November 9, 2012

Private Parts (1972)

This article on Private Parts (1972) originally appeared on and is reprinted with permission.

Years ago while thumbing through the Leonard Maltin Movie & Video Guide, I came across this review:

"If Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls had been co-directed by Alfred Hitchcock and John Waters it would come close to this directorial debut by Bartel." 

Whoa. I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, "I have GOT to see this movie!" As a connoisseur of cult and trash films, this sounded like a long-lost gem that I needed to find. The name of the film? Paul Bartel's Private Parts from 1972. Boy, was I not disappointed! A few words to describe it? Creepy. Kinky. Gross. All of the things I look for in a film! Ann Ruymen (whose other memorable acting credit is the 1973 TV movie, Go Ask Alice) plays Cheryl, a young, bored and curious teenager who has run away from home and decides to stay with her mysterious Aunt Martha, who runs a large, old hotel in seedy, downtown Los Angeles.

Clearly, Aunt Martha (played with gusto by the always interesting character actress Lucille Benson) is keeping some secrets as she warns Cheryl not to go snooping around the huge, labyrinthine building. Cheryl disregards her aunt’s warning (where would the movie be if she didn’t?) and begins exploring the hotel and meeting its collection of odd tenants, including an S&M obsessed reverend, a demented, giggling old woman and the handsome, yet sinister photographer George who has a darkroom in the basement and an eye for Cheryl.

The film is clearly influenced by several suspense and horror films from the 1960s, most notably Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom due to the film's ongoing obsession with voyeurism, transvestism and other sexual "perversions". The wonderfully atmospheric score by Hugo Friedhofer is even reminiscent of the work of regular Hitchcock composer, Bernard Herrmann.


The film dabbles with kinky plot lines and images but is never overly graphic - the film leaves a lot to the imagination and certain plot points (particularly the scenes and back story of Aunt Martha) are deliberately left ambiguous, giving the film a truly fascinating edge that allows the film to be revisited several times.

The cast is made up of a hodgepodge of odd, yet memorable faces - including Laurie Main (best known as the voice of the narrator in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons!) as the leather-wearing Reverend Moon and, perhaps the most unusual actor to appear in this sordid tale is none other than Stanley Livingston who played Chip Douglas on the wholesome TV series, My Three Sons! Again, just a few more touches of weirdness thrown in to keep the viewers on their toes.

The director of this underrated cult classic is none other than Paul Bartel who would go on to find even more success and cult stardom with his 1982 film, Eating Raoul, in which he starred (alongside frequent co-star Mary Woronov) and directed. Like Private PartsEating Raoul was an over-the-top mix of sick humor, kinky sex and horror elements all wrapped up in a perfect package for the midnight movie crowd and cult film fanatic.

Dark humor and trash aesthetics was clearly Bartel's forte, as other films in his work (as well as his acting appearances) followed this style. Other notable films he directed during his career included 1975's Death Race 2000 with producer Roger Corman starring David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone and 1985's Lust in the Dust with Polyester co-stars Divine and Tab Hunter.

Like fellow filmmaker, John Waters, the late Bartel (who unfortunately died in 2000) told stories that focused on the absurd and grotesque and celebrated filth and decadence. Private Parts would make a perfect double feature with one of Waters' early 1970s films, such as Female Trouble or Pink Flamingos, as they all share an affinity for society's misfits and a penchant for tacky and gross comedy.

The only supplemental feature on the disc is a typically exploitative 1970s trailer that plays up the "psycho-sexual" angle of the plot as well as basically giving away the entire ending!