House On Straw Hill

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This “video nasty” (released under the titles House On Straw Hill, Trauma or Exposé) came out in 1976 and shocked audiences with its graphic depictions of sex and violence. The gore in House On Straw Hill isn’t particularly disturbing on its own, even for its time, but when coupled with sex it takes on a visceral and uncanny quality. For this reason House On Straw Hill remains as unnerving now as it did back in the seventies.

However this unnerving tension does not permeate the entire film. Director James Kenelm Clarke takes a workman’s approach to his job but never manages to imbue the narrative with any palpable sense of mystery or suspense. It is only in those moments of graphic sex that erupt into scenes of violence and mutilation that the film successfully conveys a macabre terror. The correlation between kinky sex (that of a dominant and a submissive) and bodily mutilation betrays a puritanical view of human sexuality that adds a certain depth to House On Straw Hill though that depth is never explicitly assigned to any character or visual signifier.

Both the plot of House On Straw Hill and the production design are typical of low budget British horror films of that moment like Fear In The Night (1972) and Virgin Witch (1972). And like those same two films House On Straw Hill deals with a character who has only recently come to the English countryside from a metropolitan area. But Clarke’s approach to the material attempts a balance of the spectacles of sleaze and horror to almost no avail.

One of the reasons why House On Straw Hill feels perpetually uneven in tone and style is that stars Linda Hayden and Fiona Richmond are unable to flesh out their characters. The script, of course, does the actresses in the film no favors but neither does the direction. Udo Kier, the main character of the film, seems to fair better simply because there is no mystery to his character’s motives. The overall weakness of the script and the direction makes House On Straw Hill unintentionally confusing and delirious.

For all of its shortcomings House On Straw Hill likely has enough sleaze and bizarre acting choices to sustain a cult following. Fans of Udo Kier will be delighted by his menacingly quirky performance that seems to be a continuation of his work with Paul Morrissey. Mostly House On Straw Hill is interesting as a chapter in the history of the “video nasty” controversy.