“When you finish watching this, R.D., please let me know if the house ‘vanished,’ and if so, where did it go?” *
— Bill Van Ryn, Drive-In Asylum
To start off this review, I’ve opted to use the Italian theatrical one-sheet — the title translates as the effective and logical, The Shadow of the Murderer — that gives this fourth film by Spanish writer and director José Ramón Larraz a decidedly giallo feel, but it’s not. Yeah, we are back to that ol’ “it’s not a giallo” debate that applies to Larraz’s directorial debut, 1970’s Whirlpool, and his 1971 follow up, Deviation — both considered Hitchcockian erotic thrillers (rife with lesbianism, natch) that lean towards the bloodless psychological. That debate continues with what I believe to be the quintessential Larraz production: his more subtle, restrained sixth production, Symptoms (1974). Courtesy of its lesbian subtext, it was Larraz’s seventh film, the Spanish-British co-produced Vampyres (1974), that became his best known, most successful film.
Originally known in its homeland as Violación y…?, aka Rape and?, the eventual title settled on for the English-speaking, overseas international marketplace was the generic Scream and Die. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and the U.K., The House That Vanished title was marketed. However, before that title appeared on U.S. drive-in screens, it went by two other, sexploitive titles: Don’t Go in the Bedroom and Please! Don’t Go in the Bedroom. Four years gone, the film was still barnstormin’ across American drive-ins as a double-biller under the (idiotic) titles Psycho Sex Fiend and Psycho Sex.
Okay, let’s load her up and figure out where the house, went. . . .
Valerie Jennings (Scotish-born British Playboy and Penthouse model Andrea Allan; she previously appeared in several episodes of the U.S.-imported British series UFO and Space: 1999) takes up with Terry, a photographer who sidelines as a petty jewel thief. While on a trip through the countryside, they become lost in a fog-shrouded darkness. For help and shelter they break into a secluded, what seems abandoned country home — and look for jewels. Instead, they find the passports of multiple women. When another couple enters the home, they hide — and witness a woman’s sex-murder-by-switchblade.
Becoming separated from Terry (an in-his-debut Alex Leppard; lots of British TV) and barely escaping with her life, Valerie returns to London — and discovers Terry never returned (well, his-now-trashed car, does; and a photo from her still-in-the-backseat modeling portfolio is missing). Not wanting to implicate herself in the robbery, she doesn’t report Terry’s disappearance (“You know how he’s always ‘off,’ without telling anyone.”), instead choosing — with her friends (a couple who owns a pet monkey for no particular herring-reason) — to try to find the house on her own.
Oh, yes. True to the title: they can’t find the house**. And true to any smudge-proof make-up cutie of the Spanish and Italian variety (see Paul Naschy’s Panic Beats for more on that horror phenomenon): in the wake a loved one’s murder or disappearance, Valerie finds a new love. But our timid sculptor, Paul (Larraz stock player Karl Lanchbury; four films, up to Vampyres), in addition to bedding Val, has an incestuous affair with his aunt (they make ceramic theatre masks, aka death masks “. . . like the ancient Incas used to make.”). And true to any Spanish or Italian Hitchcockian film noir: Valerie’s model-flat mate is raped and murdered (Judy Matheson of 1971’s Lust for a Vampire). Coincidence? That new, floor-below eccentric neighbor who raises pigeons (Peter Forbes-Robertson; 1966’s Island of Terror with Peter Cushing), is he behind the sudden rash of strange goings on in the building? Do all of those strange events lead Valerie back to the “house that vanished”? Do we see giallo-black gloves-in-POV? Does Valerie find Terry’s body, only to discover Paul and his aunt (Maggie Walker; the 1973 British comic strip adaptation, Tiffany Jones, and fellow 1974 sexploiter, Escort Girls) are behind it all?
So, to answer the $1.98 Beauty Pageant question for Bill Van Ryn: Was the house really there in the first place? Was it a “ghost house” that only appears so as to swallow the souls of weary travelers? Where did it go?
My take is that Paul and his incestuous aunt are ghosts. When travelers come by, the house appears, spews a fog, the travelers become disoriented, and the house “takes” them; the masks they make are from their victims. Since Valerie got away, Paul and his aunt came to the city to lure her back to the house. So, the house didn’t so much “vanish,” as it was never really there in the first place. You know, like that Scottish village in Brigadoon (1954) with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse that Herschell Gordon Lewis clipped for Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964). Then, when Paul murdered his pedophilic Aunt Susanna to save Valerie, it “killed” the spirit of house (Paul’s grandparents and parents lived there; his father committed suicide in the house because his “mother was too beautiful,” etc.) — and it couldn’t “vanish” anymore, so the cops found it.
I mean, if Wes Craven can steal from Ingmar Bergman . . . does that makes sense? Larraz, well screenwriter Derek Ford, clipped Brigadoon?
“What the fuck, R.D.? I think the simpler version is that the house never actually vanished and Valerie was just an idiot who couldn’t find the house. As for Aunt Suzanna: She’s one of those sociopathic hagsploitation chicks*˟ you dig so much who used Paul to destroy the youth and beauty of the younger women Paul kept falling for, much to her incestuous dismay.”
“Valarie is a dumb bitch?’ You know what, Bill, you’re right. That’s why you run a magazine and I am just some schmuck in Pittsburgh writing movie reviews down in his mother’s basement as I wait for her to bring me my lunch of raw goat livers and a glass of milk.”
A what-the-fuck glaze permeates Bill’s bearded face. A dismissive puff of cigar billows from his lips.
“Don’t worry. It’s just an obscure reference to Brazilian filmmaker Fauzi Mansur’s Ritual of Death. Just being creative, working in those hyperlinks,” I reply to Bill, full knowing he ain’t buying into my shit. For that liver mommy’s serving is not of goat . . . but human.
Is The House That Vanished a little slow? Sure, you can see why American International Pictures trimmed 15 minutes from its original 99-minute runtime for U.S. distribution. The trade off is that the noir-cum-giallo proceedings become confusing (and you lose the extended rape scene, the hetro and incestual sex scenes). Are the yellowed frames as good as my cherished Symptoms and Vampyres? Eh, we’re lost between the two. Larraz, as his celluloid modus operandi: everything is artfully framed and shot, there is plenty of mystery (monkeys, pigeons, death masks, taxidermy heads, car junk yards . . . all that is missing is fellow Spaniard Bigas Luna’s snails from Anguish — which also had pigeons . . . mating with snails), the mood lingers and the atmosphere drips. So, you may say, “Boring. Nothing happens.” I say this is still one of Larraz’s finest. One thing is for sure: this is not “Wes Craven” in the least.
Yeah. The reason this fourth film from José Ramón Larraz is lost, forgotten, and sometimes, hated: its U.S. marketing — of which he had no control.
The U.S. home video prints issued by Home Media Entertainment (1984) and Video Treasures (1988) under The House That Vanished title run at 84 minutes: the same title and length as the American International Pictures cut (1974) issued to drive-ins. Those home video prints are 15 minutes shorter than the 99-minute drive-in version that first screened under the title of Please! Don’t Go in the Bedroom in December of 1973. Almost a year later, after making the rounds at the same 99-minute length as Scream . . . and Die!, AIP acquired the film in October 1974 for a wider, domestic distribution: they cut the film down to 84 minutes and retitled it as an ersatz Craven clone.
As we discussed in our two-fer review of The Last Victim (1975) and Forced Entry (1973), and Death Weekend (1976): the runaway box office of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) — itself a sloppy n’ scuzzy, grindhouse remake of Ingmar Bergman’s tasteful-superior The Virgin Spring (1960) — inspired a slew of copycats. It was never Larraz’s intent to create a “faux” sequel, as was the case with the worsening, revenge-rape sub-genre entries of Roger Watkin’s Last House on a Dead End Street (1977) and Francesco Prosperi’s The Last House on the Beach (1978).
Larraz was — as Canadian William Fruet — a victim of the American International Pictures marketing department. Freut was on a higher road, in his emulating Sam Peckinpaw’s Straw Dogs (1971) from 20th Century Fox and John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) from Warner Bros. Death Weekend became more wildly known on the U.S. drive-in circuit as an ersatz Wes Craven sequel, The House by the Lake. That marketing, of course, didn’t work: the movie bombed.
In Larraz’s case, the marketing fared even worse because, not only is The House That Vanished not a gory, Italian-styled giallo nor a graphic, rape-revenge exploitation film: it’s a psychological, supernatural ghost story, akin to his previous work, Symptoms. But a buck is a buck, so drive-in audiences were duped by a theatrical one-sheet that mocked Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left — complete with its infamous “It’s Only a Movie” tagline.
It’s only a crappy marketing plan . . . it’s only a crappy marketing plan . . .
Critical Flotsam, Links, Where to Watch
Oh, yes, the faux “The Last House on the Left” sequels continue . . . with The Horrible House on the Hill, aka The Devil Times Five, which also rips the Last House poster art. Oh, yes. It can happen to you!
A very cool You Tube portal, Belz’s Movies From the Past has done us a solid and uploaded the original, Scream . . . and Die! 99-minute print of the film (an age-restricted account sign-in) — and here’s the original trailer. However, we found an alternate upload on You Tube (it’s five minutes shorter . . . but seem to be the same cut). When you visit Drive-In Asylum Facebook, search for “The House That Vanished” and you’ll discover several U.S. drive-in newsprint ads to enjoy from the film.
To continue your exploration of José Ramón Larraz’s works, visit our reviews for his later (and I feel, weaker), more American-slasher oriented works Estigma (1980), Rest in Pieces (1987), Edge of the Axe (1988), and his final (U.S.) film, Deadly Manor (1990). We also speak of his works in our Spanish horror reviews of León Klimovsky’s The Vampires Night Orgy and Paul Naschy’s Horror Rises from the Tomb, Panic Beats, and The People Who Own the Dark.
As for that name of Derek Ford credited as the screenwriter: No, that’s not a nom de plume for Larraz. Ford’s writing credits include the early sexploitive smutter, Secret Rites (1971), the Peter Cushing vehicle Corruption (1968), and the Christmas-based slasher Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984). Amid his fifteen credits as a director, Ford gave us the “No False Metal” classic (well, it is to us), Blood Tracks (1985), as well as the tech-horror, The Urge to Kill (1989), which he also wrote.
Bill? Where are you? Bill? Bill, you fuck. Figures he’d vanish when there’s all of this monkey and pigeon shit to clean up. Why were there even pigeons and monkeys in the movie?
* There really is a tale about “The House That Vanished,” as this BBC Radio Four broadcast, explains.
** Other houses that may or not be there: The Bride (1973), which also Craven-aka’d during its drive-in life as Last House on Massacre Street. Warlock Moon (1973) has one as well, but that was more of a health spa than a house. No alternate “street” title for that one, but Joe Spano, later of TV’s Hill Street Blues, stars.
*˟ Mr. Van Ryn speaks truths: We dove down that hagsploitation rabbit hole with our review of The Night God Screamed.