When gorgeous young French model Ann-Marie (Penny Irving) appears naked in public, she is snatched away by her new boyfriend, Mark E. Desade (Robert Tayman) and hurled into the secret women's prison run by his parents - a disgraced prison governess (Barbara Markham) and a blind, senile judge (Patrick Barr). Now she and her fellow inmates face the starkest of choices - submit or die. But Ann-Marie gambles everything on a third option - escape...
Spoilers follow ...
- House of Whipcord review by NP
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‘This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment ….’
Penny Irving plays Ann-Marie Di Verney, a gullible French model living in London. She is picked up by Mark E Desade (Marquis Desade?), who shows absolutely no sign of being anything other than a wrong ‘un. As he drives her to meet ‘his mother’, she is frightened by his wayward driving and he tells her to go to sleep – which she does! Her innocence is over-played, but Irving nevertheless convinces as someone who truly does not deserve all the truly appalling, and unlikely, things that happen to her (‘First we will kill your vanity, then the rest follows of its own accord,’ she is told at one point).
Of the Pete Walker directed ‘sexploitation’ films I have seen, this is my favourite. It is focussed, features some great central performances (stalwart Sheila Keith is horrifyingly realistic as sadistic warder Walker) and contains a truly disturbing sense of growing hopelessness – a feeling that turns out to be mostly justified.
She is taken to a private prison, a secret place run by Margaret (Barbara Markham) who was fired from her earlier job running an all-girls’ school after one of her pupils - a French girl - killed herself (in truth, it was Margaret who murdered her). She and her warders are dangerously and passionately insane, and now run what they call this ‘private clinic’ away from the eyes of the public. As latest inmate Di Verney (guilty of flaunting her body) is also French, Margaret is intimidated by her presence and determines to have her killed.
To have people imprisoned and punished for lack of morals by ‘respectable’ authorities who turn out to be offenders on a far greater scale is too perverse to be taken seriously as a wholehearted statement ... or is it? It did cause some offence for its ‘oppressive right wing tone’ on its release. As a horror film, though, it all works terrifically well and superbly played by all. Having said that, Di Verney’s friends (including ‘The Flesh and Blood Show’s Ray Brooks) – who are desperately trying to track her down throughout – are dwarfed by the larger than life prison staff.
Although the death toll is shocking, and the location throughout stiflingly austere, I maintain the most frightening thing is the sound of creaking stretched rope that accompanies each of the successive hangings.