The film starts towards the end of the story, when a young French model, Anne-Marie (Penny Irving - a former Page 3 girl and a regular secondary character in 70s sitcom 'Are You Being Served?') is found in a beaten and distressed state by a lorry driver.
We are then shown the events leading up to this, and discover Anne-Marie had been arrested for being photographed naked in public, and given a fine as punishment. We also realise she isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the box. She's chatted up by a creepy, humourless young man, who pretends to slice her face with a knife, and is called "Mark E DeSade". Failing to pick up any warning signs, she lets him take her to "meet his parents" out in the middle of nowhere. And it's only after she's been taken inside a prison-like building with barred windows, high walls and bolted doors, locked in a room and ordered to strip and shower, that she starts to think something might be wrong.
Mark's parents are an elderly, blind, former judge, and the over-strict former governess of a correctional institution, who lost her job after the suspicious suicide of an inmate. They have taken it upon themselves to run their own 'house of correction' to issue the punishments they feel the justice system failed to provide to certain young women. Mrs Wakehurst is clearly mentally unstable, confusing individual inmates with the woman who cost her her job, and ordering cruel punishments and even death sentences. But it's Sheila Keith who steals the show with her superb performance as one of the two warders, appearing cold and stern, but with just the occasional tiny glimpse of compassion.
The film opens with an ironic written statement, where it dedicates itself to "those who are disturbed by today's lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment." The elderly judge appears to symbolise the justice system - blind and going senile, wanting to reform the inmates, but unaware of the cruelty and executions that are taking place. Despite the lurid title and poster/cover art, the film is not as sleazy as you might at first expect. Yes, there is female nudity, implied lesbianism, implied incest, and questionable gender politics. But the film is more than just an exploitation flick. It makes satirical comments about the British justice system and society's views. The story and the script are actually interesting and entertaining, and (apart from Penny Irving's embarrassing French accent) the acting is very good. It is also well filmed, with a great location (Littledean Jail in the Forest of Dean) providing a wonderfully creepy atmosphere. There is even a subtle streak of dark humour running through it.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. It is quite dated in many ways - not just the fashions, but also the attitudes, and some minor plot points that might not be so easily accepted by a modern audience. I'll admit some of these dated aspects did make me laugh out loud a few times. But overall this is a more intelligent and better made film than first impressions would have you believe. 3.5/5
* This is one of two articles written for The Moon Is A Dead World's "Viewer Vomit" challenge - featuring reviews from different writers about the same film. Check out what they, and other reviewers, have said about House Of Whipcord HERE.