BD / DVD Combi. Region Free. Severin / Intervision. Unrated.
Anyone remember that (historically accurate) scene in The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) where journalist Ulrike Meinhof crosses the line from reporting on The Red Army Fraction (and yes, that’s how they actually designated themselves) into participating in their armed insurrection? A similar(ish) Damascene conversion was experienced by respected BBC documentarian James Kenelm Clarke in 1975 while he was shooting “Xploitation”, an episode in the Beeb’s Man Alive series that was devoted to the social menace of skin-flicks. Ruing the money he had lost on his utterly respectable directorial debut (the unfortunately entitled Got It Made) the previous year and noting the filthy lucre being amassed by the tit and bum merchants, Kenelm Clarke decided to throw in his lot with these smut peddlers, honouring the old adage: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em… and beat off with ’em.”
Hooking up with producer (of Jose Ramon Larraz’s sexy blood-sucking epic Vampyres, 1974) Brian Smedley-Aston and hitting up bongo mag nabob Paul Raymond (who was keen to promote the budding thespian career of his protege and room mate Fiona Richmond) for financial backing, JKC put together The House On Straw Hill aka Trauma… the only British-made “video nasty” cited on the DPP’s official proscribed list (after it was released on the Intervision label as Exposé.) Thirty years-and-the-some later, Severin’s Blu-ray release (on their nostalgically resurrected Intervision imprint, appropriately enough) gives us a chance to reappraise this singular cinematic oddity (or decide that we’d been right about it all along.)
Exposé features exploitation Hall-of-Famer Udo Kier as a writer trying to get his head together in the country and pen the follow-up to his blockbusting debut novel. Work isn’t proceeding too smoothly, which is hardly surprising since that blockbusting debut was actually written by somebody else, who killed himself when Udo stole his magnum opus – Kier is further distracted by the presence of his sex-crazed wife, the typecast Richmond (their frenzied coupling intercut with that hoariest of cliché shots, a door banging in the wind) and nightmare / flashback sequences involving somebody (presumably the plagiarised author) slashing his wrists.
Kier packs Richmond off to London and installs a secretary who proves hardly less distracting, played as she is by Linda Hayden (just 22 but already boasting a string of Brit Horror credits, including Taste The Blood Of Dracula, Madhouse and Blood On Satan’s Claw), who spends half of her screen-time abusing herself with great gusto (Hayden’s orgasms, conveyed by frantic mugging, are the most memorably amusing aspect of Exposé). She even takes time out from dictation of Kier’s novel to go upstairs and take herself in hand (who can blame her … Udo’s prose, excruciating soft-core pap, would send anyone in search of something better to do, and the suggestion that the finished novel will be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize is patently preposterous). Having satisfied herself, Hayden calmly returns to work…
… then nips out into the cornfield behind the house for yet another wank. While she’s gone, Udo – who’s convinced that he knows her from somewhere – roots through her effects. Predictably, he discovers a massive dildo. Meanwhile two louts in ridiculous loon pants have discovered Hayden playing with herself in the corn-field and are busy raping her. Hayden feigns acquiescence, only to lull her attackers into a false sense of security, then she grabs their shot-gun and blows them away (clearly JKC had The Straw Dogs very much in mind, a parallel underscored by the casting of Susan George-substitute Hayden and the House On Straw Hill variant title.) Back at the house, she resumes her dictation duties as if nothing has happened.
Udo gets drunk and starts to display paranoid tendencies, ranting about the demands made on him by editors and publishers, claiming that people are out to get him. After further weird flash-back sequences he makes a heavy pass at Hayden, but she seems content to let her fingers do the walking. Udo raves some more about how tough it is being a sensitive artist and phones Richmond, asking her to come back. When she does it’s only to end up spending more time in bed with Hayden than with her hubby.
Taking a bath, Richmond discovers the body of Udo’s housekeeper (Patsy Smart) in the airing cupboard and is then herself stabbed by a mystery assailant … except that there’s no mystery about the identity of the killer. It is of course Hayden, who now trains her rifle on Udo and reveals that her husband is the dead guy whose work was ripped off (another major non-surprise.) She pursues him into the corn-field and is just about to blow his brains out when one of the rapists she shot earlier (“Little Youth” played by Karl Howman, subsequently of sit com and soap-sud commercial semi-fame) leaps out of that corn to stab her before finally dropping dead himself. Kier is left a gibbering wreck, contemplating the Shakesperian stack of dead bodies littering his estate… that should give him something to write about!
A pre-titles card explains that with the elements declining fast, Severin raided three different prints to mount this restoration job which still looks a little ropey in places but will stand, when future alien visitors sift through the cultural detritus of our long dead civilisation, as the definitive edition of House On Straw Hill.
The bonus materials they’ll enjoy include a trailer, a short interview with Hayden in which she expresses enthusiasm for everything she ever appeared in with the explicit exception of Exposé and a commentary track, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, with Kenelm Clarke and his producer (and uncredited editor / 2nd unit director… it’s also revealed that it’s Smedley-Aston’s photo which Hayden spends much of the picture, er, de-stressing over.) It’s an informative chat (during which none of the participants spurn any chance to chuckle over Linda’s self-love scenes and the film’s frequent outbreaks of “lesbotics”) though nobody seems to have any idea why more than one character feels the need to don rubber gloves before indulging in rumpy-pumpy (the safe sex message really isn’t getting across to some people!) Mention is made of the remake that was being touted for a while, though thankfully that moment of madness seems to have passed.
As well as THOSH on both BD and DVD you get a bonus disc incorporating parts 1 and 2 of David Gregory’s masterly “video nasties” exposé Ban The Sadist Videos and the featurette Censors Working Overtime, in which David “Reprobate” Flint takes the Torquemadas of Soho Square to task. The copy that Severin’s Carl Daft scared up for me also seems to bear James Kenelm Clarke’s autograph on its sleeve. Thanks, Carl.
… and yes, I do believe that this one did, on occasion, play The Scala.