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House on Straw Hill (Blu-Ray)

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Actors: Udo Kier, Karl Howman / Studio: Severin / Released: 11 Jun 2013

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      28.11.2013 10:52
      Very helpful



      A video nasty in HD

      This is a region-free American blu-ray/DVD combo released by Severin. It can be imported easily through amazon, but expect to pay close to £20 for it.

      This 1976 effort is the only British film on the official video nasties list, where it appeared under the name Exposé (although another film, Xtro, was believed to have been on the list at one point). Although a cut version has been shown on British TV (Channel 5, naturally), the uncut version has long been unavailable, and it was rumoured that the source material wasn't in good enough shape to be likely to see the light of day. Happily this has proved not to be the case, and this American release has not only got the film out in its complete form, but is on blu-ray, no less.

      As the title suggests, this is a rip-off of Sam Peckinpah's rural rape-and-shotguns movie Straw Dogs. I'm not a fan of that film, but it's easily a hundred times better than this one. Paul Martin is a successful novelist - his first book made him 'half a million dollars', but he's struggling with his second. He has holed up in a remote farm house with his sultry girlfriend to try and finish it off, and his publishers send a typist to take his dictation. Unfortunately the woman they send, Linda, seems to have a twisted agenda of her own...

      The female lead, Linda Hayden, has said this is the one film she regrets doing. She feels it was too sleazy. Ms Hayden had done nude scenes aged 15 in a film called Baby Love (which I'd imagine is most unlikely to get a re-release today), so if she felt that a film was too sleazy, we should probably be prepared to take her word for it. Despite its minimal cast and budget, this does manage to ramp up to some pretty impressive heights of grottiness. It's a mean-spirited little number from a time when the British film industry had pretty much gone into a tailspin it never quite got out of. Horror and sexploitation were two genres that could still make money, and the producer had previously combined them in the half-decent Vampyres.

      Vampyres is quite explicit, but at last everyone seems to be more or less enjoying the sex in that, even if people do get killed just afterwards. Here it's joyless and creepy. Linda seemingly can't stop playing with herself (I think this is the earliest film in which I've seen a vibrator being used), although she doesn't seem to derive much actual pleasure from the act. Paul dons surgical gloves to have sex (it's not revealed whether he similarly wraps his old chap; one can only hope so) and has bloody, fast-edited hallucinations as he climaxes. There's a lethargic lesbian scene that doesn't end well, and a bizarrely underplayed rape scene which ends in death and mutilation. This isn't a classy piece of work, but the sex and nudity is so resolutely unerotic it's tempting to imagine that the director was aiming at alienation rather than titillation.

      The horror is incredibly inept. It's certainly never scary. Paul keeps suffering from paranoid delusions and insists on keeping the doors and windows locked at all times - that's about as much as the film does to try to drum up suspense. (His bedroom door has four locks, but weirdly, the bathroom doesn't even have one.) The gore effects are utterly lame and the blood looks suspiciously syrupy and is far too light in colour. The film features one of the most inept throat slashings I've ever seen.

      But for all that it's poorly executed, some of the violence is still really horrible. One nude murder scene alone will have been enough to get the film banned (and was one of the bits that was heavily cut in the version I'd previously seen). More than anything we see onscreen, it's the atmosphere of grot hanging over the film that makes it feel disreputable.

      It does seem that the film may have pretentions to be more than schlocky sexploitation. Paul's dictated novel is hilariously pompous (and is probably meant to be funny, with lines like "The sweaty smell of many nations"), but the film itself has a similarly po-faced, self-important quality. The director strives for effects he can't quite bring off, like when Linda's golden hair is suddenly edited into shots of the golden corn around the house. But nothing seems to connect to anything else, and we're left with a lot of shots that look as if they're meant to be symbolic, but don't have any meaning behind them. There's occasionally an expensive looking crane shot, but otherwise this is dirt cheap. The music ranges from ponderous piano to rather more sprightly synthesiser stuff (slight discordant synthesisers form the classic video nasty soundtrack, presumably because they were so cheap to do).

      Linda Hayden had been a creepily sexy presence in Blood on Satan's Claw and acquitted herself well in Taste the Blood of Dracula. Here she seems lethargic and a bit chubby. She was still only 22, but looks jaded. Her attempts at trying to look sinister just make her look like she's cross that someone hasn't done the washing up. She has claimed that extra, more explicit scenes were added later, purporting to be her, but if they used a body double for anything it's very difficult to spot where - it looks to me like Hayden is basically doing all her own 'stunts', so to speak.

      Paul is played by Euro horror legend Udo Kier, who had just made his name in Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Dracula. He's very good looking, which usually acts as a nice counterpoint to his degenerate characters. Here, though, he hardly seems to be making an effort. Even when he's supposedly orgasming he hardly changes his facial expression. The main problem is that he's been dubbed with an English accent (with perhaps a slight Transatlantic twang). One of Kier's most striking features is his camp German voice. Why hire him if you're going to dub him?

      His girlfriend is played by page 3 model Fiona Richmond, who is very clearly not a professional actor. She looks a little like a white Grace Jones (but with longer hair). She has really odd shaped boobs and gives the worst performance in the film. A young Karl Howman (later in Brush Strokes) plays a thug and would-be rapist. We see his naked bottom, unfortunately.

      This is a very unlikely candidate for blu-ray treatment. Although the film looks better than it ever has before, and there's a lot of detail visible in the shots, the film has a slightly murky look to it which was presumable how it was shot in the first place (it looks much like other cheap British horror films of the era). The print is also quite badly damaged - there aren't many scenes that don't have any scratches or blobs visible. They were working with badly damaged materials, and it's great to see this released uncut, but don't expect it to look perfect. There's also a DVD version included, which looks fine.

      There's a commentary by the director and producer, which is quite entertaining. One of them uses the word 'lesbonic' (which may not be a real word).

      There's also a 15-minute interview with Hayden. This was made for an old DVD release of Blood on Satan's Claw, but clips from Exposé have been edited into it when she talks about that (I think one of the clips from Blood... has been edited, too). She is clearly still unhappy about appearing in Exposé and makes some entertainingly bitchy comments about Fiona Richmond's acting.

      Early editions of this release contain an extra DVD, with a documentary about the British video nasty scare called Ban The Sadist Videos. It's a two-part documentary that was made to feature in Anchor Bay's Box of the Banned sets. It's pretty good, but has been rather superseded by the more recent Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide. Part two does carry on after the 1985 Video Recordings Act, and is a good account of the moral panic and how right-wing ideologues used it to restrict what we were allowed to see.

      House on Straw Hill is technically still banned in the UK, in its uncut form. But you can import it easily enough, which just goes to underline how completely pointless the BBFC now is. Not that I imagine many of you will want to import it, but for video nasty completists, it's nice to finally have this one uncut.


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