Cheryl Stratton (Ayn Ruymen) is a teenage runaway who has been living with her best friend, or at least she has until her roommate noticed Cheryl spying on her and her boyfriend while in bed. There was a blazing row and the young woman stormed out, vowing never to return. After that, she headed for the brights lights of Los Angeles where her Aunt Martha (Lucille Benson) owned a hotel, but as she hadn't seen her niece in years, she didn't recognise her and sternly told her to leave. However, once Cheryl explained her relationship and her predicament, Martha grudgingly agreed she could stay - as long as she didn't bother the guests.
But would the guests bother her? Apparently following in the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Private Parts was scripted by Philip Kearney and Les Rendelstein and like that film starts with its heroine escaping and moving into a temporary residence, not a motel this time but a hotel. Similarly, there are identity confusions and a murderer stalking the halls of the establishment, and there is a grimly amused sense of humour at work here, although perhaps not much to send you into fits of laughter.
This was also cult director and actor Paul Bartel's first feature-length film calling the shots behind the camera, and already his fixation on decadence and the jokes that arise from it were well in evidence. This means everyone in the hotel is twisted in some way, maybe they're simply senile like the old woman who rambles around asking for Alice, or perhaps there's something more seriously wrong with them, as with George (John Ventantonio), the photographer who may well have a connection to model Alice's disappearance - Cheryl is now staying in her room.
And when Cheryl thinks she's alone in there, she actually being spied on from the room beside hers, behind a mirror. Not only that, but there's an identical set up behind the mirror of the bathroom, yet Cheryl quite likes the idea of being the subject of voyeurism, even going so far as to complying with the wishes of the watcher by wearing clothes they set out for her. The identity of the voyeur isn't exactly impossible to spot, and the film strains hard to come up with surprises to end the story as true shocks are thin on the ground as after the first ten minutes you'll more or less have the measure of it.
Better not to worry about the upcoming twists, even though this is supposed to be a thriller. In fact, most of the tension springs from the innocent Cheryl in over her head in a dodgy situation, and Aunt Martha does her best to keep her on the straight and narrow. That said, Aunt Martha isn't exactly playing with a full deck, her hobbies being confined to attending funerals and taking photographs in the hope that she'll capture an image of the deceased's soul escaping their body. Like many thrillers after Hitchcock, it's all about watching and secrets, here the rooms Cheryl sneaks into each have their own revelations within, and peeking through holes in the wall or through a camera lens is the order of the day. Ruymen is an appealing lead - you'll be wondering why you haven't noticed her elsewhere - but that finale is farcical in its endeavours to catch you off guard. Private Parts is better in its atmosphere and wit than its poorly resolved story. Music by Hugo Friedhofer.