The late 1970s into the early ’90s was one of horror cinema’s golden ages, and that success was built on the slasher flick. The names of villains are iconic. Michael Myers. Jason Voorhees. Freddy Krueger. Chucky. But, most slasher flicks didn’t have larger than life villains such as these. The grist mill was running too hard and fast. The VHS boxes were piling up in the back of the video store. The mantra was to take the familiar slasher tropes, throw some new, young faces into the mix, and let loose. Most slashers ended up being one-offs, with no hope for a sequel. Some, like Maniac or My Bloody Valentine, became iconic in their own right. Most were crap, though. Like Deadly Manor.
From notable Spanish horror filmmaker José Ramón Larraz, working from a screenplay by Brian Smedley-Aston, Larry Ganem, and himself, Deadly Manor is a regular old cabin in the woods slasher, where a small group of youths find themselves at an isolated location, stalked by an unknown killer.
The characters wallow in slasher flick cliché. There’s the preppie and his girlfriend, Rod and Susan (Mark Irish and Elizabeth Baldwin); the cool guy and his girlfriend, Tony and Helen (Greg Rhodes and Claudia Franjul); the goofy fat guy and his girlfriend, Peter and Anne (Jerry Kernion and Kathleen Patane); and a mysterious hitchhiker who may be on the run from the law, Jack (Clark Tufts).
The group is lost, looking for a lake in upstate New York that Tony remembers from a previous road trip. Jack promises to direct them to the lake in exchange for the ride, but he doesn’t know where he’s going. Instead, the group ends up at a dilapidated old house in the middle of nowhere, with a wrecked car on a plinth in the backyard, a pair of coffins in the basement, and all the walls inside plastered with glamour shots of an unknown woman.
It’s here where the film begins to suffer from unbelievable character stupidity. The group took shelter in the house from a rainstorm because it appeared abandoned. But they find a newspaper from the day before in the living room. As if the coffins and pervasive 8×10 glossies weren’t enough, real life people would be leaving the house at that moment. But, not these characters. They continue to explore. The pièce de résistance of cluelessness is when they find a closet full of human scalps, and the men STILL insist on spending the night in the house, with the girlfriends lodging meek protests. Then when Tony finds a photo album full of pictures of murder victims, he doesn’t find that to be a red flag, either. Incredible.
If it seems like I gave the female characters short shrift above, well, it’s no different than how the movie treats them. The women in this flick have agency, but not that much. With the exception of Helen, who exits the film early, the girlfriends are loyal creatures, going along with the men’s decisions despite there being every reason to flee screaming into the countryside. What a lesson, there. Listen to your boyfriends, ladies, or you will end up alone, scared, and, eventually, dead.
The only other character comparable to the females’ uselessness is Peter, whose entire personality is derived from the goofy fat guy playbook. His jokes are awkward, and his demeanor is desperate. The one break from the tropes, and it is a big one, admittedly, is that this is the only character like this I can recall from a slasher flick that has a bona fide girlfriend. Usually this character is a target for humiliation, and nothing more.
It isn’t until the final act, when someone finds one of their friends dead, that the group decides it’s probably time to leave. The deaths in the final act come thick and fast, as if Larraz spent so much time on setup, he forgot he had would-be victims in need of disposal. Everything in the film becomes rushed. A bunch of unsubtle misdirection surrounding Jack is resolved in throwaway fashion, bodies fall left and right, viewers learn the secret of the house in a twist pulled straight from old EC comics, and then it’s all over.
It’s unclear why Larraz paced the film as he did. There is nothing inherently wrong with a lengthy setup, but in this flick, it came at the expense of the film’s climax. The movie is far too frontloaded. A little more discipline in the editing room could have quickened scenes in the first two acts, leaving more room to keep the final act from feeling hurried.
The puzzling storytelling decisions, the stupidity of the characters, and also some subpar acting, hurt this film from an objective standpoint. As a slasher flick, it’s more folly than success. But, that does mean it makes it into the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index. There, it slots into the #336 spot, taking over from French Quarter. It’s a watchable slasher flick, but it’s one of the dumber ones.