“Motherfucker, there are coffins in the basement!”
SAVAGE LUST (1989) is a terrible title, and I’m not gonna claim the movie is much better. But as far as a first Slasher Search title of ’22 – and maybe the last if I can’t find anything else that seems to fit the bill – it’s surprisingly watchable. I got through it in one sitting!
This is not an official announcement of an ending to Slasher Search – just a realistic assessment that there aren’t many more of what I’m searching for out there. So I’ll share them with you when I find them, but I hope you won’t be disappointed if they end up being few and far between.
I’ll always be open to recommendations for good slashers and other horror I’ve missed from any era. But the idea of Slasher Search is to discover things too obscure to be recommended to me. But the window for finding vintage slasher movies that I haven’t already seen, and that haven’t already been dug up by somebody else, gets narrower by the week.
Let me give you an idea of how much the landscape has changed during the time I’ve been doing this. Most of the things I’ve reviewed for Slasher Search had only been released on VHS at the time. Those that were on DVD were generally things I hadn’t heard of before or knew of having any kind of a following. But in the years since I’ve reviewed them, the majority of them have come out on remastered blu-rays. Scream Factory put out FINAL EXAM, EYES OF A STRANGER, VISITING HOURS, DEATH VALLEY, KILLER PARTY, and DEMENTED, Arrow put out HOUSE OF DEATH (as DEATH SCREAMS), HELL HIGH, BLOOD RAGE, SCARED STIFF, THE MUTILATOR, BLOODY BIRTHDAY, GIRLS NITE OUT, THE PREY, and THE INITIATION, Vinegar Syndrome put out SILENT MADNESS, STAR TIME, PLEDGE NIGHT, CUTTING CLASS, and RUSH WEEK, Kino Lorber put out SAVAGE WEEKEND and OFFERINGS, Warner Archive put out NIGHT SCHOOL, 88 Films put out HIDE AND GO SHRIEK, Vestron put out SLAUGHTER HIGH, Olive put out KILLER WORKOUT, and Culture Shock put out THE AMERICAN SCREAM. And all of these companies also put out a ton of other stuff in the same vein, disqualifying them from Slasher Search before I knew about them.
For example I just found out that this movie SAVAGE LUST I just watched on VHS to review for you today was already released by Arrow in 2020, but I didn’t realize it because it was under the original, more sensible title DEADLY MANOR. Shit. Well, too late. I’ve come too far to turn back now.
I was happy to put in the tape and find what seems like a competently mounted production of generic post-FRIDAY THE 13TH horror, with a group of adults playing friends of unspecified youth (Wikipedia claims they’re teenagers, but come on, man) going on a camping trip together. Two couples in a car and one on a motorcycle have been driving all day to get to some lake, but they don’t remember where it is. They have such adventures on the road as getting a flat tire and picking up a hitchhiker named Jack (Clark Tufts, VOODOO) who says he knows how to get where they’re going. But he acts kind of shifty around cops and one of the women (sorry, I don’t know their names) says, “He’s kind of weird looking though.”
“He is different.” (‘Cause he has long hair and a sleeveless Harley Davidson shirt, I guess.)
It turns out the lake is hours away, so they decide to drive through some tree-lined roads and stop for the night at a mansion that for reasons I did not understand they assume is abandoned and also unlocked. The most observant of them, Helen (Claudia Franjul), sees somebody in the window, but obviously that’s impossible because they assumed it was abandoned. She must be imagining it.
She refuses to stay, and instead says she will walk through the woods and find the nearest town. Some of her friends are concerned, because of how that arguably makes even less sense than randomly choosing a mansion to break into and assume is yours now, but her boyfriend Tony (Greg Rhodes, GHOSTHOUSE, FATAL EXAM) insists it’s okay, she does this kinda stuff all the time, and he just lets her go.
(spoiler: She doesn’t even make it into the woods – much later they find her dead in the backyard.)
They get real frustrated when the one door they try doesn’t open, but Jack does a trick to kick the door and make it open like how a cool kid would open a locker or The Fonz would make the jukebox turn on for free. That’s another thing I didn’t understand – it’s just agreed without discussion that yes, the stranger they picked up who some of them are scared of will be spending the night with them.
They discover some weird stuff in and around the savagely lusty deadly manor. There’s a wrecked car in the backyard, propped up on a stone platform, a photo of a woman inside. “It looks like some kind of a monument.” One character asks out loud, “What are those dark patches there?” What the fuck do you think they are, man? Spaghetti stains?
Inside the house many of the walls are covered with photos of the same woman from the car, and she’s topless in most of them. In the cellar they find two empty coffins with engraved plaques saying Alfred and Amanda. (Do coffins have names on them?) They theorize that the place could be evil because of “I don’t know, some kind of magnetic forces.”
Some rooms are full of cobwebs and there’s even a snake in there, but Jack points out that someone has been there recently because he finds a copy of yesterday’s newspaper. They don’t think much of it. I guess acknowledging that yes, this is further evidence that they were obviously wrong about the place being abandoned is a slippery slope to acknowledging that not believing their friend who told them the same god damn thing pushed her to leave on foot even though they’re an entire day’s drive away from her home. So I’m sure it’s nothing.
Jack sneakily burns the newspaper because of the article showing his picture saying, “Police seek local man.” (At the end we’re told he’s an escaped convict. Weird headline for that.)
Most of what’s amusing in a movie like this is the weird lines and behaviors that might as well have been created by artificial intelligence. I don’t know if people think I’m being ridiculous when I talk about the naturalism of the characters in the first FRIDAY THE 13TH, but watch this and then watch that and I bet you’ll agree with me. The characters are mostly interchangeable but the guy with the motorcycle, Peter (Jerry Kernion, a voice in Disney’s THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG!) definitely seems like he’s supposed to be the funny guy. But also the horror guy? He wears a Godzilla t-shirt, he makes jokes about Dracula, THE EXORCIST, coffins and zombies. Horror fandom on film was much more clueless before SCREAM. Oh man, imagine somebody making a horror movie now with a character who’s supposed to be into horror but all he mentions is Dracula! They’d get an appointment with the wicker man.
At one point somebody says “So I made a mistake. Who am I, Gene Dixon?” Despite our modern research technology I was unable to decode this reference, so let me know if you know what it means. [update: Thank you Tim for pointing out that he’s talking about Jeanne Dixon, psychic to the stars.]
Tony kind of seems like he’s supposed to be the main character for a while. He’s a guy who does not hesitate to drink wine out of a decanter he finds in this place he believes has been abandoned for 20-30 years. Doesn’t spit it out, either. He’s a very 1989 guy because he wears a black vest over a white t-shirt tucked into light blue jeans with a belt. He just needs a necklace with a ring on it and he could be on 90210. At one point the lady from the photos crawls on top of him in bed and there’s a passionate multi-candle humping scene, but he wakes up drenched in sweat and it was a dream I guess.
This really seems like a first-timer regional movie, so I was surprised to realize it was directed by José Ramón Larraz, a veteran Spanish filmmaker who had more than 20 movies under his belt, including VAMPYRES (1974) and BLACK CANDLES (1982). I reviewed his 1988 American co-production EDGE OF THE AXE back in Slasher Search ’16. He was also a comic book writer, and created a character called Paul Foran. He’s credited for the script here along with Brian Smedley-Aston (editor of SQUIRM).
Re-reading my review of EDGE OF THE AXE I’m reminded of how misogynistic it was. This isn’t nearly that bad, so I guess I can’t complain too much, but there were a couple bits of casual sexism that made me raise an eyebrow. One is when… I guess Rod (Mark Irish, “Lawyer,” REGARDING HENRY) speculates that Helen must’ve hitchhiked home.
“Yeah – body like hers can stop alot of cars!” Peter says, and they high five, with Helen’s boyfriend Tony sitting right there.
The other one is when they say Helen will be okay because “She’s a grown girl, she can take care of herself.” I’ve never heard anyone say that – “grown girl” instead of “grown woman.”
In addition to sexism, EDGE OF THE AXE had more horror stuff. Here we just have a couple slashed throats, there really isn’t much in the way of special effects or any kind of elbow grease in the murders. And I think they had to actually make the killer’s white mask for the other one, here they just bought a generic one at the party store (a shiny version of the one Buckethead uses).
Luckily when what’s going on is revealed it’s an okay idea (to the extent that it makes any sense). The masked killer is, of course, the same woman in the photos, Amanda (Jennifer Delora, DERANGED, FRANKENHOOKER, SUBURBAN COMMANDO). She was disfigured in a car crash (caused by mean bikers) so now she has a monster face. She takes it out on beautiful people and anyone who drives cars or motorcycles. Just like in HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES Peter and Anne (Kathleen Patane, One Life to Live) get away but then wave down a car that turns out to be driven by the wrong person – in this case Amanda’s husband Alfred (William Russell, THE GREAT ESCAPE) who isn’t disfigured, but helps her with her murders.
I’m unclear why they have those coffins. They don’t seem to be vampires, or skeletons. A touch I liked is that there’s a crack in the wall that they commented on and thought was getting bigger earlier. During the climax the wall suddenly busts open and a couple naked corpses fall out. I guess the escaped convict subplot is kind of clever too, because it seems like just a red herring but leads to cops showing up at the end looking for him and not these rich people who have been murdering people under their noses for years.
After this Larraz returned (triumphantly?) to Spain for one last movie, a comedy called SEVILLA CONNECTION (1992). Wikipedia says he retired after that, but IMDb says he did a 2002 mini-series called Viento del pueblo (Miguel Hernandez). He died in 2013.
DEADLY MANOR has a more thorough Wikipedia entry than most Slasher Search subjects – somebody even found a local newspaper article about the filming, which took place in a 100-year-old mansion called Hillburn Manor in Suffern, New York. It was demolished shortly afterwards but that was the plan anyway and then they let them film the movie there. It wasn’t demolished to erase the stain of this movie.
Suffern is a small village 31 miles northwest of Manhattan. It’s the hometown of Tim Daly, Tyne Daly, Valerie Harper, and Pat Hingle. Some part of THE IRISHMAN was filmed there, presumably because Scorsese is a SAVAGE LUST superfan.