Friday, 22 April 2016

Symptoms (1974)

“Spruced up, slow-moving obscure British horror from the 1970s”

I don’t mean any of that in an especially derogatory way, by the way, but in an era where old films like this can get called ‘a long-lost classic’, it’s only fair to warn the casual viewer (if there are any of you out there who visit this site) who might not be that familiar with the independent UK horror scene of the early 1970s that you’re not actually going to be slipping an undiscovered masterpiece into your Blu-ray or DVD player. Director Jose Larraz is undoubtedly most famous for his Oakley Court-filmed sexy lesbian vampire picture VAMPYRES (1974), but anyone familiar with that film and expecting another outrageously blood-soaked nudity fest from the heyday of British horror’s best decade is also going to end up a bit disappointed. 

Pretty Ann (Lorna Heilbron) comes to stay with superficially weird but actually deeply raving mad Helen (Angela Pleasance) in her 1970s BritHorror country house and ends up wishing she hadn’t. She gets to meet creepy Mr Brady (Peter Vaughn) and encounters something nasty in the attic. As Helen’s madness worsens the house becomes littered with corpses and throughout the film we are given clues as the reason why, before the final scene explains it all. 
SYMPTOMS isn’t a bad film at all - in fact by the end you realise you’ve been watching Larraz’s very own version of Polanski’s REPULSION (1966). Be warned, though, that it’s very slow, and while there’s a pleasantly dreary atmosphere about the proceedings, that’s the film’s main attraction - this is a film that’s much stronger on mood than on plot. 

The BFI’s transfer of SYMPTOMS is absolutely excellent - throw away those crappy VHS to DVD transfers now. Oh, and yes the aspect ratio is meant to be 1.33:1, so don't look shocked. The extras on the BFI disc are also very good indeed. These include brand new interviews with stars Angela Pleasance and Lorna Heilbron (who talks about her involvement in THE CREEPING FLESH as well!), and editor (and producer of VAMPYRES) Brian Smedley-Aston. There’s also the 1999 Channel 4 Eurotika documentary on Jose Larraz (with different title music because the original theme is now used for the showreel at the start of the DVDs of producer Pete Tombs’ Mondo Macabro company). ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS is a splendid and touching 70 minute documentary that stylishly stars the director in the story of his career culminating with the award he was presented with at Sitges in 2009. 
              Fans of obscure 1970s British horror will love this, as will anyone interested in the state of the independent British movie scene of the same period. The transfer is great and the extras represent fabulous value for money. Now how about a double feature release of DEVIATION (1971) and WHIRLPOOL (1970)?

The BFI are releasing Jose Larraz's SYMPTOMS on a dual format DVD and Blu-ray set on 25th April 2016

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