This slasher curio from the subgenre's wilderness years is a throwback to the early 80s crossed with something much more perverse. It's sadly mostly a misfire, but has enough to entertain diehard slasher fans with the patience of a saint.
|A weekend of fun turns into a nightmare of bloody terror in DEADLY MANOR. You know the drill ...|
The film starts as it means to go on, with plenty of exposed breasts (if you took a shot every time a nipples appear in this movies you'd be under the table in half an hour). Only this pair are attached to the body of a woman lying bloodied in the grass. Then we cut to very familiar opening shots of over-aged teenagers in a van being followed closely by friends on a motorcycle. They're on the way to some unpronounceable lake called Isittoolatetofiremyagent, or something like that. They stop to pick up a dodgy looking hitchhiker, whose proto-grunge look and moody demeanour signals him out as potential villain ("He's kinda weird looking", quips one of the group). Still, he says he knows where the lake is so they take him along for the ride regardless. However on the way they realise that it's still miles to go. So one bright spark decides to drive off track down a country road to find somewhere to pitch up for the night only to stumble across what turns out to be the deadly manor of the title. … Wait, do they even have manors in the United States?
The first clues that not all is as it should be is they find a bizarre monument with a crashed car perched on top. "Major weird!" ponders one of the teens thoughtfully. Even with this they decide to spend the night at the house if they can get inside. One of the group, Helen (Claudia Franjul), sees what she thinks is movement up at one of the upstairs windows and freaks out. She is determined not to go in and barks: "This place is EVIL!". Although she is actually right it does, in the moment, seem rather an overreaction to a fluttering curtain; so the others just laugh at her and ignore her pouting. Helen goes off in a huff into the woods and to her certain doom.
|This is about as bloody asDEADLY MANOR gets|
The puzzle of how to get in is solved when the moody hitchhiker kicks down the door. Inside they make like Scooby Doo in bleached denim and explore the dingy interior. They are mildly unnerved to find coffins in the basement ("Motherfucker! There are coffins in the basement!" booms the fat kid) and pictures everywhere of a strange looking woman with staring eyes whose top seems to have popped off in every photo. But even when they discover a room full of human scalps and a scrapbook of snaps of dead naked teenagers they still think it's a better idea to stay the night than run for the hills!
Of course, they get what they richly deserve for being so stupid and it is only a matter of time before someone in a white porcelain mask appears from the darkened recesses of the crumbling manor to off them one-by-one ...
DEADLY MANOR is an odd film. Whilst it's strangely comforting to see the slasher movie clichés trotted out so slavishly in the opening scenes (right down to someone eating a reefer to hide their stash from some amiable cops) the film majorly runs out-of-steam once they enter the house. Quickly it becomes a lethargic procession of scenes to pad out the running time of the group poking around the house and finding clues or general weirdness (which usually elicits a monotone: "Who could live in a house like this? It's insane!"). The tedium is only punctuated by inane jokes by the fat kid such as: "How do we get into the zombie house? Why not use a skeleton key!" Everyone groans (including the viewer).
The line delivery extends from bored to comatose and is generally more wooden than the Black Forest (until the film's much needed over-the-top conclusion). One of the girls reacts to seeing an unwelcome visitor with all the passion of a supermarket till operator ten hours into a shift being asked to describe coupon deals to a geriatric: "Oooh, it's a snake. It's repulsive!", she sighs apathetically. Much of the acting is so bad you'd be forgiven for thinking it had been dubbed by stoned 70s Euro porn stars, but it probably wasn't. Needless to say much of it is highly amusing at first, but as it goes on and on it becomes increasingly tedious to the point that you hope someone will die just to punctuate the boredom and end those bloody jokes.
|Masked killer. Check. Dead teenagers. Check.|
What helps lift the film out of this rut somewhat is a streak of strangeness, which is no surprise given its director. Spanish-born Larraz made something of a career making distinctive genre movies outside of his home country. This fish-out-of-water approach can often make for some interestingly wigged out viewing (such as Lucio Fulci's distinctive and fantastical take on American culture and landscapes in films such as CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981)). Larraz doesn't attempt to do the same, but a number of things in the film throw it off balance and it is far more reminiscent of Eurotrash epics than, say, Crystal Lake. The cod gothic of the coffins in the basement is just the start of it. Laraz constantly cuts to the boudoir photos of the mysterious woman and her perky nipples every chance he gets for maximum sleaziness. He also chucks in a did-that-really-happen 70s-style sex scene complete with freak out hallucinatory images dotted throughout the sweaty embraces. But most disconcerting is the scrapbook of photos of naked corpses that look only too real (and vey possibly we're given the paucity of special fx through the rest of the movie).
The manufactured violence is sadly poorly orchestrated for the most part, with many of the kills (once they finally start) seeming almost perfunctory. The gore extends to a polite trickle of blood even when someone's throat has been cut. Although it could be the crappy print, but it's often so dark that it's difficult to see what's happened to who and by whom. Sometimes you're only aware a character has been stabbed when they go boss-eyed and keel over.
Thankfully the film does rally during the last 25 minutes, with a gleefully demented climax as the killer is unmasked and chews up the last remaining wooden actor (and spits out the splinters). Skip this paragraph if you don't want their identity revealed: it turns out the killer is Amanda (a deliciously spirited performance by Jennifer Delora), the woman in the photographs, who did not die in the car crash (which was caused by some naughty bikers), but was hideously deformed and left with a face looking like melted latex (which, unsurprisingly enough, is exactly what it is!). She is also joined in the final reel by her equally batshit crazy husband, Alfred (William Russell, who also chews the scenery with gleeful abandon) who both stalk the Final Girl in a pincer movement around the house. They have been killing any teenager that comes near the manor since the accident as they blame them all for Amanda's disfigurement. Presumably they then collect their scalps – but, hey, it's healthy to have a hobby!
|"Ooh, you ARE awful!"|
Of the cast, surprisingly, it was the fat kid, Peter (Jerry Kernion) who went on to have the longest career – mostly in TV. DEADLY MANOR was his debut role and probably not one he boasts about today. William Russell is the still acting British veteran of shows like DOCTOR WHO and appeared in Norman J. Warren's supernatural slasher TERROR (1978). Jennifer Delora, his on-screen wife, is probably best known for her delightfully schlocky back catalogue (she appeared in FRANKENHOOKER and SEXPOT the same year as this). In real life, she was the second only woman in Miss America History to be de-crowned – from 1986 Miss Ulster County/Miss New York state – after some prissy asses came across a topless scene she did for BAD GIRLS DORMITORY (1986). Lastly, Greg Rhodes (who plays Tony in the film) was also supposedly in another slasher sounding film in 1990. I say supposedly, because bar a barebones listing on IMDB – which is repeated ad nauseum across the web – there is no actual evidence FATAL EXAM exists.
Director José Ramón Larraz was certainly a colourful character. He was initially a comic book illustrator and fashion photographer, who turned his hand to directing in 1970 with the twisted thriller WHIRLPOOL. Working mostly in the erotic and horror genres (and often his films were a combination of both), he’s probably best known the excellent British lensed lesbian bloodbath VAMPYRES (1974). He touched broadly on the giallo with typically off-the-wall results in SCREAM … AND DIE (also 1974). However, he came to the American slasher movie relatively late with DEADLY MANOR and the far more spirited EDGE OF THE AXE (which features a spookily similar plain white mask) the year before. This film was to be his genre swansong and he passed away in 2013 at 84 years of age.
Unlike EDGE OF THE AXE – which was shot in Mexico – DEADLY MANOR was actually filmed in the United States (around Suffren, New York) in 1989. It was joint Spanish and North American production, but didn’t get a theatrical release in the United States. It was eventually released Stateside on video by AIP.
female:2 / male:5
1) Female killed (method unseen)
2) Male stabbed to death
3) Female has throat slashed
4) Male found with throat slashed
5) Male stabbed repeatedly in the chest
6) Male has throat slit
7) Male shot dead