HOUSE ON STRAW HILL has had a pretty sordid history which is fitting because it’s a delightfully sordid film –– a demented hybrid of low budget exploitation-horror-sex-art film starring three heavy hitters in some or all of these fields: Udo Kier (FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN/BLOOD FOR DRACULA, most of Lars Von Trier’s films, MARK OF THE DEVIL, SUSPIRIA, Madonna’s sex book, SPERMULA, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, DR. JEKYLL’S WOMEN, BLADE and our own THEATRE BIZARRE barely scratch the surface of this man’s incredibly diverse career), Linda Hayden (BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, BABY LOVE, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, MADHOUSE) and “Britain’s Number 1 sex symbol” Fiona Richmond (LET’S GET LAID). The movie had suffered cuts in most of the territories who dared to release it and in its native England it was banned under the alternate title EXPOSE amongst the ‘video nasty’ furor of the early 80s and has remained unavailable in its uncut form since a couple of muddy tape releases in those early VHS days. Naturally all of the above made it a perfect Severin title.
When we first took the license on, as with most of our licenses, it was contingent on having access to decent enough elements to create a new, acceptable for Blu-Ray, HD master. The original negative and a slightly cut UK print had been firmly in director James Kenelm Clarke’s possession since the film’s initial release in 1975 so all seemed to be in order and we arranged a viewing at a lab in London. Oh dear. I had never seen such a horribly damaged film element as that negative. Every frame looked as though it had been randomly stained and splashed with indelible watercolors. The print was even worse for the most part having suffered a strange deterioration where about a quarter of the frame had a nasty reddish streak and the same, though not quite as pronounced, water damage as the neg. We asked James where the elements had been stored all these years and he said they’d been in his barn on his property. Images of chickens living in and around the rusty film cans sprung to mind and a big gaping hole in the roof where decades of English rain and sleet had been allowed to fall upon them. We sadly concluded that we would have to inform James that we could not proceed with the deal.
But the more we thought about it the more we realized that if we didn’t pull this movie from its certain rotting doom then it would only deteriorate further and never see the light of day looking anything even approximating what it was supposed to. After all this is how titles of this ilk become lost to obscurity with only shoddy VHS bootlegs around to remind us of their once notorious existence. Then Harry from Exhumed Films, who has proved a very key source for rare film prints for a number of years now, let us know that he’d bought a print of the movie under the title TRAUMA. We shipped it out to LA and took a look. There were certainly a whole lot of scratches and some serious fading throughout, with some reels being better than others. We had to remind ourselves how spoiled we now are in the disc era with pristine prints when only a few years ago we were happy with 4th generation cropped bootlegs on tape. We figured we could make this work with a lot of color correction work and some scratch removal to get rid of the more heinous damage. Unfortunately the TRAUMA cut of the film is short a whopping seven minutes which once again made us hesitant to even continue with the project. But once the transfer was done (we actually had to do it twice because the first effort used way too much global digital noise reduction which caused some nasty artifacting — when faced with the choice of film damage versus digital artifacts we figure the pure option was the way to go, warts and all) we had to Frankenstein together the three elements, using Harry’s print primarily, to produce the first uncut home video release of HOUSE ON STRAW HILL in its correct aspect ratio.
While our release is likely to be the only way you’ll officially see the film in its entirety anytime soon we still felt that we wanted to give our loyal customers something more to make up for the less than immaculate presentation. We already had some nice extras like the commentary with Director Kenelm Clarke and Producer Brian Smedley-Aston (VAMPYRES), as well as a career overview with Linda Hayden. The latter was recut to incorporate some more comments on her distaste for STRAW HILL as well as some nice trailer clips courtesy of UK Severin pals David Flint and Marc Morris (Marc provided a particularly neat clip from the trailer to Hayden’s debut BABY LOVE). But was there anything else we could add? To put it bluntly Hayden is thoroughly embarrassed by the very existence of this movie so we didn’t go back and ask her to do anything more substantial. Fiona Richmond has quietly retired from her very lucrative earlier career as a sex bomb. And while we became pretty good friends with Udo while making THEATRE BIZARRE he regretfully had to refuse to be a part of this disc because he claims he was never paid what he was promised by the producers and therefore could not in good conscience promote their work.
Being as EXPOSE (UK release title) has the dubious honor of being the only British movie on the official ‘Video Nasty’ banned list, as you probably know by now, we decided to include our documentary BAN THE SADIST VIDEOS (2 parts totaling about 95 mis.) as an extra disc. It’s one of the documentaries we’re most pleased with and it has never been released outside of the Box of the Banned sets which came out in England a few years back. It also serves as an introduction to ‘Video Nasties’ for those who didn’t live in England through that sorry period and that should prove useful for our upcoming release of Nucleus Films’ exhaustive VIDEO NASTIES – THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION. So a whole extra feature length doc on a bonus disc along with a never before uncut on disc bona fide banned nasty makes a pretty good package. And if that’s not enough… those who order directly from us even get the added bonus of a VHS replica of the EXPOSE banned Intervision UK release (this offer only available through the Severin store).
As of a few weeks ago I’d have said that we’ll never go through all that shit again…but we (that’s me and the director of these films) just walked out of an office/archive/trapped-in-the-70s-time-capsule a couple of weeks ago having found the negatives of two NIGHTMARE USA featured drive-in classics which had been sitting for years amongst rat shit and cockroaches in a decrepit room that recently suffered flood damage. Now there’s a real crazy story behind these two!