Back in October, you may remember that I had a guest spot over at The Moon is a Dead World where myself and webmaster (and fellow HorrorNews.net movie reviewer) Ryne Barber took a look at Mario Bava’s Hatchet For the Honeymoon. Well, we’re teaming up again (along with a few other reviewers), and this time we’re taking on Pete Walker’s 1974 gem House of Whipcord.
Below you’ll find my review, but make sure to go over here to find Ryne’s take on the movie, along with a couple others.
Pete Walker’s House of Whipcord is another entry into that especially dirty tradition of exploitation films in the 1970’s, the women in prison film. While this particular one doesn’t even come close to the violence level of, say, any of the Ilsa films, and the gratuitous, skin-for-skin’s-sake nudity is kept at a minimum, there is still a very strange perverseness running just under the surface of this film. Whereas, say, The Big Bird Cage finds women behind bars due to some revolutionary activities, or Wanda/Greta/Ilsa holds girls captive so as to keep her underground porn ring working smoothly (see Wanda the Wicked Warden, or whatever title you happen to find it under), House of Whipcord finds our antagonists jailing young ladies because, in according to their Crucible-esque moral system, they have been behaving badly.
Walker treats us to a bit of in medias res, starting the movie with a badly beaten girl running through the rain before finding help and collapsing. While this story-telling technique is a great way to get things off on the right action-packed foot, all too often they also hurt the suspense factor by showing us a point near the conclusion of the story. Not so with House of Whipcord, as Walker starts us in what we find out to be the middle of the story, leaving plenty of unexpected action still to come. So, the question is, who is she and who/where is she running from?
After the girl finds help in the form of a napping trucker, she passes out on the way to the hospital. In what appears to be her dream (?), we watch as a flashback unfolds. Meet Ann-Marie (played by Penny Irving, a role that is not her first but in which she is still given an “Introducing” credit; a couple years later, Irving would be known as Miss Bakewell in the British comedy series Are You Being Served?), a young French model who recently ran into a bit of trouble with the law for public exposure during a photo shoot. At a swanky, ultra-1970’s party, she meets a young man named Mark. Mark Desade. Can you guess what his middle initial is? I’ll give you a clue: “E.” Get it? Mark E. Desade? (Mark is played by Robert Tayman, whose character name in this movie is almost as awesome as the name of a character he played on The New Avengers, Dick Palmer). She falls for his lame parlor tricks and air of mystery, so they go on a couple of dates, then he asks her to go away for the weekend and meet his mother. They drive out to a large, dreary, ominous building where he drops her off and drives away. Strangely trusting, Ann-Marie is led into the building by a stern woman, then locked in a room and told to undress. She is then brought by Mrs. Wakehurst (Barbara Markham, in a more sadistic, and somewhat mentally disturbed, Nurse Ratched role) to a court room/cafeteria where she is “charged” with exposing herself in public to a photographer for profit. An old blind man judge tells her this is a private court which passes “proper sentences on depraved females,” at which point we’re pretty sure she realizes she’s not at Mark’s mom’s place.
House of Whipcord is not a bad movie, nor is it boring in the least. But if you’re expecting constant scenes of groups of naked girls being tortured and beaten (when they’re not all showering together), then 1) you’re a pervert, and 2) you’re watching the wrong movie. Director Pete Walker opts for a slightly more mentally-engaging approach to the women in prison tradition. There is violence, don’t get me wrong, but it is more subtle, leaving more to the imagination, in that Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of way (note: that will be the only time I compare this movie to TCM; it’s not that good). What we have is more of a bit of a mystery; why are these people holding these women prisoner? Who is Mark, and why did he do this? Will Ann-Marie’s friends eventually get worried when they realize she’s been gone for over a week? These questions, and more, will all be answered by the end.
I’m not only interested in seeing more of Pete Walker’s movies (Cover Up, Schizo, and House of the Long Shadows (featuring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing) to name a few of his horror films) after having watched House of Whipcord, but I’d even go so far as to recommend it to fans of 1970’s exploitation and horror films. The acting isn’t amazing, but it’s good enough. It has a bit of a Franz Kafka’s The Trial feel to it for about the first half, then more of a hopeful jailbreak vibe as it continues on. The film has a nice look to it, an interesting message, and a somewhat surprising end. Sure, there’s a bit of cheese-factor to it, but that’s part of the reason it’s so much fun. I give it 3.5 flogs out of 5.