Excellent British horror directed by Pete Walker, who gave us the cannibal house-wife flick 'Frightmare'. This is film where the horror is stripped of all fantasy, gone are the seductive vampires and Gothic trappings of Hammer Films. Pete Walker shows us the terror that exists in warped minds and extremist attitudes of people, specifically those who take a hardline on capital and corporal punishment. House Of Whipcord poses the question, what if certain individuals nominated themselves as judge, jury and executioner.
Shamelessly marketted as an exploitation flick, this film has more polemic pulsing in its veins than most contemporary horrors. The nudity that is on display is comparatively mild to todays standards. Even films made in the early 70s like Lust For A Vampire and Tower Of Evil had more naughtiness than this grim masterpiece.
And it certainly is grim. It begins by setting the tone: extremely dark night, loud torrents of rain, a girl hitches a ride with a lorry driver who's appalled to see her half-naked, mutilated and traumatised. Most of the film is then told in flashback: a model, Penny Irving (sporting a ridiculous French accent) is caught breaking decency laws in open public, the pictures show her cavorting nude in front of disapproving old women. It's all just a laugh to those young, hip swingers. Then Irving gets picked up by a skinny weird bloke called Mark E. Desade (get it?) who takes her to see his parents. Unfortunately for Irving, these parents are a couple of monsters running their own prison for morally wayward young women.
The acting is top-notch, especially from Sheila Keith who plays a butch warden - very nasty - soon to become a Pete Walker regular. Barbara Markham is also very good as the psychologically unhinged Mrs Wakehurst, the woman running the prison. Penny Irving is also brilliant, regardless of her dodgy accent - you end up caring about her and unlike so many other genre pieces you are never sure of her fate.
Pete Walker's other films also play on social issues, but none of them have the sheer power of Whipcord. A true classic from a great period of British cinema, easily up there with Hammer's Twins Of Evil and The Wicker Man. In the u.k House Of Whipcord has just been released in a coffin-shaped dvd collection called The Pete Walker Collection, other titles included are Die Screaming Marianne - lame, Frightmare - very good, House Of Mortal Sin - Good, The Comeback - ok... but Whipcord is the ace in the pack. They are all nicely restored and all contain director's commentaries. Definitely worth the cash.
House Of Whipcord is a dark and gritty classic, where there are no heroic characters or happy endings. While never as horrible as French macabre piece, Irreversible, it does take you on a journey which is sometimes an ordeal. More Ken Loach than Terrence Fisher. Whipcord is unforgettable and hardhitting as, some argue, cinema should be. A horror masterpiece.