HOUSE OF WHIPCORD
House of Whipcord is Pete Walkers single best film. A constant theme that runs throughout Walkers films is the horror of conservative tradition and institutionalism. Walkers villains are often people from an older, more morally repressed generation who display a cruel dislike for the sexual freedom and moral laxity of modern youth. These themes find their apotheosis in House of Whipcord. As the opening title card announces: The film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by todays lax moral codes and who eagerly await a return to corporal and capital punishment ... Now unless Pete Walker makes films with a sense of moral hypocrisy that is so gaping that everybody except he is able to see it, this is clearly a dedication we are not meant to take too seriously it comes on the level of seriousness as a dominatrix who says Youve been very naughty boy and Im going to have to punish you. It is impossible to believe that Walker could mean such a dedication seriously; his sympathies throughout are far too much on the side of the people being tortured and punished.
Certainly, House of Whipcord plays like a sadomasochistic fantasy you could hardly miss it with a character unsubtly named Mark E. Desade. There is the theme of the innocent from Swinging 60s London who is suddenly thrown into a harsh environment and given a sharp wake-up call from her blithely carefree lifestyle in many ways, House of Whipcord is not too different from Wes Cravens The Last House on the Left (1972), which similarly had two Flower Children being brutally jolted out of their Love Generation idyll at the hands of three sadists. As the film progresses, Pete Walker unleashes an extraordinary cruelty. The depiction of Penny Irvings progressive humiliation has a considerable nastiness as we see her being stripped, her hair being cut, she being placed in a cell filled with straw and rats, being whipped and witnessing another girl being hung. Especially good is Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith, who gives a standout performance, projecting a cold chill as she insists: Im going to make you ashamed of your body, Di Verney. Ill see to it personally. Though House of Whipcord is on the side of Penny Irving and the other girls, one suspects that Pete Walker does sneakingly enjoy unleashing sadism even the seduction of Penny Irving by Robert Tayman in the early scenes contains a fascinatingly cruel scene where he gets her to close her eyes while he teases her arm with an ice cube making her think it is a sharp knife.
House of Whipcord is a well worthwhile film. Pete Walker evinces a grim atmosphere inside the prison. His grasp of character has never been better especially good is the blind judge Patrick Barr who is losing his faculties and has to be prodded to recite the incredibly harsh indictments by an impatient Barbara Wakeham. Sheila Keith, as mentioned, gives an excellent performance.
The only minor fault of the film is a desire to play some of it as a thriller, where Walker keeps crosscutting back to Penny Irvings roommate Ann Michelle and her boyfriend Ray Brooks in a desire to develop a thriller subplot of sorts. These scenes are not particularly well developed, although some of the cruel ironies are made to effectively play off one another later in the piece. In the cutaways to these roommate scenes, Walker also aims for a sense of black humour lines like Youre a sadist, Its like a prison here that fail to come off effectively.