B&W, 1967, 84m.
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Starring Lucia Modungo, Terence Skelton, Pearl Catlin, Daniel Oliver, Jeannette Wild, Mary Land, Robert Crewdson
BFI (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL)
The public alarm over the smut business resulted in plenty of fuel for American exploitation movies in the early to mid-1960s, ranging from real gems like H.G. Lewis' Scum of the Earth and Joe Sarno's All the Sins of Sodom to campy trash favorites like Career Bed. It took a little longer for England to catch up to the same premise for a full-on softcore film, but appropriately, that's just what happened when a 25-year-old filmmaker named Norman J. Warren jumped into the fray with his debut feature. Her Private Hell turned out to be both controversial and profitable, providing enough T&A to annoy the censors while opening in America in an even spicier version. Later the same year Warren followed it up with the less sleazy but more graphic Loving Feeling before his best-remembered career chapter, specializing in the bizarre, cheap horror films Satan's Slave, Terror, Alien Prey, Inseminoid, and Bloody New Year.
The premise here is one already familiar to audiences of the time, though it's imbued with enough go-go pop art flavor to still feel fresh. Italian actress Lucia Mondungo (who had bit parts in Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Danger: Diabolik) stars as Marisa, a pretty dense aspiring model who moves to London and hooks up with a shady agency run by a goateed, bossy creep named Neville (Crewdson) and a brittle battle axe, Margaret (Catlin). She agrees to be taken under the wing of photographer Bernie (Skelton) and live at his pad where, in a sequence bordering on gothic horror, she's startled by another shutterbug in the attic, Matt (Oliver), along with another pair of ill-tempered models. She winds up dallying with both Bernie and Matt but is horrified when a nudie picture of her goes public just as her "career" starts to take off. Will she get pulled deep into the world of the skin trade and wild parties, or can she escape?
Though its value in the erotic arena will pretty limited even upon its release (mainly a few semi-longering topless shots), Warren's film is a terrific cultural time capsule as Britain's own early spin on the growing market for "naughty" cinematic fare. Busy composer John Scott (billed here as Patrick John Scott) got his feature start here as well with his groovy musical accompaniment, which he followed with titles as diverse as A Study in Terror, Greystoke, Yor, Shoot to Kill, and The Final Countdown, along with a few more Warren titles. Then there's the visual scheme, including the monochromatic pop art on the walls of Bernie's pad and some wonderfully kitschy costumes for most of the female cast. Modungo makes for a pretty unconvincing and hopelessly stupid sex kitten, but the rest of the cast fares better with Catlin and Skelton taking top honors. Oh, and there's also a deliciously warped twist ending in the last few seconds, too.
Making its worldwide digital debut, the film gets the full-on special edition treatment from the BFI with a crisp transfer presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The opening credits and a couple of what appear to be inserted nudie shots are a bit rough and speckly, but almost all of the film is otherwise in terrific shape. Extras include a pretty wild screen test with an extremely young Udo Kier, two of Warren's previous short films (Incident" frmo 1959 and "Fragment" from 1966), along with a 15-minute video overview with the cast and crew (Warren, Christian, Wild, and Glenn Christian), three minutes of the aforementinoed alternate American footage (mostly from the big party scene), the theatrical trailer, and perhaps niftiest of all, a 1971 half-hour featurette called "Anatomy of a Pin-Up." Shot in London while Penthouse magazine was based there, it features interview footage with a young Bob Guccione and features several models talking about their career choices and the responses from the their families. Josephine Botting provides useful liner notes about the film's importance and its breakthrough in BBFC censorship, while cult horror screenwriter David McGillivray offers an "in context" essay about the film's theatrical fortunes and how it came about with the financiers involved. Adrian Smith also contributes a brief essay about the film's censorship specifics, while Modungo offers a quick reminiscence about being approached to do a nude scene. A Warren bio and additional notes about all of the supplements round out what is easily the most respectful and significant release of a Norman J. Warren film to date.