Tuesday, July 18, 2017

House of 1,000 Dolls (1967)

Original title: La casa de las mil muñecas/Das Haus der tausend Freuden

Tangiers, Spain, I mean Morocco. After a friend of him is murdered while looking for his kidnapped girlfriend, who he suspects has fallen into the hands of white slavers and brought to Tangiers, US criminal pathologist Stephen Armstrong (George Nader) takes it on himself to solve the case. Stephen doesn’t think much of the efforts of the local police under Inspector Emil (Wolfgang Kieling), though he will eventually learn that the good Inspector is rather more clever than he gives him credit for.

Of course, the fiendish plan the white slaver operation and their mysterious unseen mastermind, the King of Hearts, use to grab unwilling young women for Tangiers’ House of 1,0000 Dolls (winner of the price for the creepiest brothel name three times in a row), is so absurd no sensible policeman would expect it. For the syndicate has acquired the services of stage magician Felix Manderville (Vincent Price) and his assistant Rebecca (Martha Hyer). Manderville finishes his shows by letting a (young, pretty, and female) audience member disappear; and sometimes they really disappear, getting knocked out and shipped off in coffins to Tangiers. It’s so stupid a plan, it is understandable it can only be uncovered by an American tourist like Stephen.

House of 1,000 Dolls, directed by Jeremy Summers (apparently a hard-working TV director with a handful of low budget genre movies to his credit) and Hans Billian (mostly involved with German softcore porn and assorted genres) is a Spanish-German co-production managed by the German Constantin Film, apparently with some involvement by AIP as well as Harry Alan Towers. It was mostly shot in Spain, which provides a lot of rather attractive locations shots that don’t look terribly like Morocco but also don’t terribly not look like Morocco.

It’s a bit of a mess of a film, working from a script that borrows elements of the Eurospy film, and the German Krimi in its Edgar Wallace adaptation guise and adds some very mild titillation of the bikini girls in peril getting whipped type. To make things more commercially viable, the film throws in the typically boring George Nader – who was semi-big in Germany thanks to playing FBI agent Jerry Cotten in a series of adaptations of German Heftromane starring the character (rather neutered pulps, more or less) – and a not terribly excited looking Vincent Price for star power. On paper, the film should be rather awesome, but its pacing is sluggish, and many of the scenes seem completely random, as if the writers had just added bits of the different genres they were plundering without any care for connectivity.

Which wouldn’t be all that bad – and even par for the course for Eurospy films - if these random bits were all as awesome as the incredibly stupid plan of the bad guys, the neat little intro scene concerning Pricean shenanigans in a funeral parlour, or the straight-facedly bizarre sequence where two of the girls make a break for it (in high heels and underwear, obviously), but there’s rather a lot of filler, investigation scenes that go nowhere fast, and a script that assumes an audience cares for the identity of a criminal mastermind it never sees doing anything (a mistake the German krimis whose criminal masterminds were visibly active even when they were not visible never made).

It’s not a terrible film, mind you. Price is obviously a joy even when he’s only picking up a pay check, and at least the whole thing looks and sounds good.

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