Paul Bartel, the auteur behind the classically quirky low budget black comedies Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, began his illustrious career with Private Parts, a good-enough 1972 psycho-sexual thriller. Made just before the director's odd touch was refined, Bartel is almost playing it straight here… Well, as straight as trans-gender soul swapping, water filled sex dolls, and decapitations can be played.
The movie's about a “teen” runaway (played by the of-age Ayn Ruymen, who can – and does – legally get topless on-screen) who takes refuge from her lousy hippie friends in her aunt's creepy run down San Francisco hotel, a place that houses a plethora of strange tenants including a leather loving priest, an old lady obsessed with a mysterious girl named Alice, and a photographer who takes voyeuristic photos for skin mags.
In many ways this movie is like Bartel doing Polanski, and in fact Polanksi covered similar territory a few years later with his own flawed gem, The Tenant. While Private Parts isn't as ground breaking as the work of Polanksi is, it's actually pretty hard to pull of a decent thriller and this one includes some arresting imagery and showcases the beginnings of Bartel's peculiar signature humor (if you're a fan of his more famous work, you may mourn the absence of laughs – and Mary Woronov). The plot is fine, though maybe the big twist is too easy to guess too early – but if you're not expecting a masterpiece, just some fun, 1970s off beat thrills, you're in for a treat.