The official British Palme d’Or entry at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, Symptoms is a sophisticated modern gothic horror film exploring the themes of sexual repression and psychosis.
Larraz’s dark and stylish film tells of a young woman (Lorna Heilbron) who is invited by her girlfriend (Angela Pleasence) to stay at her remote English country mansion. Events take a disturbing turn when a menacing groundkeeper (Peter Vaughan) interrupts their time together, and a woman’s body is found in the mansion’s lake.
Other than a limited theatrical release and a late-night screening on British television in the early 80s, Larraz’s film has slipped into obscurity, and the original negative was long thought lost, assuring it a place in the BFI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list. Following the rediscovery of the original negatives in 2014, the dark delights of Symptoms can finally be experienced again in this new restoration, undertaken by the Belgian Cinematek.
Made by a Spanish director working for an English company, with Angela Pleasence running mad in an old dark house and giving murderous vent to her sexist grievances, this is the finest British horror movie from a foreigner since Polanski’s Repulsion. The comparison is inevitable, because thematically the films have a good deal in common, charting the gradual mental dissolution of their spectral heroines. Symptoms imitates, but also improves on its original in a multiplicity of ways. The muted love affair between Pleasence and Lorna Heilbron is etched with enormous suggestiveness, and Larraz’s eye for visual detail is mesmerising.
Symptoms, usually only available in very poor quality prints, has had a recent restoration and gets a pleasing transfer to Blu-ray from BFI. It’s solidly in dual-layered territory and has a max’ed bitrate for the 1.5 hour feature. Trevor Wrenn’s cinematography has some impressive moments. Colors are muted but consistent. The 1080P even exports some minor depth in the 1.33:1 frame (IMDb states the AR is 1.85:1). It’s reasonably clean showcasing very watchable visuals. Aside from some contrast flickering in the opening – it’s quite strong overall. This Blu-ray represents a breath of fresh air for the limited digital representations that have surfaced including analog bootlegs.