Symptoms (film)

Symptoms (also released as The Blood Virgin)[4] is a 1974 British exploitation horror film directed by José Ramón Larraz and starring Angela Pleasence, Peter Vaughan, and Lorna Heilbron. The film, based on a story by Thomas Owen, follows a woman who goes to stay with a friend at her family remote English manor where all is not as it seems. The film had its premiere at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival as the first official British entry.

Theatrical poster
Directed byJosé Ramón Larraz[1]
(as Joseph Larraz)
Produced byJean L. Dupuis
Screenplay byJosé Ramón Larraz
Stanley Miller
Based onSymptoms
by Thomas Owen
StarringAngela Pleasence
Lorna Heilbron
Peter Vaughan
Music byJohn Scott
CinematographyTrevor Wrenn
Edited byBrian Smedley-Aston
Distributed byBryanston Pictures (U.S.)[2]
Release date
  • 10 May 1974 (1974-05-10) (Cannes)
Running time
91 minutes
81 minutes (cut version)[3]
CountryUnited Kingdom

Loss and rediscovery

The original prints of Symptoms were missing for many years; the film was last shown on British television in 1983, although it circulated privately through bootlegs.[5] In February 2016, it was announced that with the help of the British Film Institute, the prints had been obtained and the film would be released on DVD.[6]


The reclusive Helen invites her friend Anne, a writer, to stay the weekend with her at her family's estate. The large manor, located near a lake in a forest, is overgrown with foliage and has mostly been untouched for an extended period of time. Helen, a translator, has recently returned to her native England after working abroad, and had lost touch with Anne. The two have dinner, start a fire in the hearth, and talk over tea before going to bed.

The next morning, Helen stops by a drugstore in town, where the clerk Mr. Burke asks about her friend, Cora Porter; she tells him she is not with her. Back at the manor, Helen and Anne go for a walk through the woods. At the lake, Helen tells Anne that someone drowned themselves there. The two women take a boat out onto the water, which unnerves Helen. En route home, they encounter Brady, a handyman who lives in the stables on the property; Anne comments that he was staring at Helen, and Helen responds by saying he disgusts her. Later, Helen spies on him with binoculars from the house.

Helen has continuous trouble sleeping at the house, and hears voices emanating from the attic one night. The following morning, Anne borrows Helen's car to drive to town. On the way home, she stops by the lake and smokes a cigarette, where she is confronted by Brady, who introduce himself. He mentions Helen's friend Cora, whose photograph Anne recalls seeing in the house. Anne returns to the house where she finds Helen distraught over her absence. She confides in Anne that she is ill, and Anne suggests they return to London, but Helen refuses, and then kisses her.

That night, Anne is awoken by moaning noises. She asks Helen if someone else could be living in the house, but Helen dismisses the idea. John arrives at the house to pick up Anne, but Anne insists on staying a few days longer due to Helen's fragile emotional state. That night, Helen's attention is drawn to an attic door in her bedroom, and she begins to masturbate furiously; simultaneously, Anne goes to investigate a noise coming from the attic, and is startled by a figure who stabs her to death.

Hannah, the housekeeper, arrives in the morning, and finds Helen asleep on the couch; Helen asks her not to return for several days, saying she needs solitude. Later at the drugstore, Hannah tells Mr. Burke about the interaction, and recalls that she once saw Cora having sex with Brady in the stables, and has not seen her since. While walking through the woods, Helen is confronted by Brady, who asks her about Anne's whereabouts; when he intimates that she murdered Anne and Cora, Helen runs away in a panic.

At the house, Anne's dead body sits in a chair in Helen's bedroom, and Helen is plagued by disembodied voices and other phenomenon. During a rainstorm, John arrives looking for Anne, and enters though an unlocked door. Upstairs, Helen stabs him in the head and neck numerous times, killing him. That night Brady stops by Helen's house to confront her about Cora, whose decomposing body he found in the lake. He tells Helen he witnessed her push Cora in, but she coolly denies it. When he threatens to blackmail her, she stabs him repeatedly in the face and the back of the head, killing him. The next morning, Hannah, Burke, and his protege Nick arrive at the house. In the living room, they find Brady's corpse. While searching upstairs, they find John's body in the hallway, and Helen staring blankly through the window. In the yard, she watches as Brady and Cora embrace.



Jean Seberg was cast in the role of Helen Ramsey, but was forced to drop out of the production last-minute due to the fact that she was not a member of the Actors' Equity Association; Angela Pleasence was then cast in the leading role.[7] Pleasence described the film shoot as consisting of long days which required her to "get up at four in the morning, and not be home before eleven at night," and noted that director Larraz was controlling on set.[7] Pleasence had known co-star Peter Vaughan since her childhood as he was a friend of her father, actor Donald Pleasence.[7] During filming, she was struck by an overhead light and was hospitalized, but survived the incident.[7]

Actress Lorna Heilbron recalled the Larraz as being "intense" and approaching the script in a "psychological way."[8] She stated that she was not provided the entire script until well after she had been cast in the part of Anne.[8] Both Heilbron and Pleasence stated in 2016 interviews that they had remained close personal friends since making the film.[7][8]

According to editor Brian Smedley-Aston, Larraz financed the picture himself from his income as a comic book artist and photographer.[9] Symptoms marked the beginning of a working relationship between Larraz and Smedley-Aston; Smedley-Aston would also later work with several American directors, including Jeff Lieberman on Squirm (1976) and Blue Sunshine (1978).[9]


Symptoms premiered at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival as the first official British entry in May 1974.[10]

Home media

In 2016, the film was released in the United States on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time by Mondo Macabro home video.[6] The same year, it received a DVD and Blu-ray release in the United Kingdom by the British Film Institute.[11]

Critical reception

Film scholars have noted parallels between Symptoms and Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965).[12][13] Time Out also noted the parallel, writing that it was: "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 mesmerizing."[14]

TV Guide concluded, "a truly chilling atmosphere is created, but its effectiveness is lost when the gore takes over",[15] while the BFI wrote, "it’s a slow burner but John Scott’s excellent score and Larraz’s sparse but effective use of shock tactics (a face at a window; a briefly glimpsed figure at the edge of the frame that really shouldn’t be there) ensure a mounting sense of dread. Pleasence steals the show but is capably assisted by Lorna Heilbron as the new object of her twisted affection and Peter Vaughan."[10]


  1. "Symptoms (1974)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  2. Smith, Gary A. (2006). Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956–1976. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-60530-2.
  3. Smith, L.S. (2002). Chibnall, Steve; Petley, Julian (eds.). British Horror Cinema. Psychology Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-415-23003-2.
  4. Shail, Robert (2008). Seventies British Cinema. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-844-57273-1.
  5. "Symptoms: the lost classic of 70s horror is back". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 3 December 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  6. Coffel, Christopher (4 February 2016). "Lost Euro-Horror Film 'Symptoms' Unearthed by Mondo Macabro!". Bloody-Disgusting. Archived from the original on 28 May 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2017.
  7. Pleasence, Angela (2016). "An Interview with Angela Pleasence". Symptoms (Blu-ray)|format= requires |url= (help) (Interview). Interviewed by Tombs, Pete. Mondo Macabro.
  8. Heilbron, Lorna (2016). "An Interview with Lorna Heilbron". Symptoms (Blu-ray)|format= requires |url= (help) (Interview). Interviewed by Tombs, Pete. Mondo Macabro.
  9. Smedley-Aston, Brian (2016). "An Interview with Brian Smedley-Aston". Symptoms (Blu-ray)|format= requires |url= (help) (Interview). Interviewed by Tombs, Pete. Mondo Macabro.
  10. Lyons, Kevin (7 November 2016). "10 great overlooked British horror films of the 1970s". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 4 December 2017.
  11. "Symptoms Blu-ray (United Kingdom)". Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  12. Cooper, Ian (2016). Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema. Columbia University Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-993-07174-4.
  13. Pirie, David (15 January 2008). A New Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema, Revised and Updated Edition. I.B. Tauris. p. 200. ISBN 978-1-845-11481-7.
  14. "Symptoms". Time Out London. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  15. "Symptoms". TV Guide. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
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