Judge Gordon Sullivan is a fire-swallowing, emo contortionist of the highest order.
Even the wildest beasts know mercy. But these are not beasts.
In the late '80s, scholar Tom Gunning revolutionized the study of early film with his "Cinema of Attractions" theory. Rather than viewing early movies as leading up to the feature-length narratives that became Hollywood's bread and butter, Gunning claims we should view these early experiments (like the Lumiere shorts and phantom rides) in their context. Screened at carnivals, on boardwalks, and at the circus, the content of these films weren't as important as their ability to attract more customers and deliver some "shock" to the audience.
Eventually, this paradigm waned, as technological and social factors led to the creation of the films we know and love today. However, that "Cinema of Attractions" spirit has never completely gone away. We still find it in the strategies and gimmicks of filmmakers like William Castle, a mantle which has been largely passed onto filmmakers in the horror genre. House of Flesh Mannequins is a perfect example.
Sebastian (Domiziano Archangeli, Virus X) was abused as a child, not only physically but mentally, when his father insisted on capturing most of his life on video. Now grown up, Sebastian likes to be the one behind the camera, though a new tenant in his apartment building could change that.
House of Flesh Mannequins is much like a lot of independent horror films, in that its virtues are also its drawbacks. The film is obviously steeped in a love of horror films, as fans can spend its 100-minute run time looking for references and homages. The plot is a pretty straight retelling of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, complete with poster for that film lurking in the background. But the fun doesn't stop there. Cronenberg, Lynch, Fulci, and the surrealism of Bunuel and Dali are all visually present throughout this gore-soaked narrative.
However, like many horror films, House of Flesh Mannequins spends so much time name-checking genre peers, it's hard to see what, if anything, new the film brings to the table. I like surrealism, Italian gore, Lynchian weirdness, and Cronenbergian body horror as much as the next guy, but throwing them all into one picture doesn't necessarily produce something worth watching.
Director Dominziano Cristopharo hopes to overcome these reservations by employing his own "Cinema of Attractions," featuring as many performances by actual artists and fetish models as he can. We get non-simulated sex, non-simulated cutting, and various kinds of weirdness…and these performances go well beyond the usual gore we see in horror flicks (these people actually cut themselves up). This might be an attraction to those interested in something beyond the usual manufactured gore, but others may be turned off knowing some of these acts are all too real. However, if Cristopharo can get past the debt he owes to prior masters, House of the Flesh Mannequins proves he can craft a decent surrealist horror flick.
This DVD release is pretty solid. The standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer shows the limitations of the source; detail isn't particularly strong and black levels aren't great, but the sometimes murky look rhymes with its murky protagonist. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo English dub isn't great, as some of the dialogue is mixed too low, but the screams and groans come through clearly. Italian subtitles are included, but there is no original Italian language track nor English subtitles. Bonus features include the full cuts of the five snuff films featured in House of the Flesh Mannequins, a short featurette on the film's use of make-up, 12 minutes of interviews with cast and crew, and some behind-the-scenes footage.
In the end, what we're left with is a competently made story of gore and torture. Of course that's precisely the problem; a film that seeks to shock as much as House of the Flesh Mannequins shouldn't come off quite so ho-hum.
Not perfect, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
• Deleted Scenes
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