facially scarred husband Alfred (William Russell) - was a regular presence in horror films shot in and around New York (this one was shot Upstate). She also acted for Tim Kincaid, Chuck Vincent and Frank Henenlotter.