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PRIVATE PARTS (1972).

His first two shorts, THE SECRET CINEMA and THE NAUGHTY NURSE, explored paranoia and perversity with humorous intent. His later successes came in dark-hued comedies like EATING RAOUL. But in between, director Paul Bartel churned out this truly bizarre item for unsuspecting Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. And when the button-down execs at MGM got their first glimpse of this deviant drama, they turned into total chickenshits -- pulling their precious Lion logo from the credits and dumping it into grindhouses with minimum publicity. Admittedly, PRIVATE PARTS is one of the kinkiest films to come out of HolIywood in its day. A psycho-thriller featuring every possible sexual perversion (O.K., so they leave out house pets. So sue me!) -- but what's so wrong with that? Bartel takes a script by Philip Kea ney and Les Rendelstein, and beefs up the absurd angles without sacrificing the inherent tawdriness. The tale follows a naive teenaged girl named Cheryl (Ann Ruyman), who turns away to her Aunt Martha's skid row hotel and discovers the wonderful world of sexual deviance. Her morally repressed old Aunt is proud that her establishment is "one of the last respectable hotels in the city", but we soon learn what a crock of shit that is, because its rooms are packed with voyeurs, drunks and weirdos galore. It's the finest cast of hotel resldents since THE SHINING (and Cheryl even looks a little like a young, prettier Shelley Duvall), with perversion behind each locked door. Oh yeah, there's also a murderer on the premises, who whacks one guy's head clean off in the first reel, but everybody's so fucked up in one way or another that a little thing like being a killer isn't really a big deal. Bartel doesn't dote on ordinary narrative style, and instead of becoming a standard whodunnit, the film is more interested in exploring the morally curdled characters and capturing the creepiness of lowlife hotels. My fave guest is Reverend Moon, the male bondage minister whose bedroom features a life-sized Christ statue swaddled in motorcycle chains. It's enough to make Jimmy Swaggart shit his Fruit of the Looms. But most prominent is George, a photographer (with a Brady Bunch perm) who fllls his lonely nights by taking lurid photos of lovers in the park. Although he has an intense interest in Cheryl's budding sexuality, George can't seem to relate directly to flesh and blood. Instead, he peeps at her from an adjoinlng room and then digs out his Betty Blow-Up doll, fills her from the faucet, attaches a photo of Cheryl to the doll's face, and then injects a hypo of his own blood into the clear plastic plaything. I can't come close to doing this severely sicko concept justice. Bartel pulls it off brilliantly, and the viewer takes it in with a disturbing fascination. And what a letter perfect cast of virtual unknowns! Lucille Benson is a hoot as the crazy (?) Aunt, whose favorite pastime is visiting funerals of total strangers. And Ann Ruyman is fabulous as Cheryl -- moving from teddy bear-clutching innocent to four-star tease. She's a quick learner, and before long Cheryl's getting her rocks off at being secretly watched in the bath or dressing to suit George's black-lingeried fantasies. TV addicts will cheer (or cringe) at the sight of Stanley Livingston (Chip from MY THREE SONS) as a hilariously dorky white-breader who asks Cheryl out on a date and ends up escorting a walking ad for neon whorewear. And don't blink, or you'll miss Bartel's "director's cameo" as a pissin' wino. A simple girl meets boy (?) story for the decadent '70s. Not exactly HEIDI -- but more like the characters out of Russ Meyer's BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS gone to seed. A non-stop ride into Raunchville, with a truly twisted view of human sexuality. Funny, shocking, unsettling, and unforgettable. Need I add, one of my favorites?

© 1995 by Steven Puchalski.