“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Theatrical Release: 1975 / Director: Pete Walker / Actors: Patrick Barr, Ray Brooks, Dorothy Gordon, Penny Irving, Sheila Keith ... / DVD released 2006-04-11 at Shriek Show / Features of the DVD: Colour, DVD-Video, NTSC „
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In a time where laws were seemingly flaunted revolutionary British director Pete Walker had an answer to the question "What's the world coming too?" His 1974 movie House Of The Whipcord, which is not I must add anywhere near as seedy as it sounds, finds young women who skate through their crimes with a slap on the wrists and a fine imprisoned in a country dwelling ran by the sinister Mrs. Wakeham.
Of all Pete Walker's offerings House Of The Whipcord has to be the most tongue in cheek, with its main character, the vicious Mrs. Wakeham played by Barbara Markham being based on Mary Whitehouse, a notorious British character who wanted everything offensive to her to be put out of sight. Nothing was sacred from Whitehouse, whom being a normal mother took offence at Britain's declining standards, or at least that was how she viewed it. The effect Whitehouse had on censorship in the UK is a story far too extreme to tell here, but Walkers puppet master approach to Mrs. Wakeham views is obvious and most striking, because rather like Whitehouse, Wakeham is naive, stupid, and misguided.
The set up of the movie is a nice idea, and centres around four characters Wakeham, Bates played by Dorothy Gordon, Walker played by Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith; and finally Justice Bailey (Patrick Barr) an aging, senile man who believes he is serving the public. Chiefly steered by Wakeham, this quartet carry out extreme ranges of corporal punishment and imprisonment on young women who poke two fingers up at the British legal system. A keen reader Wakeham seeks out cases in the papers of women who get away with what she sees as blue murder, arranging for them to find themselves at her custom built prison.
As a second element of humour Walkers tool to get inmates to the prison comes in the form of a supposedly suave and debonair man by the name of Mark E. Desade (get it? No? Same the name allowed) played by Robert Tayman, not that I go eyeing up other men but if this guy has anything at all going for him then I have been elevated to stud status by this movie, needless to say however Desade is obviously successful with his captives in order to keep a pretty full prison for Wakeham.
House Of The Whipcord is in the same vein as other Pete Walker movies, pretty harsh to say the least. Another trait they have in common is the unusual and often terrible casting and performances. Rather like Frightmare, and Die Screaming, Marianne; Whipcord sadly falls foul of having a number of terrible actors including Ray Brooks who literally plays the same character he has during his entire career (and that includes Mr. Benn), never a particularly good actor Brooks terrible performance literally reeks here. But it's the casting of Karan David as Karen that creates the biggest laughs, pretending to be French is a road that this actress should never have pursued, and as the movie progresses it's blatantly apparent that David lost track of exactly what nationality she was.
On the flip side of the coin Sheila Keith gives of a well rounded performance as someone both harsh, but capable of the same sort of tongue in cheek humour as the movies director, I'd go as far as to say that the character she plays of Walker was a self imposed homage by the director himself, even naming her after himself. There is a most wonderful piece where Keith and Bates are trying to flee the police, covered in blood and bruises when pulled over and asked if "Do you mind if I have a few words with you?" by a police officer, this moment so amusing it could come off the back of any Carry On movie, it's a pure delight.
Incest raises a familiar head as it does in a number of Walker movies, here the relationship between a mother and her son is certainly moved into a very suspicious light, and anyone not seeing this is looking at the world through those famous rose tinted glasses. The worst factor is the sheer disgustingness of both the characters, the thought of them engaging in anything other than a platonic relationship extreme enough without them needing to be related.
While quite a predictable movie now, back in 1974 Walker used an awful lot of techniques in the movie that are now more commonplace, the result at the time was a shocking wakeup call from British horror. Though never banned when the whole video nasty furore in the UK was underway, it was conveniently arranged that House Of The Whipcord was not seen for a period of about 14 years from the beginning of enforced movie certification. It was not until Nigel Wingrove's company Redemption formed releasing video's of movies lost in the passage of time that House Of The Whipcord was not only seen again, but generated a new public love for the movie.
At the time of writing this is unavailable in the UK, however you may be lucky to pick up the Pete Walker box set somewhere like Ebay. The region 1 DVD has no special features.