House On Straw Hill, known to U.K. view­ers as Exposé, has the rep­u­ta­tion of being pure exploita­tion film­mak­ing.  It was decep­tive­ly mar­ket­ed in the U.K. as a vehi­cle for sex­ploita­tion queen Fiona Richmond and earned addi­tion­al noto­ri­ety when it made it onto the English government’s list of “Video Nasties” in the ear­ly ‘80s.  That said, any­one who actu­al­ly watch­es the film will quick­ly learn there is more to it than just sex and shocks.  In fact, you could argue it is the exploita­tion film ver­sion of an art­house flick.

On paper, the sto­ry­line seems to be pure exploita­tion: high-strung author Paul Martin (Udo Kier) has relo­cat­ed to a pri­vate home in the coun­try to work on the fol­low-up to his suc­cess­ful debut nov­el.  At his request, a typ­ist named Linda (Linda Hayden) is sent to han­dle dic­ta­tion duties for him as he com­pos­es his text.  Unfortunately, Paul has a few prob­lems: to begin with, he’s bedev­iled by visions of death that aggra­vate his para­noid sen­si­b­li­ties.  It turns out Linda also has some hid­den demons of her own, with the whole pot bub­bling over when Paul invites his per­son­al play­thing Suzanne (Richmond) to join them.  Cue the art­ful­ly deployed sex and vio­lence…

The sur­pris­ing thing about House On Straw Hill is its abil­i­ty to exude an air of classi­ness as it explores some glee­ful­ly seedy mate­ri­al.  Director/writer James Kenelm Clarke gives the film the kind of glossy, dreamy look you might asso­ciate with films like Picnic At Hanging Rock and effec­tive­ly uses the English coun­tryside as an iron­i­cal­ly idyl­lic back drop for the film’s sex, blood and head-games.  He and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Dennis Lewiston com­pose their cam­era setups care­ful­ly, chore­o­graph­ing the fram­ing and move­ment with an unusu­al lev­el of care.  Even when the action gets intense­ly bloody or sexed-up, it’s always off­set by an ele­ment of sophis­ti­ca­tion in how it is com­posed.

Clarke is  aid­ed nice­ly by (uncred­it­ed) sharp cut­ting from pro­duc­er Brian Smedley-Aston that lends the film an ele­gant sense of flow.  Smedley-Aston also worked with future Bond flick cin­e­matog­ra­pher Phil Meheux on Paul’s stun­ning, hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry night­mare moments, which have the blend of mor­bid and baro­que sen­si­bil­i­ties that you might expect from a vin­tage gial­lo film.  One can imag­ine Dario Argento being impressed with the­se sequences.

Finally, House On Straw Hill is anchored by two sophis­ti­cat­ed lead per­for­mances from Kier and Hayden.  Kier proved in films like Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and The Story Of O that he had a unique abil­i­ty to appear sleazy and cul­tured all at once — and he brings that debauched yet aris­to­crat­ic bear­ing to the fore here.  Hayden has the more chal­leng­ing role: not only is demand­ing in terms of sex and nudi­ty but it also requires an abil­i­ty to be sub­tle and ambigu­ous.  She han­dles all the demands with skill and makes it look effort­less.  Compared to those two, Richmond is just there to serve eye-can­dy — but she acquits her­self well in this depart­ment and is mem­o­rably unin­hib­it­ed in her bed­room sce­nes.

Simply put, House On Straw Hill earns the cultish place of affec­tion it occu­pies in the hearts of Euro-cult fans with its dis­arm­ing­ly grace­ful blend of kink and style.  Any stu­dent of sexy shock-hor­ror should con­sid­er it required view­ing.

House Straw Hill Trailer from Severin Films on Vimeo.