DEVIATION (JOSE LARRAZ, 1971)
Before Jose Larraz made his notorious cult classics Vampyres and Symptoms, he helmed three unique British horror films that aren't very well known today. His second feature film, following his debut film, the once-considered lost Whirlpool, was Deviation. It's a quiet little film, with moody atmospherics followed by intense moments of perversity.
The film follows Paul and his mistress Olivia as they are driving back to their hometown after what has presumably been a romantic getaway. Paul isn't quite divorced yet, and this bothers Olivia, as it ostensibly allows him to keep both of his women without feeling guilty. As they are driving through a dark forest, a man in a white poncho jumps in front of the car, and, swerving so as not to hit the man, Paul crashes into a tree. They are met in the woods by Julian and Rebbecca, a mysterious couple who live in the virtually empty woods, and practice taxidermy. During the night Paul gets the feeling that something is wrong, and as he investigates, he eventually gets killed by Rebbecca in a moment of psycho-sexual catharsis. The next morning Julian and Rebbecca tell Olivia that Paul has simply taken the train back to London in order to be at work on time. Meanwhile, the enigmatic couple work on taking Olivia farther and farther into their world of sex and mystery.
The most interesting thing about Larraz, as a director, is his consistency. Of the six films films that I have seen from him, all of them take place mainly in a mysterious large house in the middle of a forest or deserted area. They also all focus on a small group of main characters, only occasionally using others to simply elaborate the relationships between the core characters. Deviation is no exception, and in this film the outside characters are other young hippies that join Julian and Rebbecca at the 'drug orgies' that they host. Larraz is also incredibly skilled at building atmosphere in a very subtle way. The tension of the film climaxes during one of the aforementioned drug parties when Olivia, stoned out of her mind, is resting on Rebbecca while Julian is making love with a beautiful black woman across the room. The two siblings--Julian and Rebbecca--are making constant eye contact as they carry on with their actions, and the scene becomes thick and uncomfortable.
The whole film does a very good job of demonstrating Larraz' skill as a director; the oddball plot which, in lesser hands, could have ended up highly convoluted and obtuse, is played out very clearly, every plot twist being revealed slowly, instead of suddenly, so as to allow the implications of each event to sink in to the viewers skull. The film is also very beautiful, taking place primarily in the middle of the night as Julian and Rebbecca take part in their drug orgies or in murder. Depictions of certain events in the film can certainly be read as having anti- drug implications, but Larraz never makes his approach heavy-handed. In fact, nothing in the film is heavy-handed, everything from the performances to the build-up of tension, to the murders themselves, are understated.
Something else that works really well within the context of the film is how much is left unsaid. There is a pre-credit sequence that doesn't quite fit the narrative structure of the film, but perfectly fits as developing a very tense atmosphere before the movie has even begun. Also, with a single word on a phrenology chart (the word being destructiveness) also establishes a mindset of the characters we see on screen (being Julian and Rebbecca). Julian and Rebbecca themselves have no discernible motivation for their actions, which make them even more sporadic and frightening.