• Symptoms

    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: May 10th, 2016.
    Director: Jose Ramon Larraz
    Cast: Angela Pleasence, Lorna Heilbron, Peter Vaughan
    Year: 1974
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    The Movie:

    For a film that was “the official UK entry to the Cannes film festival in 1974” director Jose Ramon Larraz’s Symptoms sure has been a tough movie to track down. Bootlegs of horrible quality have been around for a while but as legit release? It didn’t seem likely, the BFI even going so far as to officially classify the picture as a lost film. Proving that we really do seem to be living in an age of home video miracles, however, not only has the picture been found and subsequently released, it’s been given a beautiful restoration and it’s now on Blu-ray with some impressive supplements too.

    The movie tells the story of a woman named Helen (Angela Pleasance) who lives by herself in a fairly massive house out in the English countryside. Quite honestly, it seems like a lonely existence for the young woman, so it only makes sense that she’d invite her friend, Anne (Lorna Heilbron), to stay with her. Anne arrives and makes herself at home but soon starts to wonder if Helen isn’t having health problems. Anne still talks to her boyfriend, he wants her to come back to the city to be with him, but she’s concerned about Helen and so she sticks around longer than she might have otherwise.

    However, the two young women are alone out there, or rather, almost alone, in this house out in the middle of the woods. Brady (Peter Vaughan) may at first just seem to be the handyman but his behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. Are his warnings to Anna that Helen has had other visitors that are no longer with us worth heeding? And then there’s Cora (Marie-Paule Mailleux)…

    Symptoms deals more in atmosphere than the sex and violence that Jose Ramon Larraz (who passed away in 2013) is better known for thanks to horror pictures like Vampyres and Black Candles, but that’s not a bad thing at all. This feels more like the work of Polanski or maybe even Nicolas Roeg at times, but Larraz, a Spanish born filmmaker who made the picture in England with an English cast and crew, definitely puts his own stamp on the proceedings. The story is well told, if maybe slightly predictable, and while it takes a little while to get going it builds very nicely to a satisfying conclusion.

    There are a few aspects that make this work as well as it does, the first being the cast. Angela Pleasance, daughter of Donald Pleasance (and there is a resemblance), brings a very believable fragility to her part that makes you sympathetic to her plight pretty much from the first time you see her on screen. Of course, appearances can be deceiving but she’s very well cast in this role. Lorna Heilbron’s character is obviously her friend but quite a different person. She has the confidence that Helen would seem to lack, she’s got a much more outgoing personality and she seems to have a lot more energy and the sort of lust for life that her hostess lacks. She’s likeable and that’s an important quality in the character that Heilborn’s acting really brings out. Peter Vaughan as the stereotypically creepy handyman character steals a few scenes from the rest of the cast while Marie-Paule Mailleux’s instantly striking appearance gives her character an air of suspicion the moment we first see her in the movie.

    The locations, both the interior of the house and the English forest/countryside, where the movie plays out are beautifully photographed. The cinematography by Trevor Wrenn does a great job of helping to build the tension that basically explodes in the last half hour of the film. The score from John Scott also works very well in the context of the story being told.


    Mondo Macabro brings Symptoms to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 and while there was some speculation as to the director’s intended aspect ratio, the fullframe picture here looks great. The compositions all seem fine and there are definitely spots where matting the picture would have made things a bit too tight. Aspect ratios aside, this is a very nice picture in pretty much every way you could hope it would be. The transfer is taken from a 2k restoration of the original negative and there’s plenty of detail evident throughout the movie. There’s very little in the way of print damage, the picture is nice and clean but not digitally scrubbed in any obvious way. Colors look good, even if the palette chosen here is more than a little subdued, while skin tones look lifelike and natural.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono track is also of very good quality. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow and the score has nice depth and range. Hiss and distortion are never an issue and the levels are properly balanced throughout. Optional English subtitles are provided.

    Extras start off with the 2011 documentary On Vampyres And Other Symptoms, directed by Celia Novis. This seventy-three minute featurette does an amazing job of exploring the life and work of Jose Ramon Larraz with an obvious focus on Vampyres and Symptoms. There’s a ton of interview footage with the late filmmaker included in here as he talks about what went into each one of the films discussed. He also covers his comic book career in quite a bit of detail and we get to see a lot of artwork from that aspect of his career, which is reason enough to check this out. Also on hand is From Barcelona To Tunbridge Wells, an episode of the Eurotika! TV series from 1999 that runs twenty-four minutes. This is a great piece that serves as a sort of mini-biography of Larraz, charting his career, covering some of the highlights and offering up lots of clips, stills and insight.

    Never before seen before this release are new interviews with stars Angela Pleasence and Lorna Heilbron and editor Brian Smedley-Aston. Angela Pleasance speaks for nine minutes about her character, who she wound up getting the part and her thoughts on working with Larraz and on his directing style. Lorna Heilbron spends eighteen minutes in front of the camera covering on Larraz and working on Symptoms but also her time spent in the English film industry on this and a few other genre entries. Brian Smedley-Aston gets a seventeen minute interview where he talks about how he got into the film business, some of his early pictures and collaborative efforts, how he wound up cutting Symptoms for Larraz and his thoughts on the picture itself and the director.

    Outside of that we get a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Symptoms is a bit of a slow burn but it’s really well done. The performances from the two female leads coupled with the gorgeous camerawork and the eerie locations make this twisted thriller one well worth seeking out. Mondo Macabro have given this one a long overdue Blu-ray release (the BFI are handling it in the UK) and it’s a good one – an excellent presentation with some great extras too.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      Watched this zoomed in and it played just fine for me. Zero chance this was intended to be shown open like this in my book.Great to have the film restored though, lets hope we can get WHIRLPOOL and DEVIATION at some point.
    1. Fundi's Avatar
      Fundi -
      I watched this a few days ago, looks great at 1.37:1 1.85:1 would chop the tops of everyones heads off throughout the movie, I think BFI and Mondo Macabro did it in the right aspect ratio