BR: House on Straw Hill, The / Exposé (1976)

January 27, 2014 | By

Film: Good / BR Transfer: Very Good / BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Severin Films / Region: All / Released: October 8, 2013

Genre: Suspense-Thriller / Video Nasty

Synopsis: A novelist’s dark past materializes when a typist upsets his efforts to finish a second novel.

Special Features (BR + DVD): Audio commentary with director James Kenelm Clarke and producer Brian Smedley-Ashton / Linda Hayden Interview:  “An Angel for Satan” / Theatrical Trailer / Bonus DVD with first 3000 copies: Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005) documentary.




Notorious for being a Video Nasty in the BBFC’s original 70 and later 34 list of banned films during home video’s early days in Britain, House on Straw Hill (ultimately released as Exposé in the UK) was the second effort by former BBC documentarian James Kenelm Clarke to eke out a career in the feature film world, and what better way to undo the financial damage of his debut dud, a comedy called Got It Made (1974), then with a an exploitive thriller?

Clarke was no amateur filmmaker, and his inspiration stemmed directly from American International Pictures whose CEO, Samuel Z. Arkoff, he interviewed for the BBC profile series Man Alive in the 1975 segment “Xploitation.” Clarke also interviewed highly successful indie filmmaker and sexploitation shlockmeister extraordinaire Pete Walker, whose superb producing and organization skills he deeply admired.

After setting up Norfolk International Pictures with producer Brian Smedley-Aston and gaining financing from Paul Raymond, the renamed Exposé script was filmed over three weeks. Udo Kier plays British novelist Paul Martin, a pretentious author whose first book earned him a fat half million. Under a deadline to deliver a second work, he rents a small country house on Straw Hill with his wife Suzanne (British softcore figure Fiona Richmond, and main squeeze of the film’s financier) who soon leaves so Paul can adhere to a meticulous writing and drinking routine, and dictate his thoughts to a pretty yet rather mysterious typist, Linda (Linda Hayden).

Martin is both a creature of habit – his routine rarely enjoys any variation – and a pervert, and while nothing initially happens between author and typist, his relationship with wife Suzanne is clearly defined in the opening scene where the couple engage in a peculiar copulation involving latex gloves and angry groping. She also rides him hard which triggers flashbacks to a possible bloody killing he may have been involved with or orchestrated.

Although Linda has her own bedroom, Martin eventually makes moves on his shapely assistant whom he’s unaware has already shotgunned two rapists a hundred metres from the rented house after a spontaneous outdoor masturbation session was rudely interrupted. She eventually murders the house’s caretaker, and eventually dispatches poor Suzanne with a knife before finishing a twisty plan that a three year old could’ve guessed after the film’s first 20 minutes.

Clarke’s use of a roving, tracking, craning camera is marvelous – Exposé is a very moody, visual film with gorgeous compositions, striking colours, and sharp camerawork – and the haunting montages crafted by producer / experienced editor / 2nd unit director Aston-Smedley are superb: Martin’s past & present collide; characters separated by distance are united by cross-cutting similar actions (notably Linda’s rape with Martin poking through her bedroom and suitcase; and Linda seducing a doomed Suzanne while Martin drives around Straw Hill’s environs searching for his missing Rolls Royce).

As a screenwriter capable of structuring an engaging narrative, however, this is the product of a sophomore, if not a naughty boy far too happy fixating on boobs, blood, and beavers than taut plotting.

Richmond, a complete non-actress, is more unabashed in her scenes of posing, boffing, and fellating, whereas Hayden, known for being teasingly topless in The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), eventually disrobes, and with strategic blocking, pleasures herself to a photo of a dead man (the film’s producer!) that’s the clearest giveaway to Clarke’s facile twist thriller.

Kier is fine as a narcissistic poseur of literary greatness, and there are more than passing similarities between Clarke’s plot of a faux author destroyed by a scheming vixen and his own seething guilt and Joseph Losey’s Eva(1962), in which a feted author self destructs after a hedonistic life of booze, ego trips, money flaunting, and an affair with a scheming bitch determined to bleed his soul dry. Another film sometimes lumped with Exposé is Elio Petri’s A Quiet Place in the Country / Un tranquillo posto di campagna (1968), which deals with a couple whose recession to a remote country house leads to debauched behaviour, madness, and murderous behaviour. (Petri’s film goes in a vastly different direction, however, once everyone’s settled into the remote estate.)

In the Blu-ray’s excellent commentary track, Clarke explains the script idea stemmed from a trip to a country house, and although originally written as a Hitchcockian thriller, erotic elements were heavily augmented, with dreamy montages added in reshoots after the first assembly edit ran closer to 70 minutes than the contracted 90 mins.

Exposé is mostly mood and vulgar tease that grows tiresome when Clarke fails to deliver any meaty plot, and is more concerned with tossing in another crotch groping montage instead of exploring the psychological trickery and gamesmanship between his two intriguing lead characters.

Creatively, it’s a missed opportunity which will disappoint those expecting a film with some substance, but those expecting sex and blood-running will get their money’s worth (even though all of the film’s bloody knife-work is very phony). The filmmakers’ gamble paid off in delivering a naughty film which mandated some cuts prior to its theatrical run, and later being banned by the censor board for any home video release, but as sometimes happens when an uncut Video Nasty finally debut on disc in its original unexpurgated version, there is significant disappointment.

Severin’s attempted to at least present the most integral version of Clarke’s film (under the Straw Hill name) by creating a version from the only surviving sources: a fading negative, and two prints which have plenty of wear marks from projector run-throughs. It’s not a bad transfer, but like any attempt to reconstruct a longer version from lesser materials, there are parts were the quality is clearly archival. (The same can also be said of Losey’s Eva, which exists in a pristine theatrical version, and a beat-up longer print with burn-it Scandinavian subtitles.)

Footage culled from the negative yields sharper detail and finer grain, but there are parts later on in the film where the colours waver with fluctuating levels of green and red, and uneven contrasts for outdoor scenes. Around the 56 min. mark there’s also a section of footage – when Suzanne is picked up from the train station by Linda and is driven to the house; and after another rude sexual interlude with Martin, goes to the ground floor and begins a titillating exchange with Linda – where either the PAL to NTSC conversion is missing frames, resulting in step-like jumps whenever there’s lateral movement across the screen, or whole frames were damaged and simply dropped during the restoration due to lack of filler footage.

To add some context to this historic footnote in Britain’s eurotrash efforts, Severin’s commentary track with director Clarke and producer Smedley-Aston is a great listen, largely because moderator Jonathan Southcott covers all the bases by prompting the filmmakers to discuss their careers, the film’s genesis, production, marketing, and eventual branding as a Video Nasty.

Hayden’s displeasure with the film is also raised: the film proved more sexed-up in its final edit than intended, and Richardson received the lion’s share of billing and media attention.

The filmmakers also mention composer Steve Gray, who stepped away from his day gig as a keyboardist and wrote his first and only dramatic score. For a debut effort, Gray’s use of sparse acoustic instruments and electronics is very effective, as are his theme variations and intelligent approach to writing understated, subtle music. A real pity he never tackled further film projects.

Rounding out the disc is the film’s theatrical trailer, and an edited version of “An Angel for Satan” – an interview with co-star Hayden that appeared in Odeon’s British Blu-ray release of Blood on Satan’s Claw. It’s a decent career profile of Hayden, but the focus is (obviously) on her work in Claw, so viewers may wish to avoid watching the copious excerpts which contain major spoilers of that film.

Hayden has just a little to say of Exposé, but none of it’s good: it’s a career regret, mostly because she feels duped into participating in a film that became more explicit during production, and perhaps tarnished her efforts to find work in less exploitive films. (Hayden’s later screen appearances weren’t as explicit, but producers aware of her comfort in being topless had no problem casting her in fitted roles, such as the blink-and-its-over murder in Franklin Schaffner’s Boys from Brazil.)

Severin’s also included a bonus disc in the BR’s first 3000 copies of Ban the Sadist Videos!, a superb 2-part doc originally made by Blue Underground for Anchor’s British-only release of their 2-volume Box of the Banned sets, which is reviewed separately.

Clarke’s multifaceted career includes scoring Smedley-Aston’s production of Vampyre Orgy (1974), and producing the documentary Paul Raymond’s Erotica (1982), in addition to directing the striking yet emotionally inert Fiona Richmond in Hardcore (1977) and Let’s Get Laid (1978). He also produced Martin Kemp’s own directorial fling, the horror film Stalker (2010).

Smedley-Aston’s career in second unit initially led to producing a series of exploitive films, but his career is noted for editing Performance (1970), Squirm (1976), Blue Sunshine (1978), and Tiger Warsaw (1988).

After making an auspicious debut playing tarty creatures in Baby Love (1968) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Hayden’s career generally peppered TV and horror films, including small roles in an episode of the misanthropic Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984), and Kemp’s Stalker. An able actress, it’s believed her career remained narrow due to a restrictive contract engineered by producer Michael Klinger.

Cinematographer Dennis Lewiston later filmed a flurry of high-profile TV mini-series and period teleplays, including The Last Days of Patton (1986), A Man for All Seasons (1988), and Marilyn and Me (1991), whereas uncredited Phil Meheux, snagged by Clarke for the reshoots and nightmare montages, would shoot the director’s Let’s Get Laid before escaping from exploitation and photographing the elegantly trashy The Final Conflict (1981), The Saint (1997), and Casino Royale (2006).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan


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