dir. Paul Bartel
"Cheryl, when you're older you'll realize that the body is a prison that traps and bends the natural spirit to its will."
In the decades after Psycho was released, the horror movie market was flooded with a slew of imitators. Loosely based on the life of serial killer Ed Gein, this film ignited a genuine sense of fear in the movie-going public. During this supposedly stable and sane time, citizens saw that even their outwardly normal neighbors, Jane and John Q. America, could be harboring deep and horrifying secrets. No one was what he or she seemed. Beneath the facade of a Ward Cleaver could be lurking a Norman Bates. Filmmakers only too eagerly capitalized on these fears, and the success of Psycho, to churn out the knockoffs (notable examples include: Homicidal, Dementia 13, and Dressed to Kill). As the times began a changin' in the sixties, it took more to shock an audience, and filmmakers used the Psycho motif to delve into even darker, kinkier territories. One of the kookier heirs to Hitchcock's film was Paul Bartel's Private Parts. Focusing on the theme of sexual deviation, Bartel created a horror film for the love generation.
Bartel announces the sexual nature of this film during the opening scene. A group of vagabonds: Cheryll (Ayn Ruymen), Judy (Ann Gibbs) and Mike (Len Travis), is shacked up in an apartment in Southern California. Cheryll, the youngest of the group is a teenage runaway. As Private Parts opens, Cheryll spies on Judy and Mike, who are in the middle of ballin'. Because of the ungroovy atmosphere this creates, Judy verbally assaults the peeping tom Cheryll. Cheryll soon recognizes that it's time to split. Rather than go the standard trying-to-make-it-on-her-own-in-show-business-only-to-get-dumped-at-the-bottom-of-the-porn-industry route of most self respecting Midwestern teenage runaways, Cheryll opts instead to find a room at her Aunt Martha's King Edward Hotel.
This hotel is home to all manner of colorful characters, including: a chronic drunk, a secret leather daddy priest, a crazy old woman, and the creepy photographer George (John Ventantonio). The film announces early on that George is behind a series of mysterious murders (or so it seems). Although Martha warns her to stay away from this dangerous man, the inexperienced Cheryll soon grows quite enamored of George and his creepy ways. How creepy is George? Well, after engaging in pseudo-lovemaking with a water-filled blow-up doll he's made to look like Cheryll, George injects it (through its fake vagina) with a syringe full of his own blood. This scene is enough to make Buffalo Bill cringe.
George is not the only unsavory type in this building, however. As the film progresses, it is revealed that Martha is far from sane. When Cheryll announces her interest in local boy Jeff (Stanley Livingston, whom you may remember as Chip Douglas from "My Three Sons"), Martha goes into a crazed tirade about "whores and painted women". Martha needn't worry about her niece's relationship with Jeff, however, as Cheryll, wanting an older man, will let her affections to George be known. After Cheryll discovers that George has been spying on her through a peephole, she decides to put on a striptease show for him using lingerie that he had previously left on her bed after breaking into her room. [Side note: This film belongs to a genre I have dubbed, "Movies that make you want to take a shower right afterward."] Martha is not completely innocent in all of these shenanigans, however. We will eventually learn that her history with George and the murders is far more sordid, complicated than a first glance would reveal.
Tonally, Private Parts is quite the odd duck. Despite the genuinely creepy nature of much of this film, it is not without humor (hell, look at the title). Much of the humor, of course, is of a desperately dark variety. A master of dark humor, Bartel would eventually helm the the thoroughly awesome Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul. Unfortunately, Bartel did not direct nearly enough projects throughout the course of his career. Instead, he took on acting roles in other people's films (Many people may remember him as the music teacher Mr. McGree in Rock 'n' Roll High School). Despite his small output as a director, however, it is obvious that Bartel was quite the auteur. Even a paycheck job like the Roger Corman produced car chase movie Cannonball! is not without the distinctive Bartel touch.
Interestingly, Private Parts is the only horror film that Bartel directed. Although I would argue that his comedies are superior films, he clearly knew what he was doing here. This is one genuinely unsettling horror picture. Much like the the early works of John Waters, however, Private Parts is a film that I quite respect by a director that I greatly admire, but one that I find hard to revisit.
The trailer [Warning: This trailer contains massive fucking spoilers.]:
[When deciding how to rate this movie, I realized that none of my rating pictures would suffice, so I have decided to use a knew one for this movie. From time to time, when appropriate, I will use new rating pictures.]