Director: James Kenelm Clarke
Cast: Udo Kier, Linda Hayden, Fiona Richmond
Length: 84 min
Disks: 3 (1 BD, 2 DVD)
Label: Severin Films
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Audio: English: LPCM Mono
German horror icon Udo Kier, one of the most prolific actors in the business (210 credits and counting!) has starred in films as twisted as Suspiria, Lulu (as Jack the Ripper), My Own Private Idaho, Blade, End of Days, Shadow of the Vampire, FeardotCom, Dracula 3000, Rob Zombie’s Halloween and The Theatre Bizarre. In 1976, Kier co-starred with cult actress Linda Hayden in The House on Straw Hill (aka Exposé) an obscure “old dark house” mystery set in England’s Essex countryside. The film’s rediscovery and restoration are nothing short of miraculous.
Banned in Britain for 30 years, The House on Straw Hill is a shockingly violent and erotic tale of seduction, brutality and revenge. Udo Kier (then famous for Mark of the Devil, Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula) stars as successful novelist Paul Martin, who suffers from paranoid visions and a mysterious case of writer’s block. However, Martin is a fraud, having stolen the book that made him a millionaire and driven its author to suicide. Now the talentless but wealthy Martin must follow up with an equally impressive novel! Martin rents a country cottage in the hope of finding tranquility and inspiration. His decision to hire a drop-dead gorgeous but somewhat distant secretary, well played by Linda Hayden (Blood on Satan’s Claw, Taste the Blood of Dracula), sets in motion a chain of events that culminates in compulsive sex, debauchery and savagery. Also known as Exposé and condemned as a Video Nasty in the UK, this irresistibly sleazy potboiler from Brian Smedley-Aston (Vampyres) and co-starring the notorious Fiona Richmond—”Britain’s No.1 seventies sex symbol”—is now fully restored from the only uncut elements and is available for the first time in the US with brand-new extras. While it was believed that the original camera negative was lost or destroyed, it was found in a ramshackle barn in England and sustained so much water damage that there was some doubt the film could ever be restored. But Severin Films overcame the odds, declaring that this will be the first official uncut release of The House on Straw Hill worldwide.
In these days of HD video, it would be easy to write off this release as looking positively shoddy. But that would be a mistake, considering the state of the negative and existing prints, and what a heroic job the people at Severin did in piecing this release together from three different sources to give us as definitive a version as we are likely to see. There is age damage aplenty—with specs, scratches, hairs and other debris running rampant. Both color and grain fluctuate, depending on which film source is being used. All that said, this is almost certainly the best the film has looked since its initial release and it’s highly doubtful that a better video presentation will be released any time soon, if ever. Severin should certainly be commended for not taking the rout of degraining and filtering the restored film to death, which would have been much worse.
The mono audio track fares a bit better than the video. There is the standard age damage: minor hiss, pops and crackles, but this is not a big deal. Dialog is clear and the haunting music score comes over with pleasant fullness.
Bonus Features are sparse and include a desultory audio commentary with director James Kenelm Clarke and producer Brian Smedley-Aston; Linda Hayden: An Angel for Satan, a revealing and slightly re-edited 2003 interview with Hayden, who considers The House on Straw Hill one of the biggest mistakes of her career and refused to publicize the film; a two-part documentary on the “Video Nasty” craze that swept the United Kingdom in the early eighties – Ban the Sadist Videos! Part 1 (2005) and Part 2 (2006) – written and directed by David Gregory, but which I would categorize as filler. Unfortunately, Severin was unable to obtain several extras that would have, I’m sure, been fascinating: Kier and Richmond refused to be a part of this disc, and Hayden wasn’t asked to participate because of her well-known antipathy towards the film.
The House on Straw Hill is rather heavy going between its explosive interludes of sex and violence and I can’t really recommend it except for Udo Kier and Linda Hayden completists. I’ve been watching a lot of under-the-radar British horror lately and it’s refreshing to see this long-lost horror-thriller (whatever its merits) rescued from almost complete obscurity and painstakingly restored to Blu-ray and DVD. Severin has done an incredible job on this rarity, which is worth seeing at least once, if only to feast your eyes on an impossibly young Kier and a ravishing Hayden.