*Disclaimer!* I wrote a handful of articles for a now defunct e-zine called BthroughZ a number of years back, and when that site went belly up, so didn’t the reviews I wrote for it. I didn’t want to lose the articles I worked so hard to write, so over the next few months I will be reposting them here for your enjoyment.
1972’s Private Parts follows the exploits of an adventurous teenage girl named Cheryl (Ayn Ruymen). When Cheryl is first introduced, it is learned that she stole money from her parents and fled the state of Ohio with her best friend so they could live the high life in Los Angeles. After a less than positive run in with her best friend/roommate, Cheryl steals her friend’s wallet and flees the scene--just as she had done with her parents--to find something better than being judged and yelled at constantly.
With a small amount of cash and nowhere else to go, Cheryl makes her way to a rough area in L.A. and ultimately to her Aunt Martha’s (Lucille Benson) hotel. Not really a hotel as much as an apartment building, Cheryl talks Martha into letting her stay there for the time being, and in return, she will help out around the hotel to earn her keep. Filled with many eccentric and strange residents, this hotel is not the normal stomping ground for a youthful girl such as Cheryl. Furthermore, the hotel is filled with numerous dark and dangerous secrets, most notably being the hotel’s resident serial killer who preys on any unwanted trespassers.
While the hotel has a murderer running around it’s colossal hallways, Private Parts is not a slasher movie. There are certainly some elements, but this one is something entirely different. In fact, I would consider it to be more of a fantasy film, but a fantasy film that is definitely not made for kids. Well, unless they’re feral.
Cheryl’s proverbial ‘rabbit hole’ is the entrance to the seedy hotel, which is filled with fantastical characters who are clearly not facets of a ‘normal’ real world. All of the hotel’s inhabitants are odd and varied in their strangeness, with one character who frolics around dressed up as a priest but really seems to enjoy the company of big strong men. There’s the usual crazy old lady lurking the halls, spewing weird shit about a girl named Alice to anyone who will listen. And then there is George (John Ventantonio), a creepy photographer who mostly keeps to himself, but has some very unhealthy sexual issues.
Cheryl is attracted to George, whose reclusive and dark nature is undeniably appealing to Cheryl, and the two characters come to indirectly play a game of unhinged cat and naive mouse. However, mouse or not, Cheryl is very much a willing participant in this game, and her fairytale adventure is mostly driven by her curiosity towards sex. Cheryl, who hates being looked at as a child, seems to believe the way to becoming respected as an adult is through sexual activity, and she pursues this activity in a fashion that’s both innocent and very aware.
Cheryl is driven by her sexual desire, and with a wide eyed curiosity she looks to do something that she is not familiar with; something that stimulates her growing feminine needs. Young or not, Cheryl isn’t intimidated by the more ‘out there’ aspects of sexuality. Some of the acts that George asks Cheryl to participate in are things that would creep out the average girl, especially a young one. This is not the case with Cheryl, as she seems to be intrigued by the sexual adventures, possibly seeing them as a way towards being liberated from childhood.
Ayn Ruymen, who plays Cheryl, is absolutely terrific. She is the driving force of the movie, and watching Cheryl slyly navigate the halls of the old hotel--curiously investigating all the little secrets that the hotel has to offer--is very enjoyable. This is really where you see that no matter how sexual she wants to be or thinks she is, Cheryl is just a kid; a child exploring a place that offers curiosities that most girls of her age would find to be taboo. Ruymen, who was much older than the age of her character, captures this youthful inquisitiveness very well, and it’s easy to feel as if you are right alongside Cheryl on her adventure.
While the fantasy and sexual elements are a major part of its DNA, Private Parts still has a lot of horror elements. The hotel setting is creepy and filled with many dark corners, creaky floorboards, and quirky little intricacies that make it a nice visual world for Cheryl to explore. Though they are few and far between, there are also a few murders, but the horror aspect of the film really comes from the undercurrent that something sinister is going on, and very few people seem to be aware of it.
The hotel does harbor a dark history, and this is further compounded by Aunt Martha’s constant warnings for Cheryl to stay inside and keep away from the other tenants. Under a seemingly normal and stable guise, Aunt Martha herself is as odd as the rest of them, especially the way in which her personality can change from one moment to the next. One second, she warns Cheryl to just keep safe and out of sight, and in the next she is preaching abstinence and yelling about how she will not put up with any painted whores in her home. Martha plays the cautionary role, but in true fantasy form, she would appear less than trustworthy. To an extent, Martha is protecting Cheryl, but she is also clearly hiding some very dark secrets.
Private Parts is directed by genre legend Paul Bartel. Bartel’s direction is very solid in Private Parts, with its biggest strength coming from its subtlety. There are little flashes of eye catching style that show up from time to time, but these touches are subtle, which works perfectly for bringing to life the film’s fantastical elements. To go too far with the visuals could have taken away from the base realism of the movie. These slight touches are just small reminders that there is something off about the world that Cheryl is in. It’s a skewed reality but a reality nonetheless.
There is plenty I didn’t touch on in this review of Private Parts, but I plan on touching Private Parts as much as possible, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s an odd little film that will leave you contemplating some of the deeper aspects long after sitting through it, which for me is the mark of great filmmaking.