Paul Bartel is a bonafide hero here at B & S About Movies. From his cameos in movies like Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Chopping Mall to the films he directed like Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul, every time he turns out on the screen it makes us happy.
Cheryl and her roommate get in a fight, so instead of going back home, she decides to move into her aunt’s run down hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Suffice to say that shenanigans ensue.
Aunt Martha is a strange lady, played by Lucille Benson, who was on TV’s Bosom Buddies and played Mrs. Elrod in Halloween 2, as well as time on Broadway. She’s obsessed with funerals and given to moralizing. Her hotel is packed with maniacs and there are also a series of murders going on, with Cheryl as the best chance to be the next victim.
Get this — the role of Aunt Martha was originally written for Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte)!
Cheryl wants to be a woman and experience her sexuality, which leads her into George’s orbit. He’s a photographer who longs for love, but also sleeps with a water inflated doll that he often injects with human blood and covers with a photo of Cheryl’s face. He’s somehow not the strangest person in the hotel. And oh yeah, to add to the whiff of perversion in the air, he’s her cousin.
Stanley Livingston, Chip Douglas from TV’s My Three Sons, also is in this movie, playing Jeff, another tenant. He would be a better mate for Cheryl, but she’s already too deep. And it’s pretty crazy to see Laurie Main, who hosted and narrated Disney’s Welcome to Pooh Corner, as a gay priest. That said, he also shows up in some other strange places, like Larry Cohen’s Wicked Stepmother and as the narrator of Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers.
There was also a model named Alice that once lived in Cheryl’s room that nobody wants to talk about. And a whole bunch of keys that open other rooms so that our voyeuristic heroine can spy on all of them.
Private Parts began with the working title Blood Relations, but its new title was rough on the film, as some newspapers wouldn’t promote it with that name, some even calling it Private Arts. Some ads even said that the title was too shocking to print and asked people to call the theater to learn the name of the film!
It really was shot in a skid row hotel, the King Edwards Hotel in downtown L.A and all of the people in it were based on people that writers Philip Kearney and Les Rendelstein met in LA in the 1960s. It’s still around, having been purchased in 2018 with plans to convert it into low-cost single-occupancy transitional housing.
This is a movie that fits in well with other blasts of 70’s odd like The Baby. Like that movie, Private Parts may not explicitly have sex and violence, but it just feels off and as if it came from another universe that might appear to be ours, but has scum and strangeness in every corner.
Leonard Maltin said this about Private Parts: “If Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls had co-directed by Alfred Hitchcock and John Waters, it would come close to this directorial debut by Paul Bartel.” That sums this up quite well.
The Satanic nature of this film ties in well with Anton LaVey’s 1988 Pentagonal Revisionism. George’s preference for his doll ties in well with the Church’s realization of the need for the development and production of artificial human companions, which LaVey referred to as “the forbidden industry.”