• Blood Hunger: The Films Of José Larraz (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Released on: March 26th, 2019.
    Released by: Arrow Video
    Director: José Larraz
    Cast: Pia Andersson, Karl Lanchbury, Johanna Hegger, Vivian Nieves, Anulka Dziubinska, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, Marianne Morris, Patricia Granada, Lidiz Zuazo, Rafael Machado
    Year: 1970/1974/1978
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    Blood Hunger: The Films Of José Larraz – Movie Review:

    Spanish filmmaker José Larraz passed away in 2013 but left behind a fascinating body of work that frequently mixed sex and horror in interesting ways. While he never quite got the recognition that he deserved in his life time, there's been a bit of a resurgence of interest in his work in cult film circles in the last couple of years. Arrow Video's Blood Hunger: The Films Of José Larraz boxed set journeys deeper in the man's filmography and offers up three of his films lovingly restored in high definition and loaded with extra features that explore their back story and detail their importance.


    The first film in the set follows a model named Tulia (played by actual model Vivian Nieves) as she joins a magazine editor named Sarah (Pia Andersson) at her fancy cottage in the countryside for a weekend getaway. Why? So that Sarah's nephew, a photographer named Theo (Karl Lanchbury), can do some portfolio shots for her. Tulia figures this is a great opportunity, but she's also savvy enough to realize that both Sarah and Theo are obviously attracted to her.

    Regardless, they head away on their trip but not too long after their arrival Tulia starts to feel uneasy about all of this. She becomes even more stressed out by this situation when she learns that the pair had a similar plan with an Irish girl named Rhonda (Johanna Hegger) not too long before she herself received the invite. When Rhonda turns up missing and her boyfriend shows up looking for her, Tulia can't help but feel she's being groomed to be the missing girl's surrogate, she starts to wonder if Rhonda really is missing or not. While all of this is playing out, Theo's photography tactics become increasingly bizarre and unsettling…

    Larraz's directorial debut, made in 1970, is a solid thriller that sees the director exploring themes and locations that would be common throughout his filmography and dissecting ideas of sexual obsession that he would return to time and again as his career grew. Still, he was able to bring a fresh feel even while retreating similar territory, and Whirlpool, while familiar in some ways to his other films, has its own unique vibe. It's also well-paced and visually quite strong. The cinematography does a great job of framing things and the use of color in the film is also quite strong.

    As to the performances, Nieves may not have had a lot of acting experience before making this movie but she has a strong screen presence and she looks fantastic here. Andersson and Lanchbury are also strong here, they've got an unusual but effective chemistry and work quite well together in this picture. As the mystery plays out and the truth of what's really happening to Tulia is explored, the work that all three leads provide expands appropriately. That's a complicated way of saying ‘they work' in their respective roles.

    Larraz would go on to make more intense films and more shocking films than this in the years to come, but Whirlpool holds up well almost fifty years since it was made. It's dark and twisted, yet still accessible enough despite the strong sexual overtones and occasionally unsettling themes that it deals with. The film also benefits quote a bit from an excellent score from noted Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani.

    The version of Whirlpool included here runs 86:42 and is advertised as the original US theatrical cut.


    One of the seemingly countless lesbian vampire films that were pumped out by various European filmmakers in the sixties and seventies, José Ramon Larraz's entry in the genre stands out from the pack. This is thanks to some solid casting, an instantly identifiable and incredibly atmospheric location, and plenty of sex, violence and sleaze.

    When the film begins, sometime in the 1800's from the looks of things, dark haired Fran (Marianne Morris) and pretty blonde Miriam (Anulka Dziubinska, credited as, simply, Anulka) are enjoying some alone time in bed. A man walks in, we assume a jealous lover of some sort, and shoots them both dead. Or so it would seem. Flash to the modern day of 1974 where we meet John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), a nice young couple vacationing in their motor home. They decide to pull up in front of an old mansion that appears to be empty and set up camp. She spends her time painting and he's into fishing and they have no problems finding ways to entertain themselves.

    Fran, however, starts to become a bit preoccupied with a few ladies she's been spotting skulking around the premises. They seem to be luring strange men back into the mansion, but for what purpose? Enter Ted (Murray Brown), a fairly dopey guy who is enamored with Fran and who the pair spy wandering around a few times, looking more than a little bit out of it. Harriet wants to snoop around, but John insists they mind their own business. Eventually, however, the two worlds collide in a bizarre mix of Sapphic lust and carnal bloodshed.

    Shot almost entirely in and around Oakley Court (Rocky Horror Picture Show fans will recognize it instantly), a stately old English mansion that makes for a perfect setting, Vampyres doesn't always move at a rocket's pace. It starts off with a great opening scene but soon winds up spending too much time with dull John and Harriet. As the film picks up steam towards its second half and focuses more on Fran and Miriam, the movie becomes much more interesting, affording writer-director Larraz the chance to deftly exploit his female cast and to bring on the buckets of blood. This is a film that was obviously inspired by some of Hammer's output, and so it doesn't always feel like the most original work in terms of story. That said, Larraz infuses his picture with enough of an art film sensibility that at times it feels closer to the work of Jean Rollin than Roy Ward Baker.

    The film benefits from some great camera work that not only accentuates the odd and eerie locations but also really does a fine job of showcasing the feminine wiles of its two lead actresses. Marianne Morris and Anulka are shot with an almost fetishistic care in order to accentuate their sex appeal and put us in Ted's shoes to a certain extent. It works fairly well and it's hard to imagine anyone not seeing how he could be drawn to the women in the film. The story may not win any awards for pacing, plot development or dialogue but it's got enough dreamlike ambience and effective intense sexualized horror that you probably won't care so much.

    Vampyres is presented in its completely uncut form.

    The Coming Of Sin:

    The third film in the set revolves around a beautiful young woman named Lorna (Patricia Granada). She lives the life of the affluent, residing by herself in a fancy cottage located way out in the country away from much of anything. When her friend Sally (Montserrat Julió), an Englishwoman, and her husband have to return to England for business, Sally asks Lorna to help her out and take in a seventeen-year-old orphaned gypsy named Triana (Lidia Zuazo) that they've been looking after.

    Lorna's artistic inclinations get the better of her, she figures Triana, who is quite fetching, might be an inspiration to her and she obliges. A short time later, during a nasty nighttime thunderstorm, Lorna wakes up to find the younger woman in bed with her. Their relationship escalates soon after. Lorna also finds out that Triana suffers from a recurring dream wherein she's pursued by a man on a horse through the country. When Lorna meets Chico (Rafael Machado), the man she assumes is from Triana's dreams, she can't help but be attracted to him. It's then that she invites him to the home she shares with Triana, ignoring a gypsy curse she learns of in hopes of quenching her obvious lust.

    Alternately known under the more lurid title of Violation Of The Bitch, this film once again sees Larraz exploring both human sexuality and psychosis. Shot soft, like most European erotica of the time, it is nevertheless a very attractive looking film filled with lush cinematography and appealing compositions. It's a quirky film to be sure, and one that gets reasonably graphic at times, but so too is it heady and intriguing in its mix of sex and suspense.

    The acting isn't going to blow anyone away, but Larraz did populate this film with a particularly attractive cast. This makes sense, given the emphasis on nudity and sex that is clearly such a big part of the film's appeal. If the actors don't always show the most range, the director is able to fairly effectively pull from the chemistry that they share in certain sequences and from their respective screen presences to keep us engaged.

    If at times this feels more like exploitation than arthouse, there's enough intentionally odd visuals offered up and strange head games played out on screen that the film definitely has more to offer than just the requisite bumping and grinding.

    The Coming Of Sin is presented in its completely uncut form (past editions have trimmed a rape scene).

    Blood Hunger: The Films Of José Larraz – Blu-ray Review:

    Each of the three films in this set is presented on its own 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation taken from new 2k scans of their respective elements. Whirlpool is framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and it looks very nice, natural and filmic. Colors are nicely defined and black levels are solid. Vampyres is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and improves over the previous Blue Underground release in a few noticeable ways, mostly in terms of color reproduction and black levels. There might be a bit more detail here too. The Coming Of Sin is also framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and, like the other two films in the set, it looks very good. Some minor white specks do appear throughout the films now and then but they're barely noticeable unless you're specifically looking for them. There are no problems to report with any noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues. A very nice job by Arrow in the video department.

    Whirlpool and Vampyres get English language LPCM Mono options with optional English subtitles provided, while The Coming Of Sin gets both English and Spanish DTS-HD Mono tracks with subtitles available in English for each option. For older mono tracks, these sound fine. The tracks are nicely balanced and there aren't any noticeable problems with any hiss or distortion. Dialogue comes through clearly in each of the three films.

    Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:


    Tim Lucas kicks off the extras with a commentary track. He starts out be sharing some of his own experiences with the film, noting how he wasn't sure as to the details of its origin until quite a few years later. He then goes on to talk about its production history, some of the financing problems that Larraz ran into while trying to get the film made, how Sam Lomberg wound up as the producer on the picture, casting the film, some of the themes that it explores and some of the picture's visuals flourishes. He also offers lots of thoughts and details along the way on the acting, some of the locations, thoughts on the score and the cinematography and more. In typical Lucas fashion it's well-researched and quite detailed!

    From there, we move on to the featurettes, the first of which is Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films Of José Larraz, a twenty-four-minute segment in which the always amiable Kim Newman does a deep dive into the different themes and obsessions that seem to recur throughout the director's filmography, particularly in the earlier pictures. It's an interesting series of observations, astute and delivered in Newman's typically likeable style. A Curious Casting gets actor Larry Dann in front of the camera to tell the strange story about how and why he wound up starring in the picture. This is quite interesting! Deviations Of Whirlpool is a very interesting twenty-seven-minute featurette that does a great job of comparing the differences between the US theatrical Cut and a previously circulated, alternate cut of the film. The disc also includes a selection from an archival interview with José Larraz that runs four-minutes in which he shares some insight on the making of the film.

    A still gallery, the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection round out the extras on the disc.


    Extras on this disc start out with a new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger who does a fine job of exploring the film's gothic elements while also sharing some insight into its literary roots. She also talks up the contributions of the cast and crew, makes some observations about some of the stand out scenes, gives a bit of history for the locations employed in the picture and more.

    From there, delve into the new interviews starting with A High Stakes Enterprise, an eighteen-minute segment with producer Brian Smedley-Aston. He speaks here about how he came to know Larraz and the situations that arose wherein they first worked together. He talks about budgeting the film, casting the picture and censorship issues that arose when it was released. By This Sign, I'll Recognize You... is a fourteen-minute interview with Marianne Morris where she speaks about auditioning for her part, why she was chosen for the role, acting alongside Anulka Dziubinska and Larraz's directing style. Daughter Of Dracula gets Anulka herself in front of the camera for thirteen-minutes to talk about getting the part in the film, her thoughts on the material, how she learned from the shoot and why she turned down a potential lead in The Story Of ‘O' to appear in this picture instead. Brian Deacon is up next in the nineteen-minute A Cut-Throat Business. Here the actor shares some stories about what it was like on set, how he really only interacted with Sally Faulkner during the shoot, some of Larraz's more impetuous decisions made on the spot during the shooting of a key scene, what he was like as a director and more. Unhappy Camper spends twelve-minutes with actress Faulkner wherein she covers her thoughts on Larraz as a director and the way he was towards his actors, spending most of her time on set with Deacon and some of the effects work that she had to collaborate on. Makeup artist Colin Arthur spends eighteen-minutes talking about his work on the picture in Bloodletting On A Budget. here he discusses the strange way in which he was brought into the film industry, working alongside Larraz and complications that came from that, and some of the very real difficulties involved in working with fake blood. Composer James Kenelm Clarke spends a quick four-minutes talking about his contributions to the production in the short piece entitled Requiem For A Vampyre. In Reimagining Vampyres we spend some time with Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake. Here, over twenty-two minutes, he shares some stories about how he got to know Larraz over the years after first getting familiar with some of his Spanish horror productions. He then goes on to talk about working with him on the remake.

    The disc also includes a fourteen-minute selection from an archival interview with José Larraz where he talks about making Symptoms, appearing at Cannes and then working on Vampyres. Also be on the lookout for the José Larraz And Marianne Morris Q&A At 1997 Eurofest featurette, which is ten-minutes of the pair talking up the film in front of an audience.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, a couple of trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    The extras that were included on the Blue Underground Blu-ray release of the film from 2010, including the director and producer's commentary track, remain exclusive to that disc.

    The Coming Of Sin:

    In addition to the Spanish and English language versions of the feature (that come complete with opening and closing credits in their respective languages), we also get a new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan from the Daughters Of Darkness podcast. There's some interesting discussion here about some of the film's mythological roots, how some of the themes in the picture tie into the director's personal life and how this movie both compares and contrasts to some of his other films. Along the way they offer up the requisite trivia about locations, cast members and production details. It's a good track.

    Variations Of Vice: The Alternate Versions Of The Coming Of Sin is a six-minute piece that features Marc Morris breaking down the different versions of the film that have been released over the years, including the Violation Of The Bitch version that made its way to the UK. If you're interested in film censorship, take the time to watch this. Remembering Larraz gets author and filmmaker Simon Birrell on camera for thirty-five-minutes to share memories of his friend and associate. He shares some great stories about working José Larraz but also offers lots of more intimate details about what he was like as a person. He also talks about how he got to know his films before he got to know the man himself. This pairs up nicely with the inclusion of His Last Request, a 2005 short film by Birrell that runs twenty-seven-minutes and which was made ‘under the guidance' of José Larraz. It also stars Spanish horror luminary Jack Taylor. The disc also holds an extract from an archival interview with José Larraz in which the director spends five-minutes talking about what inspired him to make the film, differences he had with his producer on this project and how and why the film is set in the world of gypsies.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, a Spanish trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

    Blood Hunger: The Films Of José Larraz – The Final Word:

    Arrow's Blu-ray boxed set release of Blood Hunger: The Films Of José Larraz serves as a fine tribute to the director, offering up three of his key films in excellent shape and loaded with extras. The films themselves are intriguing, often blending sex and horror in interesting ways and with a deliberate artistic bent. These won't appeal to the mainstream but if you can appreciate the director's distinct blending of genres and penchant for telling strange stories, you'll likely find a whole lot to appreciate about this set. Should that be the case, consider this release highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blood Hunger: The Films Of José Larraz Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. agent999's Avatar
      agent999 -
      I just picked this up from HMV this morning. I figured I could just about live with £45. I hope the second set will be a bit cheaper.
    1. Fundi's Avatar
      Fundi -
      I have to get this box set, I didn't pick it up yet because I already have the movie Vampyres from Blue Underground, but it sounds like it's worth getting the box set anyhow. So much out there I want to get, I think there is a Vinegar Syndrome sale coming up this month, or next, so damn it, it will probably be June or July before I can get this set, hope it doesn't sell out before then, but it probably will lol