The Film (4/5)
House on Straw Hill stars Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula) as Paul Martin a popular writer just coming down from the success of his first novel. He has decided to escape to the English countryside with his girlfriend Suzanne (Linda Hayden) in tow. After a short amount of time in which Paul experiences kinky sex (latex gloves included), and a strong bout of writers block while trying to accomplish his second novel, he decides to send Suzanne away, so he can finally get some work done with Linda (Fiona Richmond). Linda is his newly hired, and equally sexy secretary. At first she appears to be all about business, but as time goes on she slowly begins to reveal something deeper, and more psychologically scarring from the way she deals with a pack of rapist in a field, to the way she interacts with Paul from masturbating to his image to seducing his girlfriend Suzanne upon her return to the house.
House on Straw Hill is a hard film to describe without giving too much away. The film at times plays like a twisted and tight psychological thriller with both Paul and Linda playing a demented game of cat and mouse with one another, and at times (must notably toward the end) like an over the top violent revenge thriller. From the basic description of the film, it would be easy to write off the film as a cheap exploitation style thriller, but House on Straw Hill has loftier ambitions than that, and director James Kenelm-Clarke brings a visual style that blends a more arthouse sensibility with the films in place grindhouse aesthetic.
The performances are across the board fine for what they are. Kier is quite good in his role as Paul, even through the dubbing he manages to give a decent physical performance. That being said it's not quite classic Kier, but I will say that Udo Kier is just one of those actors whose mere presence on screen is enough to improve a film. Linda Hayden (Baby Love), manages to bring an interesting performance to the screen. Her character seems unsettled from the moment she appears on screen.
House on Straw Hill has the distinction of being one of the films from the pre-video era to be censored on it's theatrical release, and also end up cut, censored, and then outright banned during the Video Nasties era (under the titles Trauma and Expose) in the U.K in the 80's. The film certainly earns it's nasty title with it's blend of shocking violence, and over the top sexuality, and is a title that genre fans should not miss.
House on Straw Hill is preceded with a note on the transfer stating that.
"The following presentation of House on Straw Hill has been mastered from the three remaining elements known to exist. The original negative has suffered considerable water damage over the years so could only be used in instances where the other elements were missing scenes. Otherwise two vintage 35mm prints were used which over the years have faded and have been projected countless times. The color and the most egregious damage have been restored but anomalies still remain.
We apologize for the imperfect presentation but every effort has been made to preserve the feature in its uncut form before the elements deteriorate further. "
The original negative as stated elsewhere by David Gregory of Severin Films was stored in a barn by the films director was cut down, and in terribly beat up shape. Therefore, to get an uncut version of the film an assembly had to be made utilizing 2 theatrically run prints (including one provided by the folks at Diabolik DVD). The film is understandably not the best looking film ever released to Blu-ray, but looks substantially better than any prior release of the film. Obviously, detail is improved drastically from prior editions. However, colors vary wildly depending on the source with a blue green hue happening throughout the film. There is quite significant amount of print damage going on, but that is to be expected all things considered, and flesh tones fluctuate throughout the film, but are rarely accurate. That being said what we have here is quite likely the definitive restoration for House on Straw Hill for this generation.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track in English. The audio similar to the video is workable, but far from perfect. The dialogue throughout comes through clean and clear, but there is a good degree of hiss and popping on the track.
Let me be very clear about this, if you are going to buy the House on Straw Hill Blu-ray get it now. The first 3,000 copies contain the extremely fascinating, and well done documentary Ban the Sadist Videos on a third disc, and aside from the fantastic Blu-ray feature film you are getting on the first disc, this third disc is almost worth the price of admission as well. It is a fantastic 2 part documentary on the Video Nasty craze in the U.K. it is an extremely in depth look into this look into horror movie history, and should definitely be seen by genre fans anywhere. Also, included on this third disc is a 10 minute featurette called Censors Working Overtime which deals with a few of the same things, but also deals with how things have come since the Video Nasty-era.
As far as extras pertaining to House on Straw Hill itself we get a commentary by director James Kenelm-Clarke and producer Brian Smedley-Aston. The commentary is moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, and goes into a lot of depth with the film and it's production.We also get an interesting interview with Linda Hayden who gives us a career overview, before discussing Straw Hill (which she has an obvious distaste for). We also get the films theatrical trailer.
House on Straw Hill effectively combines the worlds of the revenge thriller and a deeply sexual psychological thriller. A grindhouse type affair with some blatant arthouse sensibilities. The A/V restoration from Severin Film is far from perfect, but it is quite possibly the best this film will ever look. The extras both those directly pertaining to the film, and the extra documentary Ban the Sadist Videos make this a package that has to be HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.