Spaniard José Ramon Larraz (often credited as Joseph Larraz) is well known to most horror film enthusiasts, thanks to his excellent 1974 film VAMPYRES, long available on VHS and DVD in the US. In addition to this, the book 'Immoral Tales' devotes a chapter to his films, as did the TV series 'Eurotika'. Surprisingly, very few of his other films enjoy anything like the same level of exposure as VAMPYRES, even in Europe. Hard to imagine these days, but his other 1974 horror film SYMPTOMS was the British entrant at the Cannes Film festival and received glowing reviews. Larraz started out as a comic book artist, before working as a fashion photographer for some years. He moved to Paris when he married and lived there for many years. His first film WHIRLPOOL (aka She Died With Her Boots On, 1969) was partly filmed in London, and he liked England so much that he based three more low budget horror films there, using the English countryside to startling effect (fellow Spaniard Jorge Grau achieved a very different, though similarly impressive, effect when he filmed THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974) in England). His next film was DEVIATION (1971), which he followed with SCREAM & DIE (1973) and a Spanish film. After 1974's two great successes he returned to Spain and most of his ensuing work is sadly lacking the edgy brilliance of his early films. The best known of his latter-day films is probably the fairly awful BLACK CANDLES (1981), though 1978's VISITA DEL VICIO ('Violation of the Bitch', aka 'Sodomia') is by far the most interesting of them.
The film opens with a photographer and a pretty blonde model called Valerie (Andrea Allan). Kent, the photographer, wants to take some "nude shots of [her] for some paperbacks". She refuses, much to his consternation ("are you suggesting I'm porno?" he asks) and he settles for some shots of her in a big floppy hat. She leaves and goes off with her boyfriend, Terry, to look for a certain house in the woods. It gets dark and misty, but suddenly they find it. Terry goes in, leaving her with the car. After a while she goes to find him. He's looking for something, but won't say what. Just then, a car pulls up outside. A man and a woman enter and the woman starts un undress, talking to the man all the time, though without eliciting any replies. She goes to the man and sits in his lap
suddenly, he stabs her in a frenzy. Valerie runs off into the woods, and is chased to a scrap yard, where she hides until daybreak. She hitches a lift back to London, and rather than telling the police about her experiences, tells a hippy couple who are her friends. Terry is missing, but they advise her just to wait and see what happens. The next time she goes to the photographer's studio she meets Paul (Karl Lanchbury, who will be familiar to VAMPYRES fans), who is selling masks. She arranges to meet him the next day, and is surprised to find his aunt also there. A strange man moves into the downstairs flat in her block and other odd events occur. The net seems to be closing on her, but just who is the killer
SCREAM & DIE suffers from an extremely convoluted and unbelievable narrative (Valerie's two boyfriends in the film both require a considerable suspension of disbelief), as should be obvious from the brief synopsis above. None of Larraz' films have strong narratives, but in VAMPYRES for example he uses this to his advantage, creating a surreal, dream-like ambience that suits the mood of the film to perfection. Here it just bogs the film down, and this isn't helped by the fact that it's slow moving too. There are really only two or three significant 'events' in the film; the rest is back story and padding (the creenplay is actually credited to British sex film director Derek Ford, though he had nothing to do with it). Still, there is a fairly hefty quota of nudity (much of it very staged – we see Valerie getting undressed more than once, or in the bath, all with no particular relevance) and a very well staged 'taboo' sex scene that is surprising for the film's time. Larraz' usual motifs are present – strange dark houses, claustrophobic relationships and the spectre of insanity, and he makes good use of strange imagery such as the pigeons beating around the room in the apartment below Valerie's as she tries to sleep. Though the English countryside is also well photographed, much of the film is frustratingly dark, making it difficult to tell what's going on. This might be improved if the film were to be released on DVD.
Larraz' early films have suffered very badly in terms of availability. WHIRLPOOL is effectively a 'lost' film, no known prints of it exist and it has never been released to home video. DEVIATION was thought lost for some time, though an extremely scratchy VHS release (through 'Prima Films') turned up in the US at some point. Even SYMPTOMS is extremely difficult to track down – the best copy I've managed to obtain of this is from a scratchy French release, which is at least in English. SCREAM & DIE is the easiest to obtain of Larraz' early work, with the obvious exception of VAMPYRES. It was released on VHS in the US by Media Entertainment, retitled as 'The House That Vanished', a nonsensical and pointless title (apparently it was also released as 'Psycho Sex Fiend' at some point – a much better title!), and in the pre-VRA UK by Replay Video. Perhaps at some point in the future someone will unearth these early Larraz films and give them proper releases. If so, I hope they choose DEVIATION and SYMPTOMS rather than this film. SCREAM & DIE isn't awful, but it's nothing special either and is unlikely to win Larraz new supporters.