A seminal British film of the 1970s, Kiss My Whip could have proved a turning point for low-budget British film-making. However, the curse of poor distribution – the nemesis of many promising Brit-flicks of this era – scuppered its box-office prospects. A failure to secure a US distributor and the movie’s confinement to the lower half of double-bills on the skin-flick circuit in the UK resulted in Kiss My Whip being denied the critical recognition it truly merited.

Using the framework of the traditional private eye thriller, director Eric Cocker (an acolyte of no-budget maestro Lindsay Shonteff) fashions a startling tale of suppressed desires and unspoken lusts erupting into a mundane everyday world. As his hard-boiled hero Tom Mulligan (played by beefcake pin-up and reputed part-time rent-boy Biff Gloy), stalks the damp and grey South London badlands in search of an old friend’s missing daughter, he finds himself disturbed by his growing fascination with sado-masochism and his hitherto hidden desire to be dominated by tough women. In reflecting his gradual awakening, the film’s structure is neatly symmetrical – for most of the first half Mulligan brutally beats, kicks and burns information from suspects as he pursues his quest, whilst the second half is dominated by his capture and subjugation by the dominatrix (Dawn Horne). The narrative’s turning point comes when, having liberated the girl (Daisy Florin) from the S&M vice ring into whose clutches she has apparently fallen, she betrays him, revealing that she is in fact a willing participant in their black leather bondage games. The sequences which follow, with Mulligan strapped to an iron bedstead whilst he is brutally tortured have a raw power rarely seen in British film. Credit must be paid to Gloy for his outstanding performance in these scenes, his face registering his confusion as he feels first pain, then ecstasy as burning cigarettes are stubbed out on his chest. The movie’s denouement, where Mulligan discovers that the girl had in fact been running away from her father, who had sexually abused her, is a true tour de force for Cocker. In a frenzied sequence of hand-held camera shots, Mulligan tears his erstwhile friend’s artificial leg off and beats him to death with it in his greenhouse. The juxtaposition of the bizarre – the artificial leg – and the mundane – the greenhouse’s tomato plants and cucumbers – is inspired and dripping with symbolism.

Whilst the influences of Shonteff are clearly to be seen in Cocker’s direction, the film has something of the raw quality of The Fast Kill and The Big Zapper, for instance, his treatment of the subject matter is unique. The film’s box-office failure deterred British film-makers from further explorations of psych-sexual subjects in genre frameworks – a potentially fruitful direction for British film. Nevertheless, the popularity of Kiss My Whip in Continental and Oriental markets ensured that a sequel – My Gun is Long – was produced, and the film has gradually built up a cult following in the UK. Hopefully, its long overdue video release will finally allow it to take its rightful place amongst classic British films.