Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January and the “31 Days of British Horror” in March , Jules is at it again in May, treating us to the continuation of his chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.
You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Penny Irving, Robert Tayman, Barbara Markham, Sheila Keith
Director: Pete Walker
“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.”
By 1973, Pete Walker’s interest in shocking for the sake of it had seen him make a full ten films, but it was only when he formed a partnership with screenwriter David McGillivray that his vision and sense of mischief really stepped into high gear.
The first of four collaborations was House Of Whipcord, a nasty, bleak and oppressive little film that manages to transcend its micro-budget of £60,000 to deliver what it set out to do – namely, disturb the viewer.
French model Anne-Marie DeVernet (Penny Irving) is upset by her photographer boyfriend at the opening of his new gallery work, so hooks up with charming stranger Mark E. Desat (Vampire Circus’ Robert Tayman), who invites her away for the weekend to meet his parents, ex-reform school matron Margaret (Barbara Markham) and former High Court Judge and now blind and senile Justice Bailey (Patrick Barr).
Unfortunately for Anne-Marie, Mark’s parents’ family home is also an illegal prison for ‘morally corrupt’ and ‘delinquent’ young women, staffed by brutal female wardens (led by new Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith) who administer a vicious regime of corporal punishment upon their prisoners, each of whom faces guaranteed execution under their ‘three strike rule’.
Meanwhile, Anne-Marie’s worried flatmate Julia (Ann Michelle) and Julia’s boyfriend Tony (Ray Brooks) track down Mark, who while previously happy to procure girls for his mother to “correct” has now discovered the full extent of her evil, but is it too late to save Anne-Marie?
I’ll be honest, I’m really not a fan of these kind of films. If the main crux of a film is people being captured and abused for most of the run time, it’s generally not going to engage me.
Saying that, House Of Whipcord is actually very effective in many ways and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved it, I wasn’t as bored as I usually am with this kind of fare.
It’s quite unpleasant obviously, but the house itself has a real atmosphere to it, with grim cells and an improvised church hall cum canteen where the unfortunate captives are flogged across the pulpit as punishment for their second “strike”.
Barbara Markham’s twisted turn as the evil Margaret is brilliantly dark, her hatred of young women oozing out of her every pore, while her look isn’t a million miles off The League of Gentlemen’s Tubbs cosplaying as Margaret Thatcher. Truly horrific.
Her relationship with her son Mark (Marquis DeSade, get it? Yes, we get it. Subtle it is not.) is horrible too, with hints of incest layered over it. Robert Tayman is perfect as the creepy young man, bug his whole look and presence screams “wrong ‘un”, making it hard to believe anyone would go away with him. He was ideal as a seductive, evil bloodsucker in Vampire Circus, but a more regular looking actor would have been much more deceptive and convincing here.
As the main lead, Penny Irving is heartbreakingly vulnerable, but shows real strength in her performance as Anne-Marie continually fights to escape no matter the horror and degradation she’s put through.
It’s that empathy for her that makes the film’s standout scene so devastating. After catching up with the initial intro of her escaping into the cab of a friendly trucker (it’s been told in flashback up to this point), he unwittingly takes her back to what he thinks is a hospital, only for the camera to pan back as we see she’s been brought back to the house once again. It’s nightmare fuel and really takes the wind from you.
Coming over like some bizarre hybrid of Martyrs and Laddette To Lady, House Of Whipcord isn’t an easy watch, but it’s well done and fairly gripping, meaning it rises above the endless succession of similar torture-based horrors that continue to follow it to this day.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy