José Ramón Larraz is quite the interesting duckling of Spanish horror & exploitation cinema. From his early sensual psycho-thrillers from the ’70s to his more genre-flavored ’80s horror efforts. His 1988 slasher outing ‘Edge Of The Axe’ is another film that would qualify for a terrific entry in this Shock Endings series. But since we recently managed to watch one of his very first films, one to end on a mental frozen shock moment no less, that’s the one we’ll be talking about.
For his early films, José Ramón Larraz moved to England and delivered the sort of psycho-sexually flavored genre efforts many British directors seemed incapable of conceiving (except for people like Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell at the start of their career). A film like ‘Vampyres’ (1974), at the time, even earned him a reputation of being a feminist filmmaker, which is a fairly odd side-effect when essentially creating an on-screen lesbian vampire bloodbath. His second feature, ‘Deviation’ dates back to 1971 and turned out a strange and unsettling little film, very much worthy mentioning as an early entry in thrilling ’70s Euro-exploitation cinema. Larraz, directing under his pseudonym J. R. Larrath, manages to concoct a mildly surreal and fairly unnerving atmosphere without either reverting to more typical dream-like imagery (like his fellow Euro-colleagues Jess Franco and Jean Rollin often tried their hand at; with what I’ve seen from him so far, I place Larraz on a higher pedestal as a filmmaker) or blood-soaked stagings (like exploitation movies in general were starting to dictate). ‘Deviation’ does contain a fair amount of weirdness, nudity and bloodshed, but in a somewhat more subtle manner. Not seldom so would Larraz‘s visual flair often lean more towards the Italian gialli from the ’70s than it would be in sync with the at the time prevailing British horror cinema. ‘Deviation’ can easily be placed between movies like Wes Craven‘s ‘Last House On The Left’ (1972) and Don Gronquist‘s ‘Unhinged’ (1982), coincidentally two American films, yet it still has that tangible European flavor to it (not in the least shaped by Stelvio Cipriani‘s original soundtrack compositions).
Only a brief glimpse at the plot, since it’s the actual ending of the film that concerns us here. One dark night, Olivia and Paul are driving home when a deviation sign leads them onto a road into the woods. When they have an accident, they are invited by Julian and his sister Rebecca to spend the night in their mansion. Paul is convinced he hit someone on the road, while Olivia doesn’t believe him. Julian is a taxidermist in his spare time and he, uhm, doesn’t exactly stick to animals. Paul will soon learn he did run someone over, but won’t live long enough to tell anybody about it. Meanwhile Olivia is kept drugged & dazed and because of her state willingly participates in psychedelic, nightly orgies organized by Rebecca and Julian. When things go from bad to worse and Olivia finds out they murdered and skinned her lover Paul, she manages to fight back and kill the two siblings.
Then the film cuts to Olivia lying in a hospital bed, comatized, with a detective explaining to a doctor that she was found wandering alongside the road, bloodcovered with a gun in her hands. Police officials had found the bodies in the mansion. When the detective inquires when he’ll be able to interrogate Olivia, the doctor replies: “This woman needs absolute rest for some time. Otherwise we risk losing her.” What happens next, indicates that they might have “lost” her already…
Olivia opens her eyes. A nurse and a doctor are standing next to her bed.
A freaky haze starts to cover the camera lens.
When the haze clears up (after an obvious jump-cut)…
…Olivia sees (the dead) Rebecca and Julian standing next to her bed.
The frame freezes. “The end” appears. And with it, quite possibly the end of Olivia’s sanity, being left mentally scarred forever.
Compilation ‘Top 10 British Thrillers of the ’70s’, featuring ‘Deviation’ at #10.