The House on Straw Hill aka Exposé – UK, 1975

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‘Haunting intrigue… a shock to your system!!!’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe House on Straw Hill – also known as Exposé and Trauma – is a 1975 British psycho thriller feature film written and directed by James Kenelm-Clarke.

It was released domestically in March 1976 by Target International Pictures (who also handled Dawn of the Dead), retitled Exposé, to give it more lurid appeal to a repressed British public craving more naughty Confessions

The Norfolk International Pictures production stars Udo Kier (Mark of the Devil; Blood for Dracula; Flesh for Frankenstein), Linda Hayden (The Blood on Satan’s Claw; Madhouse) and 1970s sex symbol Fiona Richmond. The latter’s involvement was the result of financial backing from her then boyfriend, Paul Richmond, the publisher of the UK’s bestselling ‘top-shelf’ magazines such as Mayfair and Men Only.

Reviews:

A relatively rare example of a film where both the original and alternative titles are equally strong, Exposé is the only British film to have been branded a video nasty; as Xtro never actually made the list. Udo Kier (Mark of the DevilBlood For Dracula; Flesh For Frankenstein) plays Paul Martin, a tortured novelist struggling with that ‘difficult’ second novel.

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He escapes to the country and hires a secretary, Linda Hindstatt (Linda Hayden) to do his typing for him (it was 1975). Linda makes herself useful around the house, in the rare moments she isn’t frigging furiously.

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Then, on her first excursion out of the house, she is molested by local youths played by Karl Howman and legendary stuntman, Vic Armstrong. Having shot her assailants, the tension is ramped up even more when Martin’s girlfriend, Suzanne, played by famous British sexpot, Fiona Richmond, arrives…

Anything in which Udo Kier appears is usually worth a watch, however bad, and it’s a great shame he appears here dubbed within an inch of his life; he is, however, as enigmatic as ever.

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Linda Hayden looks stunning, though has since declared she regrets making the film – it’s certainly ‘full-on’ in terms of the sex and violence but it’s difficult to imagine this was added at the editing stage, appearing, as she does, throughout. Indeed, Hayden appeared again with Richmond in 1978 sex comedy Let’s Get Laid so couldn’t have been too phased by these erotic encounters with her co-star. It’s perhaps fair to acknowledge that Hayden was miffed by the tackier Exposé retitle and the fact that all British publicity focused entirely on Fiona Richmond.

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Considering the vast amounts of smut, the story is still extremely engrossing, part Straw Dogs, part High Tension but still with a dash of black humour; Howman sports a ‘I am a Vampyre’ t-shirt, a playful nod to Smedley-Aston’s VampyresDespite the credits ‘introducing’ Richmond, her acting masterclass did not lead to breakout mainstream fare – she also starred in Fiona (1977) and Let’s Get Laid (1978) for the same producers – but her sex scenes are plentiful, a treat if you can ignore her fake tan orangey appearance. Naturally, the role did her top-shelf career no harm at all.

Cuts were required to the British version to achieve an ‘X’ rating, both the rape of Linda and the bloody demise of Suzanne proving too much for the sensitive censors. The book Martin dictates to his secretary ranks alongside Stephen King’s book within a book in Misery as one of the worst ever devised and perhaps everyone can take some solace that it is interrupted by the lust and mayhem.

The oddly heavy, oppressive atmosphere (possibly simply a by-product of Kier staring and sweating so much) and the lingering shots and pacing add to the tension. It was remade by Martin Kemp in 2010 as Stalker and stars… Linda Hayden, clearly hating it so much, she tried twice, just to make sure!

Daz Lawrence and David Flint, HORRORPEDIA

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House on Straw Hill was released on 8 October 2013 on Blu-ray courtesy of Severin Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.67:1. The following text introduces the release:

‘The following presentation of House on Straw Hill has been mastered from the three remaining elements known to exist. The original negative has suffered considerable water damage over the years so could only be used in instances where the other elements were missing scenes. Otherwise two vintage 35mm prints were used which over the years have faded and have been projected countless times. The color and the most egregious damage have been restored but anomalies still remain.

We apologize for the imperfect presentation but every effort has been made to preserve the feature in its uncut form before the elements deteriorate further.’

Blu-ray extras:

  • Audio Commentary with Director James Kenelm Clarke and Producer Brian Smedley-Aston, hosted by producer of the 2010 remake Jonathan Sothcott
  • ‘An Angel for Satan: An Interview with Actress Linda Hayden’: A brief featurette that includes archival material, including snippets of scenes and promotional materials from her films.
  • Trailer
  • The first 3,000 include a bonus DVD with three documentaries: ‘Ban the Sadist Videos!’ Part 1 and 2, plus ‘Censors Working Overtime’.

Buy: Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com

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Buy: Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

“Clarke directs this derivative screenplay (a diluted solution of Psycho and Straw Dogs) with more economy than one expects from the genre. But Richmond demonstrates little of her renowned sexual athleticism, and the decorous, carefully placed sexual encounters are as predictable and passionless as ever.” John Pym, Time Out

“A lot of House on Straw Hill is actually surprisingly effective, though the film devolves into standard issue B-movie revenge fare in the final moments when some secrets are revealed …The film has a stifling ambience which helps set a suitably claustrophobic mood, and the performances are unexpectedly well done.” Jeffrey Kaufman, Blu-ray.com

“Kier is revoiced rather blandly but still manages to look intense (Richmond is revoiced as well, but she really has little to say of interest in the scenario), and Hayden – who has disavowed the film – is more than his equal. The finale is rather improbable, but satisfying in the abrupt downbeat manner of some of the better examples of seventies genre cinema.” Eric Cotenas, DVD Drive-In

Expose-fiona-richmond“The photography is gorgeous throughout, with a glorious summer enhancing the beautiful surroundings. Despite its low budget exploitation birth, it’s clearly a film shot, edited and scored by a very talented crew, with the tight claustrophobia of the indoor scenes contrasting with the almost ethereal beauty of the English countryside to great effect.” Andy Essex, The Digital Fix

“As in any dramatic work, action reveals character. Here the sexual interactions between the characters disclose a common bedrock of psychopathology.” Budd Wilkins, Slant Magazine

Censorship:

The film sparked controversy due to graphic scenes of sex and violence and was heavily censored by the British censors for its cinema initial release. A pre-cut submission (a shot of blood streaming down Fiona Richmond’s legs was removed) was passed ‘X’ after 1:39s of further BBFC cuts.

In March 1984, the uncut Intervision VHS release was added to the Director of Public Prosecution’s list of banned video nasties. It was the only British film on the list. Exposé was re-released on DVD in the UK in 2002 and 2006, with 51 seconds of censorship cuts.

In the US, it was released theatrically by Entertainment International Pictures as Trauma but cut by seven minutes, and then twice on VHS: the first in cut form as House on Straw Hill by New World Home Video, and then uncut by Media Home Entertainment as Exposé as part of their “Private Screenings” line (with the genre hilariously mislabeled “Adult Comedy”).

Cast and characters:

  • Udo Kier as Paul Martin
  • Linda Hayden as Linda Hindstatt
  • Fiona Richmond as Suzanne
  • Patsy Smart as Mrs Aston
  • Karl Howman as Big Youth
  • Vic Armstrong as Small Youth
  • Sydney Knight as Smedley
  • Brian Smedley-Aston as Simon Hindstatt

Filming locations:

Hatfield Peverel, Essex
Little Baddow, Essex

Thanks to Melon Farmers and DVD Drive-In for some details of releases and censorship cuts.

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