Apartment buildings make great locations for horror films. There’s a certain level of trust amongst tenants, especially those who’ve lived “under the same roof” for awhile. Bonds are formed, some familial, some, at the very least, tribal. In the best examples of apartment/hotel based horror films, there’s always someone new coming in to the fold. They’re usually welcomed with glassy eyes and wide smiles, but, behind closed doors, someone or something is already deciding their fate. In legendary cult filmmaker Paul Bartel’s underrated 1972 shocker, Private Parts, this formula is mixed with healthy doses of sex, violence, and humour, for a deliriously entertaining story of lust, isolation, and murder.
Cheryl (Ruymen) is a sixteen year old runaway who, after a falling out with her best friend, seeks shelter in a rundown apartment building owned by her aunt Martha (Benson). Martha, a rugged and independent old woman, doesn’t like “soft girls” like Cheryl, but offers her a place to stay as long as she keeps her nose out of the business of Martha’s eccentric tenants. Cheryl agrees, but she soon finds herself the object of one of the tenant’s affections, as she finds mysterious gifts and notes in her room. Her curiosity piqued, Cheryl steals Martha’s keys and searches the other tenant’s apartments in hopes of finding a match for the handwriting on the notes she’s gotten, but also stumbles on a secret room next to hers that offers views into her bedroom and shower. However, as Cheryl begins to deduce that her secret admirer may be George, the handsome-yet-shy photographer who lives in the building, she finds herself playing his game and fulfilling his voyeuristic wishes. But something isn’t right about George, and Martha doesn’t want Cheryl to go near the man. Could it have something to do with Alice, the young tenant who went missing a short time before?
Private Parts is an odd mix of horror, light erotica, and twisted post-sixties social commentary that challenges the bourgeois notion of the role of men and a women in society with a neat twist that I really didn’t see coming. This is one of those classic examples of seventies horror in which there are sexual themes and situations that would never fly in an R-rated film today, and, as presented by the maverick Bartel, are just as shocking and potentially offensive as they were over three decades ago. There’s also a rogue’s gallery of tenants that bear the trademark weirdness that Bartel always imposed upon his characters, including a gay priest who hides his male erotica collection behind a shrine of religious ephemera. If that’s not a prescient characterization, I don’t know what is.
Warner Brothers releases Private Parts with a sharp and clean widescreen transfer, as well as the film’s original trailer. The fact that the film was even released at all is a minor miracle, so I won’t complain about any lack of extras as I doubt there are any to be had. I’m just downright thrilled to finally have this film in my collection.
Fans of Bartel’s other works, such as Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000, will no doubt love this film as it is every bit as risky, socially aware, and darkly humourous as those films, perhaps even more so. This is not a traditional horror film, but Paul Bartel was not a traditional filmmaker, which makes Private Parts that much more entertaining and well worth the purchase.