House of Whipcord (1974)

Viewed January 4th

In this satirical sci-fi horror from director Pete Walker, a French model living in England is sent to a sadistic private prison for the crime of appearing nude in front of a camera. 

It may be useful to compare House of Whipcord with another film, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The Kubrick film, released two years earlier, is a work of high cinematic culture that embraced certain tropes of exploitation films in order to offer its complicated critique of the British justice system. House of Whipcord, on the other hand, is an exploitation film that embraced tropes of high-minded culture to offer its own, less complicated critique of the same system. The formula worked better for A Clockwork Orange. Despite flashes of envelope-pushing female nudity and a violent killing at the end, House of Whipcord seems like it should be more unhinged and tawdry. Its ideas aren't that interesting; it should embrace its lowness and give the viewer a blast. There's something domesticated about it, as if it was afraid of going to the prison depicted in the film.

Perhaps comparing Pete Walker to Kubrick is unfair but exploitation films can be as meaningful and impactful as anything else. They interface with the viewer's body in more visceral ways and their minds in more unconscious, less overtly intellectual ones. Walker's Frightmare, for example, holds up pretty well in comparison; it doesn't feel as self-conscious about its making as A Clockwork Orange.  And as with Frightmare (which, intriguingly, offers a conservative rather than liberal social critique), the standout element here is actress Sheila Keith. There might be another version of this film told from the perspective of Keith's supporting character (ironically named Walker), that would work better. That unhinged element is there waiting in the glint of her eyes.