Pete Walker Collection box set from Kino Lorber, but what the set does include is hardly without interest, even if it's a decidedly mixed bag, and even though the interest is sometimes fleeting. If nothing else, though, I was able to compare the Kino Blu-ray disc of House of Whipcord with the standard DVD from Shriek Show that I already owned, and boy does that DVD look shitty now.
But the film is, in my view, a good deal more interesting and strange than that summary would imply. For example, the film has a twist which Walker seems entirely comfortable signalling to the audience, early and often, which only helps to allow the dread of its reveal to creep in earlier. You could have the twist, and let it just be a twist like any other twist, so that after the reveal the audience goes "Oh, okay, that's a surprise I guess, good job everybody," or you can allow at least the possibility of it into your film earlier and allow the effect to spread. Of course, the "possibility" turned into a certainty well before anything was blatantly confirmed, but it was fun to watch the performances of key players change once the idea was introduced. Plus this film is, like another Walker film I'll be writing about in a minute, just crazy enough to add a supernatural element to a film where nothing of the sort belongs. Basically, there's a psychic in the film, who's an actual psychic, and this fact has, at the end of the day, almost no bearing on the story's outcome. I have to say, I liked that. Because, well, why not do that?
Or you'd think that's what it would be like, except Gail's murder, which happens in the opening minutes of the film, goes undiscovered by the rest of the characters (barring whoever did it, of course) for a very long time, and when someone finally does find out about it, they're promptly iced, as well, so that The Comeback continues to have no living characters who are even aware that any murders at all have taken place. In the meantime, Nick tries to record his album while thinking he's either going mad, or that this giant house is actually haunted. At night he hears a woman crying, but can find no one, or he'll open a door and find a desiccated corpse in a wheelchair (Jack Jones's reaction to this sight is actually pretty convincing), but it's not there when next he looks, and so on. The Comeback, as I've said, offers up only a very small number of possibilities for the killer's identity, and I had one person pegged for it, and ended up being wrong. Well played, Pete Walker, although the reveal of it all is so ridiculously arbitrary (why does the killer wear that costume? For whose benefit?) that the film's other similarities to Italian slasher films ended up being underlined by the end. And then it throws in a ghost! A real one, I mean, very briefly. Just for...I don't know. Well, I kind of do, but this habit of adding one supernatural element to a non-supernatural horror film, which does not factor into the plot, is certainly an odd way to go, and Pete Walker has done it at least twice.
This kind of non-humorous, meaning it doesn't even try for jokes, horror satire is not entirely my bag, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit this is a pretty damn good one. Again, the premise of House of Whipcord, plus that title, would seem to indicate a sleaziness which turns out to be the actual goal, but as Walker likes, however unintentionally, to defy such expectations, the film is in fact relentlessly grim, and eventually gets to a point where even if the villains get theirs, all hope has already been drowned anyway. Barbara Markham takes the Sheila Keith role this time around (although Keith is here, too, playing an evil prison guard -- I bet she was very nice in real life), and manages the chilling requirements of the part quite handily. There's a religious base to what her character and the judge are up to with this private, secret prison, but curiously Walker doesn't lay that stuff on as thickly as you might expect. For one thing, whatever his beliefs, the judge is not entirely convinced by the rightness of his wife's extremes, but he's too old and out of it to really object, or to understand his own place in things, while his wife is more concerned with the ruthless bureaucracy and logical, to her, pursuit of revenge that follows the breaching of same, than anything else. There's some effective religious imagery, of the ironic kind, but Walker is content to go easy, and let the premise just play itself out. This is all to the film's benefit, which, as I say, manages to be truly and disturbingly shocking by the end. Walker can be hugely inconsistent, but when he hit on something good, he could be fascinating.