SEAT AT THE BACK

SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Monday, 15 December 2014

"COOL IT PETE!" The day I played cat and mouse with an exploitation film director from the 1970s down a neon-lit tunnel - and survived! 'COOL IT CAROL' & 'HOUSE OF WHIPCORD' @ BARBICAN

 

* Some spoilers may lurk under the groovy 70's flares of swinging London youth below ~ watch before reading! *


THIS REVIEW IS RATED 'X'

Heading to the cinema screen at the Barbican, on an unusually quiet, Saturday afternoon, I left the underground station and headed outside; into the bitter cold (shock therapy!). The narrow pavement to the Barbican cinema runs down a neon-lit tunnel that echoes with the roar of passing cars and - being dotted only with hidden entrances to multi-storey car parks - can seem quite lonely; threatening even, at times. To fans of 70s exploitation cinema that is!

I headed into the tunnel with just one man walking alongside me, who had left the underground station at the same time, and we matched pace. He was tall and clad in a quite sinister, long yellow raincoat, with a purposeful stride and an overly pointed - possibly even poison-tipped - umbrella to match the image of a spy about town from some 70's suspense flick. Or a character straight out of a sexploitation movie from the same period; on his way to a local brothel maybe, or an underground babysitting agency in Soho, or a so-called 'health farm' in, err - somewhere just outside Soho (and probably just around the corner from Greek Street).

 

We tagged each other in a subliminal cat and mouse game most of the way along the tunnel (well - in my head that was what we were doing anyway). I felt like I should know who this towering man in the raincoat was (hence the constant glancing over my shoulder, to try and remind myself). I wondered too if he was starting to think that I was a bit odd, crossing over the road (because our pace was so evenly matched as to be a little bit pavement faux pas - you should always keep at least one paving stone apart, so I did the honourable thing) then back over again (because, well - I was on the wrong side of the road!).

The man's eyes never wandered from their setting of dead set ahead (suspiciously so). To the outside world, we were strangers. But I felt a connection. And that connection turned out to be that we were both about to watch some 70s-style flagellation on the big screen. I probably shouldn't say that out loud.
 
As we turned the corner, the man I was still walking alongside stopped in front of a huddled group outside the cinema. I turned round to see him signing autographs to waiting fans in  split seconds of well-accustomed pen scrawling. This man was the legendary Pete Walker, I realised - director of the very movie I was about to watch up on the big screen and also of the movie I had seen the week before, in glorious clicking 35mm (as part of the Barbican's Pete Walker season) no less. 'Cool it Carol!' (1970) had played last week. It had been fun, but my date with Carol was over - this afternoon it was time for a visit to the 'House of Whipcord' (1974).

Bizarrely, in the very crowded Barbican foyer, the screening of Walker's cult horror coincided with a kids face painting party (there's nothing more scary than that). Seasoned cult cinema veterans stepped carefully over the under-10s sitting cross-legged on the carpet to find their way to the bar. I half expected a burst pipe and a drenching, like the party in Hammer House of Horror's 'The House that Bled to Death'. But no, and I ordered a cheese roll.


 
The man himself - almost 40 years on from the height of his infamy  in the 1970s - oozes effortless cool and even a sense of quiet disdain for the world around him. But there's also warmth and affection. Once a director - always a director! The fact his films endure to this day and remain, still, some of the most controversial of that decade (Schizo, Frightmare, The Flesh and Blood Show . .) make clear  that this is a man with a reputation to keep. He's also just turned 75, but looks closer to 60, or less.

Organised by Cigarette Burns, purveyors and spreaders of cult filth and horror on the big screen, often in glorious 35 or 16mm, as originally screened - the Pete Walker season is a packed one, with few cinema seats remaining on the two screenings I went along to. Of the films I saw, Cool it Carol! is a sexy fish out of water (or out of East Midlands - Oakham, in Rutland - and straight down to London) comedy with downbeat overtones, and House of Whipcord is a gothic stylised chiller; an old dark house mystery with a cruel edge (or even, dare I say it - a fair amount of kitschy camp as well). The two films may seem intercity train journeys apart. But both are meditations on isolation and corruption with a little dash of madness (or at the very least - recklessness).

 

Walker, in his Q/A, is pretty dismissive of suggestions of ulterior motives in his movies other than to make the best of a low budget and get the crowds snapping with that hook on a line promise of sex, titillation, horror and sex, and titillation, and horror. I think that just about covers the basic masterplan that Walker had back in the day! However, he does now think that Cool it Carol! was one of his better films, one that: "worked pretty well, really".
  
Scriptwriter and filmmaker David McGillivray was a partner in perfect crime with Pete Walker and together these two came up with some of the most revered 70s psycho-sexual classics of the decade that taste forgot (Whipcord, Frightmare, House of Mortal Sin, Schizo) but it was Murray Smith who scripted Carol (and, for the sake of my own self-satisfaction in mentioning it - probably the best 'Hammer House of Horror' episode; Children of the Full Moon in 1980).

Full moon in the Hammer House woods . .
 

Walker admits that McGillivray's motive, most of the time, was to come up with scripts that "wound people up the wrong way". A reason - the director states - that he also doesn't have much interest in working in film today; because there's little left to shock audiences with.
 
McGillivray, Walker also alleges, became fed up with churning out those low budget shockers they worked on so well together and wanted to make a more serious name for himself - had more ambition in the films he wanted to make. Walker; less so - perfectly content to work on small budgets and up the sleaze, or dish to the dirty macs, instead.



But Walker is mistaken to think that his (and especially McGillivray's scripts) have failed the test of time. If anything; their films have gained a relevance that is as strong today as it was back then, as well as an increasingly devoted fanbase and mainstream critical approval (in the same way that Jess Franco, another low budget exploitation craftsman, once derided by the mainstream, ended up being revered by many of those who had initially refused to believe that low budget exploitation cinema could ever be so poetic, or serious).

House of Whipcord was basically a satirical dig (dressed up in old dark house horror) at moral campaigners, politicians and judges (establishment figures basically) who were more breathless with corruption and seething perversions (hey - allegedly!) than with the morally righteous air they pretended to breathe.

 
 
The old senile judge in House of Whipcord (a dithery, sad and deeply pliable Patrick Barr as Justice Bailey) along with his partner (struck-off former prison warden Mrs Wakehurst, played with a pursed-lip cruelty by billowy Barbara Markham) and their equally demented helpers, deal justice - at their very own correctional institute for girls, to those whom they believe may have evaded it. The judgment is death by hanging or worse (if you are a British film censor) - punishment by whipping.

At the time the film was released, of course, capital punishment was a bigger issue in this country than it is today, where the very idea in modern Britain seems unthinkable to most. Back in 1973, it had only been abolished (for murder) less than ten years previously.



  
The idea of moral campaigners dealing out ridiculous bans and punishments reached a head, in terms of film censorship, only a decade after Whipcord's release - with the arrival of home video in the early 80s, and VHS tapes flooding stores without certificates or often any cuts (the dawn of the 'video nasty').

A backlash from the Thatcher government and moral campaigners such as Mary Whitehouse saw a list of banned and illegal titles drawn up - the video nasty list (films that supposedly - according to the Director of Public Prosecutions) violated the Obscene Publications Act and (of course, ludicrously) led to films such as the corrupting likes of Dolly Parton musical 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' being confiscated in dawn raids (a confiscation justified on grounds of good taste perhaps, but not the explicit content!).



Today, most of the films from this morally corrupt list (and some of the films are still provocative, if important, horror cinema - such as I Spit on Your Grave, which still suffers from extensive UK cuts) are available on disc with an 18 certificate (or less) and no problem.
 
 
Blue movie - BBFC approved!
The next few decades saw worse cuts to certificated works in the UK on films that didn't even make the headlines, but got trimmed anyway - until the dawn of the next century saw a relaxing in censorship and the releasing of more controversial movies to HMV shelves everywhere (including Romance, 9 Songs, Shortbus and, more recently; Nymphomaniac, Stranger by the Lake and Blue is the Warmest Colour - all released uncut and explicit, without fuss).
 
But the cynical spirit of House of Whipcord (a trademark of McGillivray, whether in exploitation or not) still festers in real life. A recent amendment to the 2003 Communications Act in the UK, announced this month, restricts the portrayal in adult movies of certain practices viewed by those paying for online adult entertainment (and so regulates the UK adult filmmaking industry itself) such as: spanking (beyond mild level), abusive language in the heat of sexual passion, bondage, 'facesitting' and even (the apparently mythical, in this instance) 'female ejaculation' - woah!

In other words - many of the practices that Fifty Shades of Grey has already brought to the suburban mainstream. But hey - talk about it, buy the underwear range, even read about it and watch the big budget movie version of all the above acts in simulated widescreen. But don't do it yourself (on the screen) for real; for top shelf entertainment purposes - all those whips and watery stuff in an actual porn movie are now way, way off limits.
 
 
Quite how these new laws, that also ban 'water sports' - of the kind that don't involve a swimsuit, or, to be more 'Countdown conundrum' about the whole thing; the practice of 'urolagnia' (and so my writing career has reached a new height of referencing - Countdown and urolagnia in the same breath!) will affect the portrayal of such acts in mainstream cinema, including a movie revered by film critic Mark Kermode; 'Taxi zum Klo' (1980 - now 18 rated, but once rejected at the BBFC) that has one man, ahem - 'aiming' into another's mouth, from an admittedly impressive distance, is any censor's guess.

It'll probably still be kept on the Amazon shelf though, as 'art'. Because film censors differentiate between art and the desire to arouse. No really - they actually do! Remember: no serious film lover ever gets 'horny' watching smut.

Especially not at the Soho Curzon watching this year's Nymphomaniac - I can vouch for that.  The elderly gentleman sitting next to me opened up a bag full of cheese sandwiches and munched throughout all the real sex and trauma on screen.
There was me, and  a woman sitting right in front of me, with the most terrible hunger rumblings mid-orgasm (of the cast on screen) thanks to this chap and his 3 hour lunch. I bet there were even worse distractions in the cinemas that showed House of Whipcord in the 70s though. Actually, talking of strange distractions at a screening of House of Whipcord - more on that later!

 
  
Of course, arthouse cinema gets away with so much more than the films of sleaze pioneers (especially those in the 70s who were always being whipped in public by institutional campaigners) such as Pete Walker who just wanted to corner the market in exploitation filmmaking but ended up being predictably cut to shreds by film censors in the process - or at least warned off from going too far. House of Whipcord, a quite tame gothic horror by today's standards, and despite the lurid title, back in the day had its more salacious scenes of whipping tamed down on order of the BBFC (cuts since restored in the UK).

But that was often the case with 70s exploitation - the titles and poster art promised so much more than the BBFC would ever have allowed you to see; the naughty bits were shot and inserted (quite literally) for screenings in other countries less prudish and shown in the good old 'continental' version that today's videotape collectors know and love!




For Cool it Carol!, what could have sounded like a truly sleazy plot of a naïve East Midlands girl heading down to London with her boyfriend and being led into various degrees of prostitution, comes across today as almost redemptive (despite the often scuzzy and threatening scenarios) than restrictive (to freedom as an individual) - or even very arousing, and there's a clear link with the real life Christine Keeler story evidenced in Murray Smith's script (a story that reached a peak in 1963).
 
Keeler was a model and showgirl who was offered topless work (just like Carol, in Walker's movie) in London clubs before infiltrating the loftier peaks of British society through her affair with government minister John Profumo (who she first met at a pool party at a Buckinghamshire mansion owned by Lord Astor). This affair nearly brought down the Conservative government at the time when Profumo, despite his numerous denials of any improper relationship, suddenly confessed all - and resigned.

 
 
Throughout the runtime of Cool it Carol!, we witness a succession of old wealthy politicians, young lotharios, huffing and puffing businessmen (even jumping on live bed shows when getting carried away) and celebrity entertainers/ DJs lust after young women and entertain (or more likely - get entertained by) them in wonderfully seedy Soho clubs of the likes that have since been demolished to make way for luxury flats. Carol, of course, works her way up from seedy apartments to society events and - eventually - luxury penthouses with those views across London to kill for.

We don't actually know for sure, a lot of the time, what is even happening to Carol when she gets inside a luxury limousine to go to a hush-hush appointment. Some of it so secret, not even her boyfriend - Joe, is allowed to go along with her; despite him being as good as her pimp (though he probably sees his job as more her protector, being only ever naïve, and always more innocent, than she is).
 
 
With the recent panic on the streets of the UK about 70s DJs and what they once got up to (a few guilty as charged, others caught up in the over-reactionary net of justice - House of Whipcord style) it's clear that when The Smiths sang about 'Hanging the DJ', they could have been predicting the approaching wave of suspicion towards those one time big guns of the airwaves who were clearly deflecting attention from their predatory sexual appetites by dressing up in silly jumpers, big flairs and sporting impressive beards (allegedly!).
 
But for both House of Whipcord and Cool it Carol we shouldn't get too deep and outraged at the moral ambiguity and falls from grace depicted onscreen - they exist as primarily crowd-pleasing 'cheek (butt) and chop (cleaver)' films (imbued with some real filmmaking  class, style and lashings of wit).

Justice - Whipcord style!
 

House of Whipcord finds a young French girl (Penny Irving of numerous cheeky comedies, cult TV and sexy films from the 70s fame: Are You Being Served, Carry on Dick, Big Zapper, The Professionals . .) who has been arrested and released for posing topless, abducted by the bohemian, groovy son (oozy Robert Tayman, who played the Count in Hammer's Vampire Circus, as Mark E. Desade - geddit?)  of a struck-off psychotic prison warden mummy and taken away to a large gothic house in the countryside where those proven guilty are kept in dungeons and whipped - or even hung, if they're lucky. The abducted girl's best friend, Julia (Ann Michelle) investigates, ignoring her own boyfriend's words of caution, and eventually ends up in the dungeon herself. It can only end in tears, welts and whippings (or a few gentle licks of the string off camera, if the BBFC are watching).

 

Characterisation is kept minimal and the film is hardly about any of the people taken to the house - instead it's a meditation on loneliness; of the blind judge, the warden with an axe to grind and her son, who all spend their time recapturing failures of the past to try and earn some kind of redemption. But this is a family seeped in chaos and corruption and even a lack of any real organisation - they rarely come across as entirely primed to carry out the justice they serve (often the trials are complete chaos and the judge on the verge of quitting!) and you can see why the warden was once struck-off from her proper job; she's hopeless. And most of the rest of the cast she imprisons get to escape anyway - but not all.
 
The son, Mark, is basically just a syphon of family abuse and neglect (and portrays the role with pathos) and the tragic nature of this storyline is focused less on the outsiders to the old gothic house in the gorgeous British countryside (who are treated with the same contempt by the filmmakers as the mad family from hell itself treats them at times) than it is chastising those who dare challenge the liberal excesses of early-70s Britain.
 

 

Cool it Carol! (like House of Whipcord) portrays the corruption of society as being far more dictated (and practised) by those with seemingly higher moral standing. We follow young and innocent Carol (though not as innocent as you may think - we find out later that's she's no virgin, despite living in Rutland!) from her East Midlands home working the petrol station/ local shop forecourt and flirting with some of the boys as she fills their cars up, to the bright (red) lights of London; her boyfriend, Joe, all starry-eyed with dreams of success and car dealership dreams.

Joe is permanently screwed up a lot of the time and intimidated by the new world he's found himself immersed in. Carol - just takes what comes her way; is always in control, if occasionally getting out of her depth. For her, it is what it is: "It's only a fuck - I just can't believe people pay good money for it", she tells Joe, before truly taking the bulls by the horn. Oh yes - Carol's in control all the way; until (I think) she finds real love. And it's not for Joe.

 
 
On arrival down in the Big Smoke, it's clear that the only kind of dream followed by either Joe or Carol will be the kind decided by rich (and horny) establishment types - whether in the world of politics, photography, music or entertainment (even Stubby Kaye as bloody awful comedian Rod Strangeways counts!). Jess Conrad, a pop idol of the time, playing Carol's earliest seducer - Jonathan, keeps looking towards camera, finding the best sharp cheekbone angle to hit and director Walker admits, in his Q/A, that it was hard to stop him.
 
Conrad's performance, though, is central to the film's more agonising themes of possession, seduction and loss (here - the possible loss of a 'girlfriend' to another lover; more desirable). DJ Pete Murray also appears in a club scene. This is swinging London of the 70s - all permed hair, massive flares and young girls skinny dipping in indoor swimming pools, all lit up by glitterballs and observed by smart-suited celebrity types. Few DJs would appear in such movies as this today, of course (although - we best add - Pete Murray's appearance is entirely above board; all he does is smile and sip at a cocktail and look like he's wondering why the hell he's in a movie like this!).


 

For Carol, the start of her decline, or rise - Eliza Doolittle style; or even Radley Metzger's arty erotic masterpiece The Opening of Misty Beethoven (both based - Misty Beethoven more loosely - on the George Bernard Shaw 1912 play; Pygmalion) starts off with a few nude glamour shots for a few extra quid while poor Joe just stumbles at every hurdle. He'll never be a salesman or an entrepreneur - he hasn't got the patter or the body to do what Carol does best (though, of course, Robin Askwith, who plays Joe, subsequently used both patter and body to good effect throughout most of the rest of his acting career).

The sinister side of prostitution isn't avoided. For a light-hearted romp of a comedy, there's a whole lot of threat going on. One especially creepy night sees Carol used (or even if she is using them - still being taken advantage of), one after another, by a group of randy, mostly old men (paying a lot of money for the experience - little of which in the end even goes to Joe and Carol, but to the man with the contacts in high places who arranges the whole thing and who was Carol's first professional screw on arrival in London).

Early VHS release (pre-cert.co.uk)

Before long, Carol is the toast  at every wealthy celebrity sex party around (especially the more exclusive haunts of London; Chelsea, Sloane Square . .) and being passed around (by exclusive invitation only) to establishment figures with a lot to lose if the dalliances ever make the headlines - one reason why even Joe is often never told who Carol's most important clients are.

The young couple go from having nothing - to staying in luxury penthouses and living in the epicentre of polite society, through impolite nights and secret lunchtime trysts. But are they really happy? It's a story told with more warmth and care that you may imagine from the plot description above; with lots of caustic wit and an unsettling amount of matter-of-factness. But the decision in the end, from Carol and Joe, of what to do with their lives may surprise the viewer - if not bemuse. 
 

 

 
The darker scenes in this movie can be tracked across the scenes around London, but they start even before Joe and Carol leave home - back in Oakham. Here, we witness a colleague of Joe's, from the local butchers shop, chop off his finger in a matter-of-fact way; a clear signpost that Walker's more famous, arch and macabre horror films are fast approaching in the years ahead. But the darkness threatens, corners - and mostly drowns out - a lot of the comedy, throughout.

The London locations are initially glitzy and full of the archetypal bright lights on arrival, but this idealism is cleverly and swiftly swamped by Carol and Joe ending up in seedy flats (including their own) with a single mattress to perform on (in a memorable scene of the young couple's involvement in a cheap  pornography loop, we get barked direction from a seedy filmmaker: "Slow down Joe, slow down - we've still got lots of reel left") and sparse apartments with rotten wallpaper - gothic in its own way; like the old dark house or shadowy asylums that Walker later utilized for his now more famous horror films.

Sleazy glamour shoot in 'Cool it Carol'

The fact that all the squalor that Carol and Joe descend into, eventually reverses itself and ends up in a drenching of fortune, glitz and glamour makes the abandonment of the lifestyle - worked up to from a life spent looking up at the stars (if only Pete Murray) and dominated by dreams of 'making it' in London - even more of a shock to the system.
 
The characters of Joe and Carol are so memorable, because they are played with a natural vitality and enthusiasm by stars Robin Askwith and Janet Lynn. Robin Askwith (in an early role, pre-'Confessions of . .' franchise) - allows Joe to be a deliriously sympathetic character full of puppy dog enthusiasm and hangdog bemusement when things start to go wrong, instead of a caricature of a jack-the-lad with no hope, as he could have become.

And Janet Lynn as Carol, who made only a few movies, turns in such a defining, enigmatic and spirited performance of zany sexuality and crumbling innocence that it often takes the breath away - the fact she didn't go on to become a major star is almost heart-breaking.


Carol catches the train to London . .
 
'Cool it Carol!' also thrives on stand out set-pieces that are hard to forget. Right at the start of the film, Carol and Joe are on a train up to London - Carol seduces Joe and she hardly minds when train staff spy on their lovemaking in the carriage (indicating that Carol is as much a manipulator as manipulated) - the bewitching charm of the film's lead actress date-stamped from the outset.
 
And then, a heartrending and exceptionally well directed and scripted scene, later in the movie, where Joe allows Carol to sleep with a rich client for the first time in the well-to-do man's swanky (relatively - compared to their own) flat - (maybe hired for just such an occasion - not somewhere to actually live in) as Joe waits in the kitchen. Carol and her client, very matter-of-factly, head into the bedroom and we don't see what happens, but instead follow Joe as he paces up and down, finding things to do, such as use the kettle to make the tea and lay out the cups and saucers on the table for when the other two return - sounds of muffled groaning getting increasingly frenzied as he potters around.

 
 
This film is as much about loneliness as it is about the seedier side of London in the early 1970s - and as a portrait of that side of life, the sights are nostalgic and poignant to a modern audience; whether in scenes set outside a busy Sloane Square station or a train journey across orange sunset-tinted unspoilt countryside on the way home (or was that orange sunset just a false memory - a short-term nostalgia, post-screening?).
  
The Cool it Carol story was inspired by a headline that director Walker spotted in the News of the World about young people travelling to London from the country to find fame and glory and instead only finding disillusionment. The film touches on that area a lot but ultimately this is a love story that focuses on Joe and Carol as the lovers in a romance (of sorts) that is left, eventually - unrealised and over (both happy, we presume - for the chance of a rekindling instead).


 
 Joe, despite the free and swinging lifestyle he initially adapts to, comes to realise that he could lose Carol to a much more successful and way cooler man about town like society charmer Jonathan whose one party stand with Carol is never admitted to him. In fact, Carol looks uncomfortable after the deed is done - maybe because it's more real than all the paid-for screwing around. More real than anything that will ever happen between her and Joe (even though their romance is one of the most real and properly charming you will see in a movie).

The  1993 film Indecent Proposal reflected on similar ideas of loss of a lover to another (for financial gain) that, like in Cool it Carol! turns into a harsh reality. Indecent Proposal even has a similar scene to the one in Carol (where Joe waits for a client to finish with his girlfriend for the first time) as we follow Woody Harrelson's character of David pacing around like a caged tiger while waiting for his partner (Demi Moore as Diana) to finish the deed with a rich businessman (played by Robert Redford). David changes his mind as the (fully approved by him) 'one night stand - for a million dollars' goes ahead -  a metaphor for real life betrayal as the whole scenario turns into something more serious; the frustration of trying to win back someone you know you have lost, to another. Indecent Proposal is a natural successor to the Joe and Carol story - what they would have been like had we followed then into the nineties! 




'Indecent Proposal': A glitzier exercise in loss and loneliness.
 
But Carol and Joe know when to get away and leave before they end up losing each other for good in an ending that some criticise for being 'too easy', but actually signifies strength and empowerment - it may not be as downbeat as we may like, but it still feels the right thing to do. Cool it Carol! is far more than a moralistic tale about exploitation of the youth of the day and almost, by the end, seems to endorse everything seedy and corrupt that the couple have been through - at least in the way they have achieved everything they have ever wanted anyway; wealth, lifestyle, even love - sort of (all symbolised by a final view from 'the top of the world'; well, from a posh London penthouse at least).

It's their decision to leave it all behind; not through moral judgement or redemption, more because they come to realise that money doesn't always bring great happiness - but it can. The point is - like the punk culture that set its sights on convention in the mid-70s, not so long after Cool it Carol came out; stability isn't all that exciting, especially when you're young. Pete Walker doesn't judge. He is - like all the best directors - a relaxed observer; letting characters tell their story best through ambiguity and indecision. You can decide how outraged you want to be - but he won't tell you.



At the Q/A after the screening of House of Whiplash, Walker admits that the press were prone to either brandishing his ideas (especially in the Whiplash story; that of a morally outraged judge and his companion punishing the wicked 'properly' because society had become too lenient) as those of either a meaning-it far righter or a satirical much more lefter! Walker didn't refute either accusation at the time, he tells us with a hint of a smile - it's what people don't know that keeps them all guessing and the interest alive.

But there's also talk, from Walker, of some disillusionment with the films he made - or rather the genre he worked in - at the Q/A. He knew that at the time of making all these movies that he was stuck in low budget horror and sleaze, maybe for life, but admits that it was also - at the time - what he wanted. It paid the bills. But directing those films - he tells us, almost wearily - could be disheartening; constantly fighting censorship and budgets and even tutoring the young actresses on set who were matched with the movie for their ability to ravish the press but had no acting experience and were prone to struggle with their lines! Ah, the perils of a British exploitation director in the 70s . . 

 

Does he know - he must know - that some (and by the popularity of this Barbican season - many) of us think that his films are some of the most wonderfully sly, decadent, and confrontational works of cinema? That his films possess a real depth of love for the filmmaking process that often reaches auteur level by having a unique branding; of being very much 'a Pete Walker movie' - clear and distinctly recognisable? Or that his films are so often filled with a beauty and love of landscape and of the cinematic frame that both haunts and  breathes life to the screen with a passion that few directors ever achieve with far greater budgets or pretension.
 
So - cool it Pete! (Even though you are slightly scary to walk along down neon-lit tunnels.) Those of us at the Barbican on this cold November's night, are fully on your side. And I'd even venture to say - we want more. Get back behind the camera, kickstart a campaign, phone David (McGillivray); get out the whips and strike at the heart of any of the political buffoons that are threatening to make this country so repressed and insular, and so boring - again.



And I know just the way to do it!


Read on. Because, sometimes in life, fate seems to deal us a tempting hand; one that some of us can hardly choose to ignore . .

A surprise awaited us all at the Q/A . . .

There's a question to Pete Walker just before the screening of House of Whipcord, from a man who tells the director that he has a message from a friend who lives at the real location where the exteriors for House of Whipcord were filmed - at Littledean Jail, in Gloucestershire, and has travelled all this way to pass this message on. Walker looks a little bemused.  I think we all do!

The man then asks the director if he will take his friend's business card and is invited down to the stage to hand it over, along with what looks like a letter. The man hurries back to his seat after telling Walker to: "Come and visit". And do what - I'm not sure. It's probably in the letter.


Walker replies, giving little away, but keeping all options open: "It's quite a long drive up there" - but seems intrigued about this friend of the man who now lives in an apartment above the jail. It all sounds like the start of a Pete Walker movie: 'Film director tricked into visiting the former set of one of his past triumphs; an old prison, after being invited there by a stranger he meets at a tribute event . .' - what could possibly go wrong?
 
But there's more. The man also tells Walker that the individual who has sent the message and lives above the old jail also runs an 'eclectic' museum dedicated to true crime. Pete Walker - come on, what more do you need? You have to make this into a movie - the time is right . . for 'House of Whipcord II'!
 



Words: Mark Gordon Palmer

HOUSE OF WALKER @ THE BARBICAN/ 2014
Starred: 'COOL IT CAROL' (screened 15th November)
. . . Introduced by Matthew Sweet
'HOUSE OF WHIPCORD' (screened 22nd November)
. . . Q/A with Pete Walker/ hosted by Jonathan Rigby.


"Oh well, just this once . . . "





 
SECRET APPENDAGE: HOUSE OF WHIPCORD 2 (Highlight area below to reveal!)

HOUSE OF WHIPCORD 2
 

A 70s exploitation film director talks at a screening of a past classic: House of Whipcord (in a post-modern twist; the film keeps its original name, and the character of the director in this movie has the same name as that in real life - Pete Walker); the success of which led to a surge of anti-corporate punishment feeling in the UK and some say killed off Tory government plans to reintroduce capital punishment, for selected more serious crimes, in 1983.

The director and the original writer of the screenplay get an invitation to a new, eclectic and invitation-only exhibition of true crime memorabilia at the lonely countryside jail where his previous film was set. Accepting the invitation, he soon realises that only he, his writer friend (with a terrible secret) and his two teenage daughters and wayward son (and his girlfriend) are the only ones there except for the museum owner, his wife and their own lusty son, back from university and with his eye on the director's twin daughters; coincidentally celebrating their 21st birthday that day.

After a night of pleasantries, fine dining, museum exploring and random copulating among the museum exhibits and jail cells, the doors are shut locked; bolted and chained, and the owner of the museum and his mainiacal wife; who lost their son to a child murderer in the late 70s (the perpetrator - a man called Marcus Sardeon, eventually released on a technicality) get out the judges wig and gavel - and whips. It's time to make sure that someone gets justice - and if it's not the right person (the child murderer committed suicide in the mid-80s) then it's the two who helped make sure that a capital punishment bill never went ahead; David and Pete. The thing is - who is judging and punishing the judgers, in increasingly horrific ways? It's time.. for House of Whipcord 2!

(With apologies to Pete Walker and David McGillivray)



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