Film 2020: Expose

You may be surprised to find me selecting a film of this nature for Sunday morning but we are once again travelling down Nostalgia Avenue.

Expose holds a unique place in British film history, being the only British-made film to be included on the Government list of ‘video-nasties’, back when such things were exercising the moral conscience of the country. This was some time after it first appeared, in the late summer – and what a summer – of 1976, the Great Drought Summer.

Back then, I knew it as The House on Straw Hill, a title chosen to allude to Stanley Kubrick’s Straw Dogs, one of Britain’s two most famous banned films alongside A Clockwork Orange. These were the days of Local Authority Film Committees, who were not bound by the BBFC ratings (U, A or X), with the power to veto showings in cinemas subject to their licence. Manchester banned The House on Straw Hill, but Salford didn’t, meaning that my mate Alan and I had to drive about twenty minutes longer to see it one deep, golden Saturday evening.

I don’t know about video-nasty, having never watched any of the many such obvious examples, but Expose was certainly a case of the cheap’n’nasties. It starred Udo Kier, a German actor who did not speak English, Fiona Richmond, a star of multimedia softcore porn activities (including SF novels), who had masses of lovely red hair, big tits and no discernible acting ability, and Linda Hayden, who’d appeared nude in her film debut, Baby Love, at the age of 15 and who’d gotten them out in every other film she’d made up to that point.

The film-makers were not aiming for a high-quality audience.

The story is simple, whilst managing to be simultaneously pretentious and crude. Paul Martin (Kier) is an author whose first novel has been a major success, but who is struggling to meet the deadline on his follow-up. Paranoid and fearful, Paul has rented a remote cottage somewhere in southern England, where he has sex with his girlfriend Suzanne (Richmond) before she leaves, during which he has visions of blood and people breaking in.

In order to work faster, Paul has his publisher hire a typist for him, Linda (Hayden). She’s hassled by two louts at the station on arrival, one of whom is future sitcom and EastEnders star Karl Howman (here credited as Carl): Paul has to knee them in the groins to stop them pushing him around.

After a first dictation scene during which we learn that Paul’s writing is as arty and pretentious as both he and the film are being up to now, Linda goes upstairs to unpack, after looking round Paul’s multi-locked and bolted bedroom. She reveals that she carries two photos one of Paul and one of a man who’s already been seen in two of Paul’s hallucinations, plus a butcher’s knife. Then she strips off and shoves her hand down her knickers whilst staring at the other man’s photos.

After thus refreshing herself, Linda returns to work, though this is now/still (?) a morning session. Instead of lunch, she goes for a walk through the wheatfields before lying down, undoing her dress and touching herself up again.

She is interrupted by the louts – credited as Big Youth and Little Youth – one of whom rapes her in a very perfunctory, not-even-a-flash-of-tit manner whilst the other obligingly holds his shortgun just over her making it easy for her to shoot both of them in an unseen manner. The one on top of her dies instantly, the other (Howman) is merely severely wounded in a manner that lets him hang around in the wheatfield for however many days the story covers without either dying or trying to get help for his wounds.

Linda takes over the household, sending off Mrs Aston, the housekeeper (Patsy Smart muttering her lines in a cutglass accent). When the housekeeper returns at night to sneak around, she gets her throat cut.)

Paul wants to have sex with Linda but gets no further than sticking his hand inside her blouse and squeezing her tit. To get at her (sigh), he phones up Suzanne and gets her to come back, but Linda has to pick her up at the station in a black Morris Minor so old it still had white on black number plates.

I should mention by now the massive great plot-point that Paul’s book is dedicated to the memory of Simon Hindstatt (in thick black capitals and a font-size so large you could see it from the moon, hey, look, get this, admire how subtle we’re being.). Add to this the fact that Linda’s surname has been scrupulously not given and she says she’s been married but isn’t divorced and see how fast you can get here.

The first thing Paul and Suzanne do when she arrives is fuck, she naked, he keeping his trousers on. Suzanne turns up in the dining room. Linda compliments her on how good she looks (if you like that sort of thing) and sticks her hand down the front of Suzanne’s low-cut frock and squeezes her tit, which sends Suzanne into poorly acted, cliche-defined orgasmic delight.

Paul walks in on this, drags Suzanne up to the bedroom to slap her around, tell her she’s here for him, make her suck him off (still with his pants on). They see Linda watching them in the mirror but then she’s gone. And so’s Paul’s Rolls-Royce. He, forgetting all about Suzanne, who’s wound up in Linda’s bedroom, tears off round the countryside at speeds unfeasible for a Morris Minor that old (the numberplate indicates it was registered pre-1962) until his brakes fail him and he ends up crashing into a river.

Meanwhile, Linda has sneaked back to have full-on lesbian sex with Suzanne before abandioning her. Conveniently, the housekeeper’s body falls out of Linda’s wardrobe at that point, made-up to look like she’s three days dead, but in a hot summer nobody’s noticed the smell… Suzanne tries to call the Police but Linda’s pulled the plug, so Suzanne decides to take a shower except that Linda walks in with the butcher’s knife. There follows a Psycho rip-off in colour, or so the DVD cover says because it’s been edited out completely, as, incidentally, has the bouncer-outside-and-throwing-then-in proclamation that Fiona Richmond does full-frontal in this film, which in my copy she doesn’t.

Paul arrives back to find Linda writing the last page for him. She then produces the knife and tells him he’s a fraud. He didn’t write a word of his big hit novel, he stole it from Simon Hindstatt, who went on to commit suicide. Her surname is Hindstatt and he was her husband. She slashes Paul’s face. not that it seems to hurt him and the blood dries incredibly quickly into an artistic pattern that shows a second, less central slash we don’t see happen.

Paul escapes. This is to be cat-and-mouse stuff. He grabs a shotgun off the wall, runs around frantically outside, goes back in through the back door. Instead of shooting Linda on sight, he drops the gun, grapples with her for the knife, runs outside leaving the shotgun behind for her to pick up, hits the wheatfield and hurls the knife away. He turns round to see Linda with the shotgun, her calf-length dress open enough to see a very long expanse of leg.

She raises the gun to shoot him. It clicks on an empty barrel. Linda looks panicky, Big Youth, who still hasn’t died yet, is crawling through the wheatfield. He finds the flung knife. As Linda struggles with the shotgun to fire the other barrel, Big Youth runs up behind her and sticks the knife in her back, killing her and dying on the instant himself. I can’t resist mentioning that to get behind her, this almost-dead clown has had to squirm a very long way through the wheatfield in a big circle, since she’s facing the direction in which Paul threw the knife a great distance.

Paul lives. Two combine harvesters start grinding the wheat. Cue credits.

Did I call this a simple story? A simple-minded one, perhaps. It’s written by someone who hs a tin ear for how people actually speak, and how they think and act and respond. I’m prepared to forgive the excerpts we get from Paul’s writing on the basis that they’re meant to be pretentious crap, though if they’re that bad, how come the first book sold for half a million dollars?

The film was shot on location in a country cottage rented by the film’s Director, James Kenelm Clarke (why should he get away with it?). It’s not a film set and the lighting is dreadful. Anything that doesn’t take place in sunlight or in the few rooms with proper electric lights is at best too murky to properly see anything.

As for the sex and violence, this version’s a joke. The rape scene, including the two shootings, occupies about fifteen seconds of screen-time, the shower scene is gone but for a genuine Psycho rip-off of the last few traces of blood disappearing down the plughole and of Ms Richmond’s pubes there is no sight, and this at a time when full frontal nudity was a commonplace sight in the Confessions films (in which Linda Hayden starred in the first one). According to Wikipedia, the current Certified DVD has 51 seconds of cuts to the rape and the shower scene: mine is clearly not the current Certified DVD. The film is very difficult and expensive to get hold of, and it’s not worth it for a second.

As my nostalgic memories from 1976, these consisted of the rape scene, every bit as short then as now, the lesbian bit (in an interview with one of the two ladies, I don’t remember which, before the scene started one asked the other if she fancied her at all, was told, ‘not in the slightest’, which the interviewee was very glad to hear: not the most comfortable scene then) and the preposterous death scene. As for video-nasty, we don’t even see the knife go into Linda’s fully-clothed back.

So there’s nothing in this version to indicate why the film was classified in that manner. It’s overwhelming impression is of cheapness and stupidity. Linda Hayden later said this was the only film of her career she regretted making and that it was not the movie she played in, a claim I find very hard to swallow. A film in which, no disrespect, she’s the best actor, has very little going for it.

There are only two scenes in which sex’n’violence of a kind that could repel and horrify could take place. Without them, the film has no interest, and with them I strongly suspect the film would still have no interest. I have certainly seen worse since, and I don’t go for horror or bloody thrillers.

A waste of a Sunday morning. A waste of any time.

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