Paul Bartel established a lot of cult/exploitation/indie/whatever traction as an actor with jaw-dropping turns in affairs like PIRANHA and CHOPPING MALL, but sometimes gets overlooked as a director, even though he made DEATH RACE 2000, this, and EATING RAOUL! Come on, people, I'm seriously, folks! Even people who hate slashers/thrillers, like me, will find enjoyment in PRIVATE PARTS's seventies scuzz and admirers of knife movies will be in proto-heaven.
Runaway Cheryl (pronounced with the "ch" like "CHUD" for some reason) gets booted out of her house for creepily listening to her roommate get penetrated. Said roommate derides Cheryl as "just a kid", which along with her nosy behavior, sets up one of the film's main themes. A desperate Cheryl ends up getting a room at her creepy Aunt Martha's hotel, the King Edward, which is full of gay priests, old ladies, and other wantons! Plenty of mysteries for a girl detective to solve here! Bartel assembles some fine actors to fill these colorful roles, my favorites being Lucille Benson as Aunt Martha and Laurie Main as Reverend Doctor Moon. Main's hyper-homoerotic creeper comedy seems to anticipate Bartel's own role as the campy counselor in PIRANHA.
This is a horror movie, so the hotel has a history of people disappearing, in particular this girl named Alice who had spent some time with a shady photographer named George. Cheryl bonds with George, since he's the only one who treats her like a woman instead of a little girl. I mean, she tries to flirt with this hunk who shows up to repair stuff, but he just calls her a "kid" and makes her move furniture. Plus her aunt is visibly insane in the membrane, going to funerals so she can take pictures of the soul leaving its earthly prison.
Cheryl discovers that the hotel is full of holes, especially ones that allow viewing of her room and the bathroom. She allows herself to be seduced by a sexy series of anonymous gifts and her suspicions that George is the mystery gifter. The movie at this point is more about these gently sleazy scenes and a general grindhouse atmosphere. It shows in the music, which is strip-joint jazz, reminiscent of 80% of the Something Weird catalog. The soundtrack touches brilliance, especially in one scene that incorporates a few bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The tone shifts because the body count picks up. It quickly becomes clear that Cheryl's in over her head and the music alters accordingly, way less seductive and more psychotic. At this point, PRIVATE PARTS really capitalizes on its mostly-interior locations—long unsanitary hallways and dank rooms full of strange cargo.
There's no way there's any real connection, but parts of this definitely feel very SHINING-y, especially given how similar Ayn Ruymen (Cheryl) looks to Shelley Duvall.
The tilt towards weirdness in the film's latter half is permanent, as we get a third tonal shift in the very last portion of the film, when some cops show up to rescue a Cheryl-infatuated boy. The cops are hilarious dicks, being especially mean to a confused old lady. So we go from sexy exploitation to horror to comedy and end up better people for the journey.
Super-fun and so well crafted, PRIVATE PARTS will make you believe in the seventies and magic again. At no time do you have to gin up excuses for dull, draggy parts, because there really aren't any. Bartel hired a bunch of talented people and gave them a tight story to enact and he made sure to capture it in interesting ways. If you haven't seen this one, you are really cheating yourself!