Monday, April 12, 2010

Private Parts (Paul Bartel, 1972)

Living in an environment that's crawling with depraved individuals in today's sanitary world is unfortunately a dream that will probably never come true. But back in the early 1970s, the chances of residing at a property that just happens to be rife with perversion was not only plausible, it was kinda compulsory. Now, I didn't mean to imply that I ever dreamed of being surrounded by debauchery, and all the gratuitous groping that comes with it, I was just engaging in my usual celebrate the seedy past, piss on the prissy present routine. However, I do envy the naïve protagonist that inflames the imagination of the principal pervert in Private Parts, a slightly twisted film from Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul) about the unhealthy relationship that forms between a young girl and a curly-haired miscreant at a nondescript Los Angeles hotel. Of course, calling Cheryl Stratton (Ayn Ruymen) "naïve" is a tad misleading; after all, she does display a bit of a voyeuristic bent herself early on, as we see her spying on her best friend (Ann Gibbs) as she writhes around naked with her boyfriend (Len Travis). But, for the most part, she does have a childlike aura about her. This is especially true when she shows up at the King Edward Hotel (a snooping incident involving her best friend/roommate causes her to seek shelter there), as she uses her adolescent charm on the owner, Aunt Martha (Lucille Benson), to procure a room. Also, the fact that Cheryl and Aunt Martha are apparently related definitely helped speed up the checking in process.

The only reason Aunt Martha was hesitant about letting her niece stay at her hotel was because all the other tenants are, let's just say, deeply strange.

Alarmed by the sound of creaking floorboards emanating from the supposedly unoccupied room next-door, Cheryl steals a set of keys (she finds them via an electrocuted white rat) and goes on a bit of sleuthing bender.

Opening locked doors with impunity, she not only discovers that the guy dressed as priest really likes beefcake, but finds out that the mysterious sounds are being made by a resident named George (John Ventantonio). Able to watch her sleep and bathe–thanks to a couple of strategically cut holes in the wall– George develops a real obsession with Cheryl; so much so, that he has a doll made out of clear plastic and filled water that looks just like her.

In his spare time, George like to inject his own blood into a life-size plastic doll (its skin is like vinyl) that wears a blown up photobooth photo of Cheryl as its face.

A more well-rounded gal would immediately recoil at the thought of a kooky guy lurking in shadows, watching her every move. Yet, Cheryl seems to do the complete opposite. Whether following him to the adult bookstore or snooping around his deluxe and delightful pad, Cheryl sees George's creepiness, and decides to counter it by being even more creepy. Which, I must say, is a pretty bold move. I mean, you don't often see the victims of unwanted leering and bizarre effigy worship turn the tables in such an industrious manner.

You could say that Cheryl unveiled her creepy credentials during the opening scene, but I like to think that the part where she first spots George's plastic friend lying in his bed and basically shrugs was the moment I knew she was someone not to be trifled with–you know, perversion-wise. I know if I saw a blowup doll with my face on it lying in a neigbour's bed, I would shrug, too. Okay, that's a bad example. But I'm sure most normal people would freak out if they ever came across what Cheryl does in this movie.

Unlike the Aunt Martha in Sleepaway Camp, the Aunt Martha in Private Parts never once caused me to feel all tingly in my squishy place. Which is a good thing, I guess. One Aunt Martha is strictly for demented, dungeon-quality heterosexual intercourse, while the other Aunt Martha is for taking pictures at funerals and erection-destroying lectures.

Giving a complex performance that required her to be innocent and seductive simultaneously, Ayn Ruymen is an inquisitive treat as Cheryl. Not old enough to suggestively devour with extreme prejudice, yet containing enough wisdom to make eyeballing her not feel sleazy, Ayn navigates that fine imaginary line that keeps the world from disintegrating into a fiery ball of engorged chaos.

The best example of this challenge was presented during the sequence where Cheryl goes on a date with a key maker named Jeff (Stanley Livingston from My Three Sons). Appearing on the stairs in a purple mini-skirt and green tank-top, the sight of the normally bland-looking Cheryl awash with colour was a jarring one. Sure, we've seen her covered in nothing but soapy suds and prancing about in the special lingerie George asks her model (he leaves her notes), but we don't really notice that Cheryl is actually a woman until we see her on the date.

Odd as it may sound, I found myself connecting to George's predicament more and more as the film went on. As is usually the case when I become drawn to a character, I had the rug pulled out from under me when George's secret is revealed. (I was like, "it figures.") Nevertheless, his fixation with elaborately tailored lingerie, certain body parts, and overall voyeuristic temperament was sort of relatable.

Suspenseful in places, darkly comical in others, Private Parts is a low-key celebration of deviant values that will make you think twice about that curly-haired weirdo living across the hall.

video uploaded by scroteel


  1. I heard about this movie awhile back. I really wanna check it out now!

  2. I still need to see this. I still can't believe FANGORIA did a retrospect on this a few years ago.

  3. I love the bath scene, it's hot ;]

  4. I love you, too, man.

    Aunt Martha Forever.

  5. i heard about this from FANGO too. still need to see it. it seems very out-of-print, sadly..

  6. honestly the movie is awful, but AYN RUYMEN IS PRECIOUS! she's all mine, I don't want anyone knowing about her.

  7. Boy oh boy it's so great to find another movie blogger through a peculiar film like this! A fan of eighties like myself :)...

  8. Hey, trying not to ruin the reveal to any readers who haven't seen it, but I want to know your reaction to it. Besides "it figures", I mean. I'm asking because a little while back I showed it to a friend, and she thought it was bigoted and became very offended. She compared it to Sleepaway Camp's reveal, and expressed the same opinion. As I know very few people who have seen both movies, much less of the demographic who would be affected most by them, I look to you for your viewpoint. Hope you are well, good to see you posting again.

    1. Offended? Oh by the turns out the killer was trans trope. I'm not bothered by it... when it occurs in campy and/or trashy movies.

      Mainstream movies are a tad more problematic (Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, etc.) in that more people see them and it stigmatizes transfeminine people as unhinged, humour challenged serial killers.

      And yeah Private Parts is similar to Sleepaway Camp. Especially since both the characters doing the "forced feminization/masculinization" thing is named Aunt Martha.

      Any film nowadays that doesn't portray trans people as saintly, upstanding citizens or victims is going to be viewed as offensive.

      Angela from the Sleepaway Camp sequels should be seen a role model.