Cheryl (Ayn Ruymen), on the run after stealing her roomate’s cash, hides out at the King Edward Hotel run by her creepy Aunt Martha (Lucille Benson). Other tenants include a kinky priest (Laurie Main) and George (John Ventantonio), a sinister photographer with a nasty addiction to blow-up dolls. At night Cheryl hears mysterious noises coming from the empty room next to hers and later finds erotic presents left in her room by an unseen admirer. Cheryl gets pulled deeper and deeper into a sensual game of cat and mouse never realizing some grown up games can be deadly.
Private Parts is an obscure little proto-slasher that only could’ve been made during the wild 70s when film censorship was at its lowest ebb. Philip Kearney and Les Rendelstein’s script seems to be inspired by Psycho and Gothic mysteries. The story of a young girl finding love and mystery while staying at a relatives hotel might’ve seemed rather ordinary if handled by a lesser director. Thankfully, director Paul Bartel, the twisted genius behind the dark comedy classic Eating Raoul, throws in plenty of perversions and fetishes to make Private Parts a truly unique viewing experience. Bartel centers the entire film around Cheryl’s exploration of the King Edward and the exploration of her growing sexuality. In this way Bartel makes the viewer, not the unseen lover, into the real voyeur.
The cast of Private Parts features a few familiar faces. Lucille Benson is best known to slasher fans as Mrs. Elrod, the old lady making a sandwich for her husband in Halloween II. Laurie Main was the host of the Winnie the Pooh show on the Disney Channel back in the early 80s. Somehow I doubt he put this performance on his resume when he went to work for Mickey Mouse. Stanely Livingston, one of the sons on My Three Sons, has a small part as a date for Cheryl but he provides clues to the “What happened to Alice” subplot that fuels some of the mystery surrounding the King Edward Hotel. John Ventantonio seems to have vanished from Hollywood after portraying George, which is a shame considering the feverish performance he gives as the tortured photographer.
Ultimately, the strength of the film rests on the shoulders of Ayn Ruymen’s performance as Cheryl. If the viewer doesn’t care about Cheryl the character then none of the other trappings matter. Ruynen is totally believable as a teenage girl trying to grow up way to fast even though the actress was in her 20s when this was filmed. The role allows Ruymen to show many facets; head-strong teenager, frightened young girl, juvenile delinquent, love sick youth, and sensual temptress.
Private Parts seems to have influenced several slashers from the golden age of the genre despite its obscurity. Some of its story elements, especially the surprise twist at the end, can be found in Funeral Home, Unhinged, and the first Sleepaway Camp. The gory decapitation scene seems to have had a major effect on the career of Tom Savini. After the victim’s head hits the floor there is a quick shot of the real actor’s hands twitching before the body drops to the floor. If you’ve ever seen Friday the 13th or Eyes of a Stranger (just to name a few of Savini’s cinematic be-headings), then you know he loves showing the hands having spasms after the decapitation. When Private Parts was released theatrically it bombed and quickly slipped into obscurity. It deserves to be rediscovered, especially by fans who enjoy seeing early attempts at slasher films. Paul Bartel’s directing, the strong performances by the lead actors, and a sleaze level cranked up to eleven makes Private Parts a very unique little proto-slasher