Friday, April 10, 2009

House of Whipcord Needs an Eviction Notice

House of Whipcord
Media Blasters // 1974 // 102 Minutes // Rated R

Reviewed by Steve Evans

“Many young girls have entered these gates—none have yet come out!” ~ From the promotional poster.

Opening Shot…

Now and again, it's fun to tee off on a really bad movie. Welcome to today's installment of Cinema Uprising.

Nothing like the screaming tagline would suggest, House of Whipcord is actually a muddled meditation on stuffy English morality, circa 1974. A failed satire of aging British bluenoses and their obsession with law and order, the film is poorly photographed, with often unintelligible cockney dialogue delivered by amateurs. Here is that rarest of exploitation films—utterly pretentious without even the redeeming values of gratuitous nudity and violence that might recommend it to the grindhouse crowd.

A Bit of Plot
A gorgeous French model (Penny Irving, Vampira) finds herself a captive in the House of Whipcord, where disturbed old women dish out corporal punishment (off screen) and random torture to “immoral” girls in an effort to redeem them. Her crime? Posing for magazines.

Robert Tayman (The Internecine Project) plays Mark E. Desade (ho, ho), a young English dandy (a fancy lad wearing lace-up shirts!) who seduces women and lures them to their doom at the House of Whipcord under pretense of meeting his parents. Dad’s a senile old man. Ma and her crew of crusty bitches keep the whips and shackles well-oiled in the dungeon for spankings, lite bondage, and compulsory Bible reading (hence the shackles, one supposes).

The captive young women are allowed only three strikes on their road back to righteousness. One mistake earns solitary confinement, a second infraction results in a flogging; three strikes, you’re dead.

Clearly not hip to his own hypocrisy, Desade keeps the crazy harridans who run The House of Whipcord stocked with nubile beauties who must stand trial before dad — a sightless old codger (blind justice — get it?). Whippings, rats, and a bit of tame T&A round out the offerings as the film drags along to a tidy yet humdrum conclusion.

Historical Context and (In)significance
Directed by cheapo auteur Pete Walker (Schizo), this picture fails on almost every level. As exploitation trash, the T&A and shock quotient is so low it barely registers. As satire, whatever point Walker intended to make is lost under ponderous pontificating by terminally untalented actors.

The film falters even at the level of basic craftsmanship. Walker liked to shoot day-for-night, but he forgot to tell the cinematographer when to stop dialing down the damned f-stop on the camera lens. Most of the time this picture is so dark that no one can tell who’s doing what or to whom, and forget about why.

The supporting players act like they suffer from narcolepsy. The music could induce a migraine. In order for the story even to function at the most fundamental level of credibility, we are asked to believe in characters so mind-numbingly stupid as to be almost deserving of their fate.

Let me be clear: House of Whipcord does not transcend its limitations to reach those rarified B-movie heights of so-bad-it’s-good. The film is just a disappointing waste of time. For real terror, sick gross-outs and fascinating subtext in the disreputable “kidnapped and tortured” subgenre of horror films, rent Eli Roth's Hostel, instead. That’s the real deal.

What's on the Disc, Steve?
Not so much, I'm tellin' ya. The anamorphic transfer is mediocre, pocked here and there with flecks of dirt and scratches lingering from the source materials. Audio options include a new 5.1 mix, although the occasional, jolting “blaaaaat!” indicates something has gone very wrong with the original optical soundtrack.

Extras include a not-bad photo gallery and six trailers of other Walker films, including this one. Of the trailers, Die Screaming Marianne looks the most promising, if only for the presence of Susan George (Straw Dogs). Update: I have seen Die Screaming Marianne. As for my observation that it looks “the most promising,” well, I was wrong.

The Contrarian View
Director Walker acknowledges on the commentary track that he just wanted to make films and turn a profit, but didn’t have time to play the studio game. He’s refreshingly candid in his remarks and seems slightly bemused by the fuss his fans have made over his decidedly low-rent oeuvre through the years. This seems to be a case of a retired director coming to terms with the actual merit of a film completed half a lifetime ago: He had some fun, made a few pounds (this is a British picture, remember?), and moved on.

House of Whipcord
is the work of a director whose ambitions exceed his abilities. Let’s give kudos for trying, especially on a wee budget. Still, this is worth no more than a rental, at best, and only then for die-hard students of psychotronic films who want to complete their education.

Sporadically creepy though ultimately dull, House of Whipcord cured my insomnia.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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