‘Hello, am I through to Netflix? I’d like to speak to the algorithm in charge please. Yes, I’ll hold…’ We haven’t had a zero-stars hate-watch for a while, but if Netflix are going to publish grubby bottom-rung British sexploitation on their streaming website, I’m obliged to call them out on it. This isn’t the 70’s, so we don’t have to hand-wring about erosion of our moral standards or what happens if children see this kind of muck. But we can call it as we see it; normalising such dog-eared, woman-hating porn surely isn’t a great look for the Netflix brand in 2022. It’s almost as if Twitter got a new boss who used his first tweet for the kind of idle, bullying slander that will lead most customers to immediately seek other methods of communication….
Sex sold in the 70’s, when there was no magic porridge pot of clips and images on tap via the internet; The Playbirds was a sequel of sorts to Come Play With Me, and both films made a small fortune for 70’s pornographer now turned 21st century media baron David Sullivan. Shortly before he served jail time in the 80’s for living off the income of prostitution, Sullivan was keen to make a star of his then girlfriend Mary Millington, who plays the lead in both films, but she committed suicide while The Playbirds was still in theatres. The Playbirds takes its title from one of Sullivan’s own array of pornographic magazines, and the narrative takes the line that the female cover stars are being murdered one by one. Millington plays WPC Lucy Sheridan, who agrees to pose for the magazine to act as bait for the killer. Does this all sound seedy enough to give you the picture?
As a deeply misogynist text, The Playbirds doubles and triples down on outright unpleasantness; aside from objectifying women in the crudest possible way through dismal-looking and demeaning striptease routines, the audience are then further invited to vicarious ‘thrills’ as the same women are hunted down and brutally murdered on camera. The sub-giallo plot allows from a variety of slumming British comedy stars to appear; Derren Nesbitt, Windsor Davies, Kenny Lynch, Ballard Berkley and That’s Life star Gavin Campbell all appear. One of the dumbfounding things about the way films like this expose the 70’s British media is that people who were popular children’s and family entertainers cashed in on their stardom in such cheapo, nasty films. It’s also suggestive that many of the same people who were involved in films like this are still powerful figures today.
Let’s be sex-positive by all means; there’s nothing wrong with nudity or the human body, and there are films in this genre that might be worth a revival. But The Playbirds isn’t one of them, a vile example of the brutal treatment of women that was the norm in certain strata of British society, and remains so today. It’s a repellent, out-dated and decidedly reprehensible film that shouldn’t be banned or censored, just not normalised and promoted on a global streaming service.
The Playbirds is on Netflix UK, Netflix Spain, and beyond. No trailer for this one, sorry.