Monday, August 23, 2021

"A Monument to St. Bubba of the Demolition Derby" - Deadly Manor (1990) - Film #211

Continuing with our appreciation of the later career of José Ramón Larraz, who also directed Rest in Pieces (1987), let us turn to 1990's Deadly Manor, an innovative slasher film with almost no slashing.

Let us look at some of your universe's critic reviews. Reviewer benjithehunter writes, "Deadly Manor is one of the worst movies I've ever been unfortunate enough to view." Reviewer amandagellar-31077 writes, "Nothing about Deadly Manor makes any sense. Even the premise itself is silly." And reviewer michellegriffin-04989 writes, "Deadly Manor...happens to be one of the most boring movies I've ever seen in my life."

Needless to say, these reviews are entirely incorrect. Please read on...

The film begins in a deep forest, where an owl hoots from a branch. The camera pans across a scene of destruction where a nude man and woman lie next to a fallen motorcycle and a limousine drives away into the woods.

The story proper begins, as do most, with a truck hauling a Big Boy restaurant statue. The truck drops off a red-haired hitchhiker, who sits on a guard rail and waits for his next ride.

The next ride turns out to be a group of young adults heading for a place called Lake Wapakanokee, to which the hitchhiker claims he can direct them. They are disappointed they are hours away from the lake, causing one of the vacationers, Tony, to quip, “So I made a mistake. Who am I, Jeane Dixon?” in reference to the pseudo-famous pseudo-psychic of the 1950s and 1960s. Their car (followed by a motorcycling couple) blows a tire almost immediately in front of a different lake. A police car pulls up and the two officers ask some questions, prompting one of the vacationers—a large man who resembles Jon Favreau and wears a Godzilla t-shirt—to swallow the joint he started smoking. The officers simply point out their tires need replacing, then drive away.

The vacationers continue, but when it starts to get dark they take a series of random dirt roads to find someplace to stay for the night. Surprisingly, they find a large house in the middle of the woods—the manor of the title, though it is not deadly…yet. Like all vacationers would, they walk around the cabin and see if anybody is home. They come across a wrecked car on a concrete altar, clearly a shrine to someone involved in an auto accident. One of them jokes it is a “monument to St. Bubba of the Demolition Derby.”

Of course, after finding the weird car wreck shrine, the group goes to the front door and knocks to find out who lives there. As thunder rumbles in the distance, the group decides to break into the house before the rain starts, though one of the women, Helen, refuses to go inside. “This house is evil,” she says.

“Oh, an evil house,” says the Jon Favreau lookalike, Peter. “Maybe you’ll spit up pea soup and your head’ll turn around.”

Helen walks away and the rest try to find a good way into the house, despite the fact they were on the front porch inches from the front door. The hitchhiker, Jack, kicks a side door open and everyone but Helen enters the manor. 

Tony, the man who got them lost in the first place, becomes de facto leader of the group, leading everyone down into a cellar where they find two dusty coffins.

Like any young adult leading a group of friends, Tony tries to force open a coffin to show that there is no body inside, an unsuccessful act that results only in Tony losing a ring that was a gift from Helen.

Meanwhile, Helen walks through the woods far from the car. We see her scream, and then see her bloody body being pulled through the woods.

Later, Tony goes to look for Helen while the others explore the house, finding many photos of the woman featured in the car crash shrine. Though the interior of the house is covered in dust, Hitchhiker Jack finds yesterday’s newspaper sitting on a chair. When the others leave the room, he burns the newspaper in the fireplace due to an article about the police seeking a local man with the hitcher’s photo prominently featured (though the article text itself talks about the government trying to sell a seven billion dollar investment).

Upstairs, the gang finds a bedroom filled with pictures of the same woman from the wrecked car, one of which is a framed nude photograph of her. 

Jack and one of the women explore part of the house alone and find an astrological chart on the wall. Their flirty in banter rivals that of a 1930s screwball comedy. “What sign are you?” the woman asks.

“I don’t know. Astrology isn’t one of my strong points.”

“Well, when were you born?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah, if you want to know your sun sign.”

“But I don’t.”


After Tony returns, having not found Helen, the group next encounters a stray snake and a hidden room featuring jars filled with human scalps. “Maybe it’s a collector,” Tony suggests.

“Tony, people collect stamps, baseball cards, ancient Incan artifacts,” says Peter, sensibly. “No one collects scalps.”

Despite the weirdness of the house and the presence of human remains, the group decides to continue spending the night in the (still not deadly) manor. They sit around the fireplace and discuss their situation. Tony says, “Maybe there’s something we don’t know yet, like electronic fields or magnetic force fields or something that can make a place literally evil.”

After they discover a crack in the wall near the fireplace, the group goes to sleep. There follows a long sequence in which nothing in particular happens until Tony takes a flashlight upstairs, after which nothing in particular continues to happen. Eventually, Tony finds an album showing photos of a group of nude people lying on the grass. He lies down on a bed and watches a clock ticking, a sequence skillfully represented by the image of a clock’s second hand ticking ever forward. Tony falls asleep, and the woman from the photos on all the walls steps into the room, wearing a striking white Eyes Without A Face-like mask and a black cloak.

She disrobes, climbs on top of Tony, and starts kissing him. He makes love to her on a different bed, where candles surround them. Then he wakes up. It was all a dream. He walks down to the basement, only to find the coffins are open. Hitchhiker Jack joins him. They confront each other, jockeying for dominance, but fail to address the mystery of the open coffin, though Jack does utter the classic (though perhaps misplaced outside a farce set in London) line, “What’s all this, then?” regarding the coffin.

With Tony and Jack gone, two of the remaining vacationers start kissing, then decide to go upstairs to the bedroom, so of course the woman jumps up onto the man’s back to be carried.

As they begin making love on the bed, the man realizes he’s forgotten condoms, which are outside in the car. The woman tells him to pick up some firewood on the way out, so he eloquently quips, “Oh fine. Wood and condoms. What else does a young couple need in the nineties?”

As the film nears the one-hour mark, it is time for the second killing. A black-gloved killer with a knife sneaks up on the man as he is near the car getting the condoms.

In the next scene, the young woman is killed (though at first it appears she is strangling herself bloodlessly, it is soon made clear her throat was slashed), and elsewhere Tony finds Helen’s body inside the car wreck shrine. When the survivors join him, they also find that several motorcycles have been disassembled and hidden under the hay in an outbuilding, and that their car battery has been stolen. Peter and his girlfriend Anne head for the highway while Tony returns to the house to look for the others.

Inside the house, Tony sees Hitchhiker Jack on the stairs with his throat slashed.

Tony goes to the cellar, but he too is murdered with a knife by an unseen assailant.

Out on the highway, Peter and his girlfriend flag down a car, but after getting in they see that the driver, a middle-aged man, is wearing black gloves. The driver makes a U-turn and returns to the now-deadly manor. Then he stops and stabs Peter, leaving only Anne.

Anne climbs out of the car and runs through the woods, back to the house. She finds Tony dead in a coffin in the cellar, then hides in a closet to stay away from the middle-aged killer. She is surprised when another body falls against her in the closet, but fortunately for Anne she finds Jack’s gun lying on the closet floor for unknown reasons. After she finds her last friend’s body in the bedroom, Anne is confronted by the white-masked woman, who is the woman from all the photos.

“Why are you doing this to us?” Anne asks.

“Why? Why? Because of this!” She tears off the mask to reveal a somewhat disfigured face.

The film flashes back to when the woman and the middle-aged man were driving home, only to be forced off the road by a motorcycle gang, causing a disfiguring accident.

Unfortunately for Anne, the gun is empty. She fights with the woman, then runs downstairs as the dawn breaks quite suddenly. She runs into the man, who says, “It’s terrible how easily youngsters today lose control and commit…madness.”

As he struggles with the disfigured woman and Anne, they break more of the cracked wall next to the fireplace, where various dead bodies fall out (none of them scalpless, though the killer was shown to collect scalps and other body parts). 

In the end, the police break into the house and shoot the man. One of the officers explains to Anne that they were on the trail of Hitchhiker Jack, an escaped convict. The film then ends tastefully by cutting to a shot of the woman’s framed nude photograph from the bedroom.

The End

The slasher-movie innovations present in Deadly Manor might be missed by the casual viewer. The first murder does not occur until the second act and is not shown onscreen. The second murder does not occur until close to one hour has passed. Most of the murders are not shown onscreen, leaving the audience to wonder how, for example, Hitchhiker Jack was killed. And several of the setups--in particular, the coffins in the cellar and the background of Hitchhiker Jack--are never paid off. Thus, Deadly Manor is a truly innovative slasher movie and, as one of his final films, a fitting capper to the career of Jose Ramon Larraz.