Directed by Pete Walker and written by David McGillivray, House of Whipcord is a British exploitation film that, perhaps unlike its American contemporaries, lavishes… well, sex and violence.
Released in 1974, House of Whipcord focuses on Anne-Marie, a French model who drew gasps and admiration amongst her peers for being the subject of nude photographs.
Anne-Marie befriends and becomes besotted with Mark E. DeSade (see what they did there?), a young man who takes advantage of Anne-Marie’s adoration and takes her to ‘meet’ his parents.
Unaware of the incoming danger, Anne-Marie accepts the invitation and falls into a trap – Mark’s parents run a ‘moral correction facility’ and, because she has posed naked, Anne-Marie is in dire need of punishment.
Margaret, Mark’s sadistic mother, along with two female wardens, apply liberal amounts of corporal punishment on the women who dare disobey her rules – which range from not wearing proper clothes, not speaking and not eating enough of what’s given.
Margaret ‘allows’ the prisoners to break the rules twice, but the third one is fatal. On her first day, Anne-Marie witnesses a fellow prisoner stealing bread, before watching her meet her fate – death by hanging.
What follows is a cavalcade of whipping, incest, violence and sex, and I find it interesting to compare British films like Whipcord with North Americans films being released around the same time.
In the US, the horror genre was witnessing the birth of slasher films — in the same year House of Whipcord was released, Tobe Hooper released The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in the USA and Bob Clark released Black Christmas in Canada.
The films that followed were a mixture of gems and rubbish – an example of the former being Halloween (1978), and the latter, perhaps the endless Myers-sequels that came after. Not only did the early slasher films re-invent the horror genre, they created – and rather cemented – the concept of the ‘Final Girl’.
As the years went on, and more derivative slashers filled screens and eventually VHS rental stores, the films became more and more focused on conservative values. Take Friday the 13th as an example: the poor youths couldn’t even drink or have sex without promptly meeting the business end of Jason’s machete.
With House Of Whipcord, Pete Walker gives us a very different kind of film. The first striking difference is the Final Girl — instead of seeing Anne-Marie’s victimisation then her salvation (or death), here we are almost given a reverse.
We first see her as he is running away from the facility, and being saved by a truck driver. The plot then rewinds to the beginning and we see Anne-Marie and Mark meeting, but halfway through the film we realise that Walker has thrown us a curve ball – Anne-Marie might not end up saved like we all thought.
Secondly, you might think that House of Whipcord mirrors the ‘sex=violence’ pattern established in North America and, to a certain degree, you’d be correct. But unlike approving of and even perhaps even championing the actions of Jason and his villainous counterparts, here the audience is wholeheartedly united against Margaret and her desire to punish female sexuality.
Thus, the film ends up making a case against right-wing / conservative ideas – though you have to stick until the end to get that satisfaction!
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