/ DVD. BFI.
J. Warren rose to fame during a frenetic five year period in
the second half of the 1970s, when he made some of the nastiest,
sleaziest and most entertaining low budget horror films around
- Satan's Slave,
and Inseminoid. But a decade earlier, he's
started his career with a couple of sexploitation films. Nothing
unusual there, but unlike Pete Walker and others, Warren didn't
much care for the genre (although his horror films are not exactly
lacking in gratuitous nudity) and so dropped out early on.
The first of these films was a frankly ridiculous melodrama
called Her Private Hell, made for infamous producer Bachoo Sen.
This film tells the tale of Marisa (Lucia Modugno), an Italian
model who comes to London to work and finds herself in with
a bad lot. We first see her employer Neville (Robert Crewdon)
contemptuously leering at her as he denies her a changing room
("she'll have to get used to it"), which
might've set alarm bells ringing right away with less gullible
girls, but Marisa strikes a pose, takes her clothes off reluctantly
(she's supposedly a fashion model, so again: alarm bells) and
then - for reasons not made entirely clear - moves in with photographer
Bernie (Terence Skelton) - who also has two other girls living
with him. Maybe that's what the modelling world was like in
To cut a long, and often incoherent story short, there's a lot
of jealousy, hints of criminal activity and the shock when incredibly
tame nude photos of Marisa appear in an equally tame looking
skin mag from 'the continent'. It seems that Neville has been
selling nudie shots, using the fashion studio as a front for
his nefarious activities. Things come to a head, then fizzle
in crisp black and white, Her Private Hell
looks surprisingly good, and as a slice of watered-down Sixties
decadence, it's not without its moments. Warren does a solid
job as director – the film certain belies the tiny budget
and even survives the casting of people who couldn’t speak
English and so had to be re-dubbed later. And it’s one
of the last gasps of British (s)exploitation’s serious
dramatic pretensions – in the 1970s, softcore sex was
strictly a knockabout comedy affair.
As a sex film, it seems tame even for the time - there's only
a smattering of nudity and even less sex, while the moralising
tone and air of seediness make it seem like a bland version
of the 'roughies' coming out of America at the time. This version
had most of what little nudity there was (a few tame topless
scenes, included here as an extra) cut by the censors, hypocritical
and out of touch as ever (they’d passed pubic hair in
‘serious’ Swinging London movie Blow Up
a year earlier, but were still butchering allegedly less important
films for showing far less). So as erotic cinema, it’s
a non-starter, and the claim that it was Britain’s first
narrative sex film seems dubious given the existence of earlier
melodramas like The Yellow Teddybears, which
surely qualify for that title just as much as this.
As a 1960s time capsule, Her Private Hell is
certainly of value – it’s probably no more representative
of Sixties reality than anything else made at the time, but
the look, feel and morality of the film are a fascinating of
what people thought – and perhaps hoped – the permissive
society would be like. But for fans of either Warren or British
sexploitation (or both), it’s more a curio than anything.
Regardless of how good the actual film might be, as with all
BFI Flipside releases, this new edition is pretty essential
stuff. Aside from the unlikely but very welcome appearance of
the film in a new HD transfer – and honestly, who ever
would’ve expected that this film would ever appear in
a pristine version from the BFI? – it’s packed with
amazing extras. There are two short films from Warren –
Fragments, from 1966, previously appeared on
the essential Norman J. warren box set from Anchor Bay, but
Incident, shot in 1959 but not completed until
2007(!) makes its debut here. Both show an art house, French
New Wave influence and it’s intriguing to think about
what Warren might have done if the breaks had taken him in the
direction of ‘respectable’ cinema rather than exploitation.
Also included are the afore-mentioned topless scenes from the
US version and silent screen test footage with Udo Kier! That’s
right – the mighty Udo was tested and rejected for this!
There’s also a nice featurette with new cast and crew
The main extra – certainly the most important –
is the cracking half-hour documentary Anatomy of a Pin-Up,
a 1971 look at the world of Penthouse models.
It includes appearances from cult movie stars Francoise
Pascal, Julie Ege and Katya
Wyeth, and shows Penthouse head honcho Bob
Guccione in full flow, as well as featuring amusing vox pops
and some predictably barking rubbish from the ghastly Barbara
Cartland. It’s a battered old print, but fascinating and
wonderful – arguably worth the price of the disc alone.
Add to this a 34 page booklet that includes contributions by
David McGillivray, and you have quite the package.
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