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Film / House of Whipcord

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House of Whipcord is a 1970s British cult film starring Penny Irving, Barbara Markham, Patrick Barr, Ray Brooks, Ann Michelle, Sheila Keith, Dorothy Gordon, and Robert Tayman. Judging from the poster and synopsis, you'd expect it to be your average Girls Behind Bars exploitation flick. If you tuned in to see that, you were wrong. House of Whipcord is a genuinely disturbing and effective horror film and perhaps one of the more scarily realistic horror abduction stories ever made.

The story follows a French glamour model Anne Marie (Irving) living in England. She meets a man at a party and hits it off with him. He invites her to come on a weekend trip with him to visit his mother. She falls asleep in the car and when she wakes up, she's outside a huge imposing building that is actually a makeshift prison for girls that a group of people have set up to punish those girls they decide haven't been punished harsh enough for immoral crimes.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Crimes Are Equal: Claire was brought into the prison for shoplifting, while Anne Marie was for indecent exposure. Karen is hanged for stealing food from the mess hall. It's said to be because it's the third time she committed an 'offence' in prison, but still Disproportionate Retribution.
  • All Women Are Prudes: Rather according to the people running the prison, all women should be prudes.
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Walker has a short haircut, threatens to strip Anne Marie and has several scenes where she looks at her while she's naked, and she seems turned on by the flogging. Another interpretation of her Pet the Dog moment below could be that she had something of a twisted attraction to Anne Marie.
    • Before she's executed, Karen tries to stroke Walker's face, suggesting she might be gay too or at least she senses that Walker is and is trying to bribe her to be let off.
  • Anti-Villain: Justice Bailey. He only wants to reform the girls and genuinely believes they are doing the right thing. When Margaret lies to say Karen Vaughn has been released he is happy to hear she has "learned her lesson" and he is shocked when he discovers Margaret has been hanging girls without his authority.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The victims are all young pretty girls, while the prison wardens are old and haggard looking (one actress was even turned down for Margaret because she was too good looking). Subverted with Mark, who uses his good looks to lure girls in with a Honey Trap.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: All the scars the girls have from their torture stop just short of their faces. The girls do look rather pale and sickly from how undernourished they are, and their hair is messy, but they still look quite good.
  • Break the Cutie: All the girls in the prison have thoroughly been broken by the torture.
  • The Brute: Walker is the prison heavy who also does the flogging. Claire feels better about trying to escape when she goes out into town, noting that Bates will be easier to subdue.
  • Cardboard Prison: Downplayed. The prison is quite understaffed - with only two guards and the warden's son. All it takes is a rebellious inmate to get out of the cell. She only ends up back in the prison through sheer bad luck.
  • The Charmer: Mark uses this to create a Honey Trap. He seduces each girl and invites them home for a weekend to meet his parents, and they're then incarcerated.
  • Chekhov's Gag: At a party we see a comedic scene where Anne-Marie is annoyed that someone took a topless picture of her in public. It turns out the picture was the reason she was brought to the prison.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Walker goes into town to do the shopping, giving Anne Marie and Claire a chance to try and free Karen. Later when Tony is asking questions in town, the shopkeeper and his wife remember Walker and give him enough details to find the prison.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Anne Marie talks about some of the modelling work she has done since she's been in London. Mr Kind sees her picture in a newspaper, and him phoning the paper is what gives Julia a lead as to where she is.
  • Chess Motifs: Justice Bailey is repeatedly seen playing a game of chess in his office.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Gender flipped. Mark is Mummy's Little Villain.
  • Deconstruction: Of Girls Behind Bars. No kinky torture, no lesbianism, no Beauty Is Never Tarnished. The torture and punishment is legitimately terrifying and the story is frighteningly realistic.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Mark says his parents were ashamed of him for being born illegitimate. As they would be in the 1940s.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: All three of the women in the prison.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: All of the girls in the prison are implied to have been kidnapped there for this reason. One girl is hanged simply for stealing food three times.
  • Driven to Suicide: Margaret hangs herself after killing Mark by accident.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Mark's little knife/ice cube trick is a good indicator that he's not a nice guy.
  • Evil Matriarch: Margaret is Justice Bailey's wife and Mark's mother, and the primary villain of the film.
  • Evil Old Folks: The villains of the film are all over forty. It's a plot point that they think the older ways of dealing with criminals are best.
  • Fan Disservice: Anne-Marie is completely naked late in the film. She's barely conscious and her back is bleeding from being flogged.
  • Female Misogynist: Margaret is a Type 3. She wants to punish Anne Marie for indecent exposure, and has been torturing girls in her makeshift prison. She was previously dismissed as a legitimate prison governess for being too cruel to her charges. Walker is possibly the same, since she talks about how they plan to strip Anne Marie of her vanity.
  • Final Girl: Julia acts as this in a non-slasher film. The roles however are played with. Anne Marie who dies is single, a Silk Hiding Steel persona and is visibly uncomfortable with her indecent exposure being broadcast. Julia who lives may be the more responsible friend, but she's also having an affair with a married man and appears topless while in bed with him.
  • Godiva Hair: In some scenes Anne Marie's long hair covers up her breasts.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Julia is having an affair with a married man and since she's the protagonist we're not supposed to mind. She does at least pressure Tony to leave his wife, which he has done by the third act.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Inverted. Justice Bailey has no idea that Margaret is actually hanging the girls and seems like he's heading for a turn. Thankfully the police arrive anyway.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Sometimes played straight, sometimes averted. The interior prison scenes are genuinely dark while the lighting sometimes changes drastically in the outside night shots.
  • Hope Spot: When Anne Marie is in solitary, the door is opened and she makes a break for the entrance...only to find Margaret waiting on the other side of the door for her. Turns out the opening is this as well.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with Anne-Marie running through the woods and finding a truck driver, then flashing back to explain what happened to her.
  • Incest Subtext: As Anne-Marie is being flogged, Mark shares a rather disturbingly tender moment with his mother.
  • The Jailer: Margaret runs a secret illegal prison for 'morally corrupt' and 'delinquent' young women, replete with a group of tough female wardens who administer a harsh regime of corporal punishment upon their prisoners.
  • Kill the Cutie: Anne Marie
  • Meaningful Echo: At the end of Mark and Anne Marie's date he kisses her and she says "thanks". He asks "for this or for the kiss". When he finds her in prison the dialogue is reversed.
  • Meaningful Name: Lampshaded. The truck driver who finds Anne Marie on the side of the road and helps her is called Mr Kind.
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • Anne Marie at the start. There's a picture of her topless being displayed at a party and she walks around her apartment completely nude in front of Julia as she's getting ready for a date.
    • Julia also gets a topless scene after she's been in bed with Tony, and it's a while before she covers up with a Modesty Bedsheet.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Margaret when she accidentally stabs Mark.
  • My Greatest Failure: Part of Margaret's motivation. When she was a prison warden, she went too hard on a young inmate who killed herself - resulting in Margaret being discharged.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Well done, Mr Truck Driver taking Anne Marie right back into the place she had just escaped from. While she's half-conscious and therefore unable to tell him too.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Three examples:
    • Margaret's Hope Spot above. Yes, wonderful idea letting a prisoner get to the entrance and have a clear idea of how to get there again.
    • Mark walks into the room just as they've convinced Julia to leave and gives the game away.
    • Margaret stabbing Mark in the dark thinking he's Julia.
  • Old Retainer: Walker and Bates are said to have worked with Margaret in the prison she was discharged from.
  • Pet the Dog: Walker feels sorry for Anne Marie, barely conscious and seemingly unable to put her own uniform back on, and goes to get her some water.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted. The police arrive in the nick of time to save Julia and free the rest of the girls.
  • Replacement Goldfish: A dark example. Margaret is convinced that Anne Marie is just like a girl from her days as a prison governess - another French girl called Hammond, who committed suicide over her cruelty. Once Anne Marie is dead, Margaret's sanity goes even further, and she becomes convinced that Julia is now the Hammond girl.
  • Rule of Symbolism: When playing chess, Justice Bailey says he can't tell the queen from the king - symbolising how Margaret is undermining his authority.
  • Rule of Three: Girls commit three violations in the prison. Punishment for the first is solitary confinement for two weeks. The second is a flogging with 40 lashes. The third is hanging.
  • Sanity Slippage: When Margaret realises things are crashing down around her, she seems to just go mad completely, wandering the halls of the prison with a knife, convinced she's hunting down a girl who died years ago. She somehow mistakes her son in the shadows for said girl, and stabs him to death, later hanging herself.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Bates and Walker when the police are on their way and Margaret starts going mad.
  • Stupid Evil: Margaret shows Julia that Anne Marie has been hanged. Julia initially assumes that she committed suicide, and Margaret may have been able to get away or dodge some consequences had she followed this. But then she brags that she killed Anne Marie, and she tries to get Julia executed as well.
  • Take That!: The opening message indicates that the film is a Take That! to people who feel the legal system is too soft and wish to see harsher punishments.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Punishment for second violations is to be flogged by Walker. First happens to Claire and then Anne Marie. Presumably happened to Karen too, as she was on her third violation when we meet her.
  • Time Skip: After Anne Marie is put into solitary the film jumps ahead two weeks to the end of her sentence.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Anne Marie, during her stay in the prison. She strangles Bates from behind, is able to successfully escape the prison by taking out both Walker and Margaret.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Before being hanged Karen has all her hair cut off.
  • Villains Out Shopping:
    • Walker is literally sent out shopping for one sequence, wherein Claire and Anne-Marie try to subdue the weaker Bates.
    • Bates herself is later seen playing with a stuffed animal while she's on guard duty.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Margaret's Fatal Flaw is that she still wants to do things the somewhat legal way, by having Desmond sign death warrants and actively sentence the girls to hang rather than just killing them herself. By the time she actually tries being direct, she accidentally stabs her own son.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Pulled off by the heroine no less. Anne-Marie pretends to be barely conscious when Walker checks on her and appeals to the old woman's conscience. She leaves to fetch Anne-Marie some water (leaving the door open) and Anne-Marie escapes.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: The aforementioned Hope Spot comes after Mark comforts Anne-Marie in solitary, hinting he might be helping her escape. He doesn't.