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House On Straw Hill UNCUT Blu ray review
on 9 November 2013
Despite holding the crown as the only UK produced picture to be labled a video nasty in the ridiculous furor that plagued the home video industry in the early 1980s, House On Straw Hill or Expose as it was then known still remains relatively obscure known only to die hard fans of 70s Brit horror and those curious with the whole video nasty phenomenon who had the sole intention of seeing all of the movies that made the DPPs final list of 39 banned titles. Without its banner headlines and inclusion on the list i'm sure House On Straw Hill would have completely disappeared without trace.
The set up is simple with paranoid and quite obviously troubled first time best selling author Paul Martin(German star Udo Kier of Andy Warhol's Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula fame)fresh off the overwhelming success off his first novel(which he may have or not have written) who has hit a serious case of writers block with his new work of art despite residing away from it all in a secluded picturesque cottage. Even a few bouts of kinky hanky panky with his attractive girlfriend Suzanne(70s sex starlet Fiona Richmond)do nothing to cure his dilemma maybe even working as a distraction so she is subsequently ushered away to leave the master at work. Added to that the pressure of a tight deadline and high intensions from the publisher his agent hires him a secretary and typist with whom he can dictate his follow up work. The arrival of Paul's new hired help at the local village station station in the form of the beautiful Linda(The Blood On Satan's Claws Linda Hayden) spurns the interest of two local ruffians(80s TV favourite Karl Howman and future stuntman and Harrison Ford body double Vic Armstrong) who are soon dispatched by Paul utilising some very impressive fisty cuffs. Paul drives Linda back to cottage keen to carry on his work but it soon becomes clear that she has a darker ulterior motive which I won't give away here as its the main plot twist to the whole movie. The arrival of the two hoodlums who Paul humiliated back in the village sparks the onslaught of violence and also proves how unhinged Linda's character is.
Marketed as an erotic thriller or a "sexy horror film" as quoted by its producer and director team of James Kenelm Clarke and Brian Smedley-Aston(Vampyres) in the included audio commentary, House on Straw Hill comes across as a slightly muddled but farly effective little film with obvious nods to genre classics with one murder scene in particular being a completely plagerised(but far more gruesome) take on the shower scene from Psycho. Surprisingly well made for such a low budget production with attractive cinematography of the unspoilt English countryside and strong performances from the lead players the film also has a stifling claustrophobic atmosphere but is let down slightly by a rather standard B movie revenge conclusion. The incredibly hard working Udo Kier(with a looped over dubbed voice as the producer considered his German accent to strong)is excellent as Paul Martin who constantly seems to he on the verge of a nervous breakdown complete with nightmare visions involving an unseen figure at a window and a blood splattered bath. Although it is claimed that Linda Hayden considered this to be the low point in her movie career she is perfect here as the secretive Linda. I particularly like the scene towards the conclusion when she practically finishes Pauls novel for him as he dictates his words she takes control of the room constantly contradicting everything he says before then revealing her true identity. The remainder of the cast are also good. Fiona Richmond is given little to do but act as a voluptuous clothes horse but does this particularly well and also handles a rather intimate scene with Linda Hayden admirable. British viewers will also have fun seeing Brushstrokes star and Jiff floor cleaner advertiser Karl Howman in a complete change of character as an evil rapist who gets his comeuppance at the hands of Linda. This much touted uncut edition is indeed violent in content but no more so than its contemporaries such as Straw Dogs which is another title this movie was obviously inspired by and whos rape sequence was far stronger than what is on display here. Not a great movie or even a good one for that matter, House On Straw Hill still remains far more interesting down to its history than the movie itself but will undoubtedly find its way into the collections of fans who have yearned to see a watchable uncut edition for years.
Practically impossible to see for decades in its complete form, adventurous video nasty collectors had to make do with either the censored DVD edition which emitted around a minute from the relatively short running time or one of the bootleg VHS rips which mostly verged on unwatchable. Now thanks to US outfit Severin, House On Straw Hill has been released to Blu ray for the first time and in its full uncensored running time. Unfortunatly Severin's AVC encoded 1080p transfer is highly imperfect but does come with a disclaimer before the feature starts stating that the original negative was so badly damaged that segments had to be taken from two other 35mm prints (which also contained anomalies) to create a composite which is what was used to produce the transfer we have here. Framed at 1.67:1 for the most part this looks pretty worn with huge amounts of damage and age related wear and tear throughout the running time. The image is often plagued by scratches, dirt and debris. Heavy print damages is evident in almost every scene with tram lines that go from the top to the bottom of the image and splices and telecine judder also rear their ugly heads. The main offender though is how inconsistantly the transfer handles colour and contrast. The contrast changes from one scene to the next sometimes dark and other times blown out. The colour is the main offender constantly fluctuating from frame to frame even in the same scene often giving a strang strobing effect. All of this points to how different the three negatives used for the restoration were and I suppose it is to Severin's credit that we do have something that is in a vaguely watchable state even if it is far from steller. On a plus point the image can at times look fairly filmic with some nice enough detail and textures on display which are best realised in the bright outdoor scenes. Interiors have a tendancy to look a little soft and ill defined but on the whole are acceptable enough all things considered. It is safe to say that without a doubt this more than likely the best this movie will look unless a pristine vault print is unearthed and as the elements used here are only going to deteriorate more it is a good thing Severin have saved this hard to see title for posterity.
Severin have remained authentic to the original sound design and graced House On Straw Hill with a lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono mix. There isnt alot to say really. The dialogue whether its the perfomers own or the over dubbed voices of Kier and Richmond are always understandable. There isnt alot of environmental effects but what is there is mostly ok if lacking in any real frontal push. Music reprodution is fine and reproduced with some fidelity even if it is a little shrill and depth is occasionally apparent. As with the picture the sound does exhibit abit of damage in the form of the odd pop and crackle and there is a slight amount of background hiss.
Severin have released House On Straw Hill in two flavours. The basic release is a Blu ray and DVD combo pack that contains a great audio commentary with director James Kenhelm Clarke and producer Brian Smedley-Aston. As you could probably tell from the double barrel nature of these two names these guys are pretty upper crust but the commentary is very informative,going into great detail on production, the cottage set and how they still own alot of the props and furnature, cast decisions and some interesting insight into how certain special effects were produced(you may never see the throat slashing scene in the same light again after listening to this). I found it abit hard to take though when one of the men likened some of the cinematography to David Lean! Strangely neither man could comment on why Udo Kier's character chose to wear surgical latex gloves during the numerous sex scenes. Maybe it just seemed a good idea ay the time.
Next up is an interview with Linda Hayden that runs a mere 4mins.45secs. It is very brief but contains some good archival material from her films. A trailer is also included but only in standard def 480p.
The other version of this Severin have put out is a limited edition of 3000 units release which contains a third DVD. Now this is well worth searching out as it contains the wonderful Ban The Sadist Videos documentary. This two part docu is a fascinating look back to the early 80s when the video nasty scare was in full swing. Giving both sides of the story from the video shop owners and VHS distributors who believe it or not were prosecuted for supplying these movies to the public through to memebers of the BBFC at the time including then head James Ferman and other moral guardians.
House On Straw Hill isnt a great film or even a good one for that matter but has garnered a good cult following over the years and it does have some effective moments and a solid 70s exploitation atmosphere. Fair play to Severin for doing their best with obviously poor elements and releasing this fully uncut and uncensored even if the quality is far from steller. Severin knew this but they also knew that fans would want to see this regardless of how good the transfer quality was. Add to the deal a good selection of supplimentary materials and you have a highly recommended package. Please also note that this Blu ray is region free and playable on all players worldwide.