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Savage Lust (1990)

a.k.a. DEADLY MANOR
Dir. José Ramón Larraz
Action International Pictures

A bloody carving knife is wielded by a woman whose torso is covered by a giant porcelain mask. Her hair turns red and curly and her right eye milks over when she’s visited by a pack of rabid bikers. She seizes a terrified lady by the arm and shrieks with the agonized rage that’s unique to disfigured maniacs. Also, there is savagery and lust.

That’s the film you’ll expect when holding the misleading sleeve for Savage Lust. And, unfortunately, it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than the film that your VCR will yawn out onto your TV screen.

Neither the woman on the cover or her giant mask come anywhere near this movie. Neither does much lust (though the word itself is printed four times on the front sleeve alone). As a lifelong prude, that suits me fine. But my heart bleeds for the countless perverts who’ve wrapped their sweaty fingers around a brown paper bag holding a video tape called “Savage Lust” and hobbled home with visions of clawed buttocks dancing in their heads.

Once the deadbolts were turned and the blinds were closed, they instead got a panorama of unspeakably average people wandering through underlit hallways. And maybe that’s how some lonesome fella gets his kicks. If so, this movie is the one-way ticket to his supreme bonezone. For the rest of us, it’s a relentless assault of sheer, unstoppable nothingness.

Sure, anyone steeped in the boiling sea of VHS trash-horror has endured unorthodox pacing. Movies like Blood Lake or Todd Sheets’ Goblin approach storytelling — and even time itself — in a way that most casual viewers can’t intellectually process. But the pace of Savage Lust is a brutal act of violence against the film’s audience, unequaled in the annals of slasher tedium.

It starts off promisingly enough. Naked corpses lay in tall grass. A cro-magnon metalhead hitches a ride from a truck hauling a massive Bob’s Big Boy statue. The longhair falls in with six whitebread doofuses en route to Lake Wakapanopee (not an actual lake on this planet). When the cops pull them over, the zany fat stoner eats his marijuana cigarette WHILE IT’S STILL BURNING. This is partytime. We’re having fun, right? Right! Pass me another root beer, motherfucker!!

At sunset, the 28-year-old teens pull off at a seemingly abandoned mansion, where a demolished Cadillac is propped up between marble columns. The back seat is stained with blood and holds dry bouquets and scattered photos of a woman. “Major weird!” Well, that scabby death car was really somethin’. Might as well all go sleep inside this enormous, dark house now.

What follows is an irredeemable 60-minute descent into a sexless, slashless sexual slasher film. As such, it has no place in our lives; the cinematic equivalent of a sweet-smelling hobo or a quadriplegic race horse. Characters chat, thoroughly inspect empty corners, and occasionally pause to smoke an entire cigarette in real time. The aforementioned token fat guy looks like a Cabbage Patch Kid version of Jello Biafra and offers no comic relief, even when he falls over backwards after seeing a photo of a naked lady.

The scant moments of quasi-carnage fail to pierce through the misery. The kids find an album filled with pictures of cadavers, then decide to roast hot dogs in the fireplace. They discover a hidden closet filled with human scalps in mason jars, which is their cue to lay down and sleep. A moment of near-coitus is preempted with the following line: “Firewood and condoms… what else does a young couple need in the ‘90s?” Once in a great while, one of our protagonists is quietly murdered off-screen. Or maybe they just went out for another smoke.

Savage Lust’s aggressive lack of tension, violence and human flesh could be excused if it was helmed by a 13-year-old Jehovah’s Witness. But this crippling strike against entertainment was written and directed by euro-exploitation legend José Ramón Larraz, who’d spent two decades honing his craft via blood-soaked erotic opuses like Vampyres and Blood Virgin. Set loose on US soil at the end of the ‘80s, he dove into the flagging slasher genre, but apparently left all his artistry, weaponry and erections on the airplane.