One of the prosecuted films of the legendary British “video nasty” list, House on Straw Hill was banned in its home country for 30 years. It was finally released in 1997 under the titles Trauma and Expose, with 57 seconds cut. Severin has restored the film (in a way) to its original uncut version and like a lot of these older films that caused a controversy upon release, House on Straw Hill is tame by today’s standards. Looking at its debauchery and violence within context, it’s easy to see why it was considered questionable material by the British Board of Film Censorship. I mean, parents just don’t want to let their kids see Udo Kier get a blowjob (no matter what decade it is).
The niche market of restored B-horror films of yore given shiny releases on Blu-ray may be getting tapped out. Fans get excited over these releases and Severin always delivers a packed disc with great features, but c’mon…how many times can you re-watch something like House on Straw Hill? There’s historical significance, but we gotta be real and admit some of these films are just not that good.
House on Straw Hill is okay one time through. Kier stars as novelist Paul Martin, who’s being weighed down by a crippling case of writer’s block. He’s also suffering from recurring paranoid hallucinations and nightmares that gallons of alcohol can’t keep at bay. His first novel was a tremendous success, so the pressure is on for his follow-up. The old sophomore jinx, she’s a bitch alright.
He hires a secretary, Linda, to help take his dictation (and his dick!) and together they move into a remote cottage. The secretary is played by Linda Hayden (Blood on Satan’s Claw), whose presence quickly causes friction between Paul and his girlfriend, played by ’70s sex-symbol Fiona Richmond. Jealousy, rampant sex, and a whole lotta masturbating go down in that little cottage. Hayden doesn’t get much to do in the film as the vixen until it’s final minutes. Before that, she just grinds around in bed a lot and takes her top off (which she’s wicked good at). Richmond is great and displays a surprising spark of viciousness. Kier, as always, is strangely hypnotic.
The German genre hero also gets to bust out some action in House on Straw Hill. One day when him and Linda go into town, two gross street toughs (one wearing a shirt that reads “I’m a Vamprye” – possibly a nod to producer Brian Smedley-Aston’s previous film, Vampryes) start harassing her. Paul kicks the shit outta them, fixes his hair, and jumps behind the wheel of his luxury car. It’s one of the few moments in Kier’s career that can be labelled “badass.”
There are a lot of effective things in this film – particularly the suffocating atmosphere and rural sense of entrapment. The film is dragged down, however, by its lack of momentum and dreary scenes scattered within. Psychologically tense scenes between Paul and Linda are followed up by bland ones of Linda staring out the window or looking at a picture. These boring parts really take away any energy the film had previously built up.
Overall, it works though. As an erotic-psychological thriller, House on Straw Hill is fine – even if the eroticism is ham-fisted at times. It’s not a film I’d watch again or throw on while I’m folding laundry, but it’s worth one go round.
Severin Films presents House on Straw Hill in 1080p HD in 1.67:1 widescreen. They busted their ass restoring this film – utilizing the only “three remaining elements known to exist,” which is stated in a disclaimer at the start of the film. The three sources are distinct too, some looking far worse than others. Damage is pretty consistent throughout the film but this is the best fans could’ve hoped for.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds in better shape than the video looks. The dialogue and score by Steve Gray are clear throughout, with only minor pops and scratches.
The audio commentary with director James Kenelm Clarke and producer Brian Smedley-Aston is fairly entertaining. The two discuss loads of topics, not just concerning the film but also the British film industry at the time. Their accents are soothing.
A brief interview with Linda Hayden is also presented, featuring clips from her other films and promotional materials. She considers House on Straw Hill to be one of the biggest mistakes of her career.
The REAL bonus only comes in the first 3,000 copies of House on Straw Hill. It’s a DVD that contains the full-length documentary from 2006 Ban the Sadist Videos!, which covers the turbulent time of British censorship and the video nasties. The disc also features “Censors Working Overtime,” a brief look at censorship today in the UK.
So if you absolutely must own House on Straw Hill, snatch one up quick to ensure you get a copy of the fantastic bonus DVD.
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