Severin Films // 1976 // 84 Minutes // Rated X
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // October 28th, 2013
Nothing is left to the imagination!
While a "Video Nasties" list is inherently ridiculous, if such a thing is to exist, a film like House on Straw Hill is made-to-order for inclusion. Sleazy and occasionally incoherent, this is pure exploitation with a sour high-minded chaser.
Literary sensation Paul Martin (Udo Kier, Mark of the Devil) has found blazing success with his first novel, but is having trouble completing his second. Beset with hallucinations involving blood and knives, plus general anxiety over his sophomore effort, Paul is drinking heavily and is at wit's end. He hires a typist, Linda (Linda Hayden, The Boys From Brazil), who turns out to be an attractive, but strange, young woman. When she's not typing Paul's clumsy-sounding erotic fiction, she's busy masturbating in front of a picture of some man, committing crimes, and insinuating herself into Paul's life.
Whatever could her story be?
Well, "story" isn't really the strong suit of House on Straw Hill, any more than "story" was the strong suit of The Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, or many of the other notorious exploitation films of yesteryear, many of which, like House on Straw Hill, wound up on the infamous British "Video Nasties" list. This is a film chock full of violence and perversion; its only real reason to exist is to show sex scenes -- some pretty rough -- and terrible stuff happening to people at the business end of sharp objects. By the time of the big "reveal" at the end, you might find that the biggest surprise is that there's anything at all to reveal.
It's a fairly sloppy film, but it's fun. Both Kier and British sex symbol Fiona Richmond, who plays his sometimes-lover, were dubbed, but she still looks great, and he...well, he's Udo Kier, he's got those crazy eyes and that haunted look. The film's attempts to be a psychological thriller don't really pan out, but it's sleazy and fun in the ways that only '70s films could be sleazy and fun.
Severin's edition of House on Straw Hill offers up a pretty strong package.
Before the film, there's a warning about the image. Being an exploitation film, House on Straw Hill wasn't exactly carefully preserved, and as the text crawl explains, the original negative suffered water damage, so could only be used for scenes that weren't available in the other sources. Those other sources were a pair of vintage 35mm prints that had been projected many times and were faded.
Despite pulling elements from different sources, all imperfect, the image here doesn't look half bad. Had they not included the pre-film warning, I honestly wouldn't have thought twice about it; it's not a great image, but I've seen far, far worse, particularly from older exploitation films. I'm not going to bother talking about color, depth, or anything like that. It doesn't look great compared to what you'd expect to find on a Blu-ray, but it looks very good when considering what Severin had to work with. Surprisingly, the audio track is quite clean; there's a bit of hissing and some damage, but it doesn't lack clarity.
Supplement-wise, we get a fun commentary with director James Kenelm Clarke and producer Brian Smedley-Aston, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott. This is a really fun track; the two keep the conversation lively and have a good deal of fun watching the film. We also get a 2003 interview with the film's star, Linda Hayden ("An Angel for Satan," a nod to her role in The Blood on Satan's Claw), who really has nothing good to say about the film, but has lots of interesting stuff to say about her career making horror and exploitation films in the '70s. The set also includes a trailer and a DVD copy.
A limited run (3,000 copies) of House on Straw Hill includes a bonus disc, and it's an excellent supplement. Ban the Sadist Videos is a terrific 2006 documentary about the UK's infamous "Video Nasties" list, and the bizarre censorship laws enacted in the '80s for home video releases. Since it's a limited run, I don't know what the availability is like, but I've included a link to Severin's page in the sidebar for those interested. While the film is a bit so-so, the bonus disc puts it over the top as far as a recommended purchase.
Severin's put out a great package for a skeevy film.
Review content copyright © 2013 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* 7.1 Master Lossless Audio (English, 4)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated X
* DVD Copy