Here’s another film that, like Antonio Margheriti 1971’s Web of the Spider, is open for the giallo vs. British horror debate. It’s a U.K. production, with some assistance from Belgium and Spain, shot at Britain’s famed Pinewood Studios—with nary a Spaniard or Italian in the British cast headed by Donald Pleasence’s (Phenomena) daughter, Angela.
But our illustrious director here is Spain’s José Ramón Larraz, who’s best known for the 1974 lesbian vampire romp Vampyres, and who we’ve droned on about in our reviews of his Estigma, and in our Spanish horror reviews of León Klimovsky of The Vampires Night Orgy and Paul Naschy’s Horror Rises from the Tomb, Panic Beats, and The People Who Own the Dark.
And the “it’s not a giallo” argument also applies to Larraz’s directorial debut, 1970’s Whirlpool and his 1971 follow up, Deviation, which are considered as Hitchcockian erotic thrillers (rife with lesbianism, natch) that lean towards the bloodless psychological.
As for myself: Yes, Symptoms is a bit more restrained and subtle, but it’s stocked with all the gialli character-prototypes, it keeps you guessing, has exquisite cinematography, and packs a punch at times; so I approach Larraz’s sixth film as a Spanish giallo variant of Roman Polanksi’s Repulsion—much more so than an Amicus-styled horror (which are more implied “shock scares” than violent).
Pleasance’s Helen Ramsey returns to the U.K after an extended time abroad in Switzerland and reconnects with her old writer-friend Anne Weston (Scottish actress Lorna Heilbron of The Creeping Flesh with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee) and invites her to spend the weekend at her family’s remote, dilapidated forest estate—complete with a swampy lake where someone once drowned. Of course, there’s “something” wrong at the estate—and “something” with Helen (e.g., she has a solitary “erotic moment” of pleasure as she stands at a creepy attic door; a swampy boat ride arouses her), and Anne begins to experience the same voices and moving shadows as Helen. When the estate’s creepy handyman (isn’t there always one in these films) discovers Cora’s corpse—the manor’s “previous house guest” that caused Helen’s extended “vacation” abroad—she goes off the deep end (or does she?) and more people die.
The DVDs and Blus for Symptoms are easy to find—but know your regions. Mondo Macabro released it for the first time in both formats in 2016, while the British Film Institute put out their own versions that same year. But we found you a free rip for you to enjoy on You Tube.
We’ve since done a week-long tribute to José Ramón Larraz’s works in July 2022 — including a second take on this film. Yeah, we love him!
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.