House of Whipcord (1974)
“Their beautiful bodies defiled by the ultimate immoral atrocity!”
House of Whipcord (1974)
Director: Pete Walker
Cast: Barbara Markham, Patrick Barr, Ray Brooks
Synopsis: Elderly prison matrons take sadistic pleasure in torturing the female convicts who stray from the strict moral standards.
Despite some female nudity and violence towards women, House of Whipcord’s surprisingly sober look at an older generation’s attempted imposition of outdated moral values on a younger generation which has only recently found the freedom to express itself sexually means that it is perhaps unfairly categorised as an exploitation film. While it has all the ingredients of an exploitation movie – including the previous work of director Pete Walker, who provided writer David McGillivray with the film’s story – its subdued treatment and the better than expected standard of acting from a capable cast elevate this above its sensationalist source.
Walker started out making cheap sex movies before realising he could make more money by upping the level of his work slightly and combining female nudity with 60s-style gore. A more typical example of his early work in this genre might be The Flesh and Blood Show (1971), in which the horror elements simply seem to be a device he uses to unclothe as many women as he can. Here, though, the nudity is reined back, and more attention is paid to the woman-in-peril plot.
1970s Page 3 girl Penny Irving (Are You Being Served?) plays Anne-Marie, a French ingénue who comes to the attention of the darkly sinister Mark E. DeSade (Robert Tayman) following a topless escapade that got her picture in the paper as well as earning her a £10 fine. Anne-Marie believes she’s found the man of her dreams, but under the pretext of taking her to visit his parents, Mark delivers her to a disused prison in the wilds of the country where a blind judge (Patrick Barr – Things to Come) and his ex-prison warden wife (Barbara Markham – Sunday Bloody Sunday) mete out the kind of punishment they believe fits the crime, rather than the inadequate sentences handed out by the courts. Before she knows what is happening, Anne-Marie finds herself imprisoned under the supervision of a pair of sadistic female wardens.
While the story is pretty lurid, the writing is better than you’d expect from a low-budget shocker, and it’s clear that some thought has gone into the themes that underlie the plot. In this case, justice is literally blind as the judge is sightless and therefore unaware of the type of sadistic punishment his bonkers wife is handing out. This is clearly a condemnation of the judicial system at a time of flux, when the outlook of the incoming generation was at odds with that of the previous one, which still occupied positions of authority. For this reason, it’s no coincidence that the nominal hero, played by Ray Brooks, is a cuckold who is in the process of moving in with his lover who happens to be Anne-Marie’s flatmate.
House of Whipcord won’t win any awards, and is also perhaps too subdued to find favour with those who prefer their women-in-prison films to contain more naked breasts. Typically for Watkins, much of the lighting is so murky that, while it contributes somewhat to an oppressive atmosphere, it makes it difficult at times to see exactly what is going on. For those who like more obscure titles that offer an insight into the social mores of the era in which it was made, House of Whipcord will probably make an interesting, if minor, diversion.
(Reviewed 13th March 2012)