Sunday, 15 August 2010

Exposé / The House on Straw Hill / Trauma

Having secured a £500,000 advance for his best-selling debut novel, Paul Martin (Udo Kier) is feeling under severe pressure as he attempts to pen its follow-up. After a move to an isolated farmhouse fails to help Paul overcome his writer’s block, his increasingly desperate agent suggests that he might hire a live-in secretary and dictate the work to her. Linda (Linda Hayden) duly arrives, but soon proves to have ulterior motives of her own...

Known as Exposé and The House on Straw Hill in the UK and as Trauma in the US, this 1975 thriller is notable for being one of the few home-grown entries on the list of once-banned “video nasties”. Yet it’s also of a piece with the over-represented Italian and Spanish entries in being that fateful combination of independently made, low-budget exploitation film. (Looking back at the video nasties affair, one of their unanticipated consequences was facilitating the major studios in taking the same kind of control over what played on small screens as they had long enjoyed over the large one.)

As with many of the video nasties, much of the reason for Expose’s banning can be attributed to being in the wrong place at the wrong time: True, it features an awkward, ambiguously presented rape scene, that recalls one of its more obvious influences, namely Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. True, it’s got a fair bit of nudity and kinkiness, with Paul fetishistically donning rubber gloves before having sex and Linda being prone to masturbating wherever, whenever the mood takes her. True, there’s a fair bit of violence and gore.

No glove, no love

But in all this there’s nothing that could really be considered obscene nor likely to deprave and corrupt, with this fact all the more evident when you consider that the film had been in circulation since 1976 without attracting much unwanted attention. (As distinct from wanted, given the opportunistic casting of mid-1970s glamour queen Fiona Richmond as Paul’s girlfriend.)

It’s not a bad little film of its type, with writer-director James Kenelm-Clarke displaying a decent understanding of the mechanics of suspense and shock and making good use of his chosen (and necessarily limited) set of interior and exterior locations to convey his character’s isolation and claustrophobia.

The denouement may be a bit predictable for some. But rather than seeing this as a weakness, I’d be inclined to take it as something that follows logically and consistently from Kenelm-Clarke’s approach.

Basically the film’s unwritten rule seems to be that if something is mentioned or not mentioned there is a underlying reason for this that will eventually be explained. Paul’s telling one interviewer that his first novel took him three months to write and another that it took six months actually matters, as does Linda’s failure to discuss her ex-husband after intimating that she is no longer married.

It’s something that further shows Kenelm-Clarke was out to make a ‘proper’ film, rather than just relying on Richmond’s presence to bring undemanding punters in, as unfortunately would would be the case on their later collaboration, Hardcore.

It also helps here that Richmond isn’t required to carry the film, as unfortunately was also the case with Hardcore. It’s not that she lacks presence, even compared to co-stars Kier (who was dubbed, though this doesn’t detract particularly from his performance) and Hayden (who soon after disowned the film, although curiously she makes an appearance in the current remake). Rather it’s just that she has the wrong type of presence.

Classic Hayden

Classic Kier

Classic (?!) Richmond

British TV comedy and advertising regular Karl Howman appears as a local youth. His “I am a Vampyre” T-shirt references Larraz’s film Vampyres, on which the multi-talented Kenelm-Clarke had worked as composer. (Oddly Kenelm-Clarke doesn't provide the music here.)

yo soy vampyre

Giallo fans may want to compare Exposé to Sergio Amadeo’s Amuck, with which it has some distinct similarities, co-incidental or otherwise.

1 comment:

delicreep said...

Severin Films was planning a restored DVD of Expose, but unfortunately, the print they originally had was too degraded to use. There's been no update as to whether or not other materials have been found, or if they are even searching.