Sunday, January 06, 2019

José Larraz's SYMPTOMS (1974)

Director José Larraz is best known for his incredible erotic lesbian vampire film VAMPYRES (1974) but anyone coming to SYMPTOMS (1974) expecting a similar blood-soaked nudity parade from the great man's most prolific period is going to end up disappointed. While this film does have a comparable atmosphere to the sexy vampire tale it is much more of a slow burn character study. The horror elements are present and accounted for but the deliberate journey to the third act revelations is a big part of the joy.

This is a film that takes it's time doling out details but is never boring for several reasons. First is that the two main actors are very talented ladies who are able to communicate paragraphs of emotion with their faces. Lorna Heilbron plays Anne who has come to stay for a few days with her friend Helen in her English country house getaway. Helen is played by Angela Pleasance and in many ways this is her film. The mystery that unfolds carefully over the movie's 91 minutes centers on her past romantic relationship that appears to have gone bad. Anne is trying to get her mind in order after breaking up with the man in her life while Helen seems drawn to her friend in an increasingly needy if not obsessive way. Patterned on Polanski's REPULSION (1965) this is a carefully told tale of pain and madness that spirals out of control. It rests on excellent performances from the leads with smart help from the legendary Peter Vaughn as the house's groundskeeper who knows just enough to get himself into harm's way.

But the second reason the film is so captivating is now only possible to evaluate because of the recent Blu-Ray release from Mondo Macabro. The way most Euro-Cult fans have seen SYMPTOMS for decades has been through a dupey bootleg VHS print that was barely watchable. This HD release allows us, for the first time, to see the glorious cinematography on display! Director of Photography Trevor Wrenn shoots the large house, the woods surrounding it and the nearby lake with the eye of a painter. Almost ever scene holds multiple moments of stunning beauty captured perfectly. This is a gorgeous movie and the careful framing and lighting adds immeasurably to the mesmerizing nature of the whole experience. There are shots that could be printed and hug on gallery walls for the admiration of the general public and they are all in service of this fascinating little horror-drama. I find it hard to believe that a man as clearly talented as Mr Wrenn only shot one other film for Larraz before ending his cinematography career. 

Needless to say I highly recommend seeing the MM Blu of this film if possible. Go in with the understanding of the slow build quality of the narrative and the revelations and shocks that come later will be all the more powerful.

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