Saturday, November 1, 2008

Private Parts (1972)

...aka Blood Relations

Directed by:
Paul Bartel

Paul Bartel was already starting to make a name for himself with the shorts THE SECRET CINEMA (1968) and NAUGHTY NURSE (1969), but he came into his own with this creepy, one-of-a-kind cult hit. It's a completely engrossing and unpredictable mixture of sleaze, art, horror, black comedy and sexual eccentricity that you won't soon forget. Plucky, cute teenager Cheryl Stratton (Ayn Ruymen) is hiding out in Los Angeles after stealing money from her parents and running away from her home in Cleveland, Ohio. She's thrown out of her apartment by a bitchy girlfriend and decides to hunt down her estranged Aunt Martha Atwood (Lucille Benson), who runs a hotel in a seedier part of town. Martha (whose favorite pastime is going to the funerals of strangers to photograph the corpses!) is hesitant at first about letting her niece stay, but finally gives in under the condition that Cheryl stay put and not go snooping around. Naturally, Cheryl defies her wishes, gets the keys (kept on a nail hooked up to a powerful electric charge!) and begins entering various rooms while the tenants are out. Each apartment seems to tell a different, lurid story. For instance, there's a clergyman (Laurie Main) whose room has a large lit-up statue of Jesus... and an even bigger (hidden) alter dedicated to muscle boys. An incomprehensible drunk and a senile old lady wander the halls. A vacant room conveniently located between Cheryl's room and the communal bathroom has peephole access. And then there's George (John Ventantonio); a tall, dark and handsome, but very peculiar and voyeuristic young photographer who lives upstairs and likes to take pictures of people having sex in a public park. Cheryl and George seem to share a mutual attraction, but is he the one who's been spying on her and leaving letters and provocative clothes in her room? Furthermore, is he the one who's been murdering just about any outsider who sets foot inside the hotel? And what happened to Alice, a young woman whose pictures adorn many walls but has seemed to disappear into thin air?

PRIVATE PARTS is full of unconventional people doing unconventional things and likewise will most appeal to people who like watching unconventional characters in unconventional films. There's some nudity, some sex (including a memorable bit involving a water-filled sex doll and a syringe), some gore (a clumsily-edited decapitation, an impalement and a body thrown into a furnace) and plenty of effective black comic moments to go around. The hotel atmosphere is about as seedy as it gets; atmospheric, evocative, eerie and colorfully threatening thanks in equal part to effective production design and Andrew Davis' sharp cinematography. The dialogue is well written and the performances are also very interesting. Ruymen, 25 at the time, is very convincing in as the inquisitive, troubled teenager, and Benson (amusingly playing the aunt with the authority of a prison matron), Main and Ventantonio all contribute to the film. Stanley Livingston (of TV's My Three Sons) has a less-showy supporting role as a "normal" guy who becomes interested in Cheryl and wants to take her to a rock concert.


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