Director: Paul Bartel
Warner Home Video

Lingering in the vaults at Warner Home Video are a nice selection of cult, horror and exploitation titles which many fans fear will never hit DVD. One of the most-requested films in the old MGM library, acquired by Warners, was PRIVATE PARTS, Paul Bartel’s second directorial effort. Like NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, released on the same day as this one, this film appeared on many fan lists of films which Warners wouldn’t dare release to the digital format. Thankfully this surprise DVD release has come along to prove that not all the major studios have turned their back on their cult libraries.

Runaway teenager Cheryl hits Los Angeles with her best friend Judy, who turns nasty when she catches Cheryl peeping on her screwing her boyfriend. Cheryl takes off, stealing Judy’s wallet for some quick cash, and heads for the dilapidated King Edward Hotel, a formerly extravagant building stuck in the middle of the seediest section of L.A. Her creepy aunt Martha runs the establishment and allows Cheryl to stay with her, introducing her to an oddball cast of characters, including the gay Reverend Moon with a bodybuilder fetish, a hard-of-hearing granny perpetually searching for a girl named “Alice”, and an effeminate photographer named George. She becomes intrigued by the sexual games George plays with her, but soon discovers that the secret he hides threatens her very life.

Shot on-location in what looks like a real rundown 1930s hotel, the late Paul Bartel delivers what is probably his best film in PRIVATE PARTS. Only DEATH RACE 2000 provides as much fun, as many surprises, and is just as entertaining the second, third, and fourth time around. This was his first film in six years, since he wowed the intellectual crowd with his independent SECRET CINEMA in 1966. The jet-black comedy of PRIVATE PARTS is pure Bartel, in fact so black that most viewers don’t think it’s a comedy. In Bartel’s films, sex is seen as something so absurd that it can’t help but be laughed at. Some may find it hard to chuckle at scenes like George injecting a syringe of his own blood into a blow-up doll filled with water and with Cheryl’s face pasted on it. For 1972, this is a pretty risqué picture for a major studio, with its roots firmly placed within S&M bondage magazines and big city voyeurs. A shocking gory decapitation, surprising male nudity from blonde hunk Len Travis, and a cosmic twist ending make it hard to remember that this was the work of a major studio known for musicals and having “more stars than there are in heaven.” It may have had a better fate if handled by an independent distributor like Box Office International or New World. But that wasn’t to be. Financially struggling MGM was obviously trying to appeal to the younger audience that was quickly becoming the target demographic for motion picture ticket sales, but they severely mishandled the theatrical release of this hard-to-classify film and it died a slow death at the box office. As with many latter-day MGM titles, the film remained unavailable for years until it began to regain a following through home video. PRIVATE PARTS remains a surefire cult gem which promises to tantalize and thrill newcomers to its pulsating weirdness. Thank you, Warner Brothers, for realizing the audience for this DVD release and making it available once again!

Beautiful star Ayn Ruymen would endear herself to many 70s TV viewers by playing the tripped out high school girl who busts in on the title character’s babysitting job in GO ASK ALICE, the infamous 1973 anti-drug teleflick. Many TV guest appearances and telefilms later, Ruymen had retired from the screen, but she’s perfect as the Alice exploring Bartel’s peculiar wonderland. She doesn’t shy from nudity and seems genuinely intrigued by the fetishistic aspects of the script; she also seems to understand the tongue-in-cheek nature of Bartel’s world. Believe it or not, she was 25 when she shot this film! Lucille Benson, another familiar face from 70s TV, seems to be having a ball as eccentric Aunt Martha. She attends funerals of strangers to photograph their soul leaving the spirit, calls Cheryl a “painted whore” for wearing too much make-up, and is generally a creepy old dame. There is also subtle ambiguity that Aunt Martha may in fact be Uncle Orville…but it’s never elaborated on. Horror fans should recognize her as the neighbor who Michael Myers steals a butcher knife from in HALLOWEEN II. Character actor Laurie Main, whose main claim to fame is acting as the narrator for Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh”, probably loved playing such a bizarre role like Reverend Moon. It looks like this was the most depraved character he ever played; most of his career was filled with Disney films and TV guest appearances. Raiding the arena of television once again, Bartel finds an unexpected cast member in Stanley Livingston, one of “My Three Sons”, as Cheryl’s mismatched love interest Jeff. He must have been desperate to break from his squeaky clean persona by appearing in such a unique project, but is typecast again as a clean cut teen. Comic actor Charles Woolf also has a great small part as Jeff’s wimpy dad.

The fact that PRIVATE PARTS hit DVD at all is a miracle, but Warners has remastered this from pristine elements, resulting in the best this title has ever looked. The blacks are strong and beautiful, the color palette vivid and bold, and there is no grain to be seen whatsoever. The entire presentation, letterboxed at 1.85:1, is bright and bursting with sharp detail. The mono audio is a little quiet during dialogue, but is in general nicely done. Composer Hugo Friedhofer‘s wonderful score benefits greatly from this mix, and sounds as if Bernard Herrmann wrote the music for a Southern Baptist passion play.

The supplements are limited to the original theatrical trailer, which manages to give away just about every major twist in the film, so avoid it until after watching the feature! It’s a shame leading lady Ayn Ruymen, lovesick co-star Stanley Livingston, or producer Gene Corman, both very much among the living, weren’t interviewed, but this being a Warners catalog horror, their history of releasing them barebones ensured this one would be too. (Casey Scott)