Kino Lorber has rescued yet another long-forgotten American International Pictures gem and have given it a proper Blu-ray release. This time, they have opened the HOUSE OF 1000 DOLLS, a 1967 American/European co-production from none other than the ubiquitous Harry Alan Towers.
Starring Vincent Price and Academy Award nominee Martha Hyer (SOME CAME RUNNING), the film was advertised as an expose of the white slavery racket (circa 1967) though this was merely an excuse to conceal the producer's true purpose — another of his potboilers featuring name performers in sexploitation vehicles. Price, by now an AIP regular, and Ms. Hyer, who had made BIKINI BEACH and PYRO for the company, play nightclub illusionists who use their act to hypnotize and kidnap young and attractive audience members who are then transported to a Tangiers Brothel known as “The House of Dolls''. This establishment is the base of operations for a gang of International White Slavers (led by the mysterious ''King of Hearts'') who then ship the indoctrinated girls to fleshpots all over the world. When a magician known as “'The Great Manderville'' (Price) and partner Rebecca (Hyer) grab their latest victim, Diane (none other than Towers’ real-life wife, Maria Rohm, a regular performer in his productions), American tourist Stephen Armstrong (ROBOT MONSTER star George Nader, who was once groomed for stardom in the U.S.) and his British wife Marie (Anne Smyrner, REPTILICUS) are drawn into the plot. Stephen's old friend Fernando (Sancho Gracia, 100 RIFLES), who is also Diane's Fiancée, enlists their help in his search for her, little knowing that by doing so, all three have placed their lives in great danger.
Directed by Jeremy Summers (THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU) with a screenplay written by Towers himself (under his usual ''Peter Welbeck'' pseudonym), HOUSE OF 1000 DOLLS is a strange concoction — on the surface, it seems at first to be a mystery thriller with occasional action scenes tossed in for variety. But, according to Price, the filmmakers had other ideas: “What she (Hyer) and I didn't know was, they were making a ‘dirty’' version of the film at the same time. Every day we had off, they'd make a dirty version. We went visiting on the set one day, and there was everyone naked! And they weren't even the same girls!” This probably explains why the movie heads in at least three different directions without really succeeding at any of them. Thanks to the persuasive performances of veterans Price and Hyer, it's not without entertainment value, but those hoping for some risque fun won't find it here.
Though it does boast a collection of International Beauties (most of them, like the majority of the supporting cast, rather crudely dubbed in English) there are only 20 or so, not the titular thousand. The photography is well above average for this sort of project (as is the score by Charles Camellari) and the story does move, if at a rather deliberate pace. So deliberate in fact that the frantic climax and hasty conclusion is almost at odds with the rest of the picture. Still, for those who hang in there until the end, the wrap-up is at least logical, if hardly a surprise. The director does make use of the extra screen space to show off the exotic scenery (it was shot in Spain) and his collection of lovely ''Dolls''. Despite their billing, both Price and Hyer (even more beautiful in the 1960s than she was a decade prior) are merely secondary, leaving most of the intrigue and action scenes in Nader's hands. At least he's up to the task, as is Ms. Smyrner. Herbert Fux (from MARK OF THE DEVIL and LADY FRANKENSTEIN) also appears as a pesty street photographer. Anyone who watches Spanish horror films will recognize Milo Quesada (from CAULDRON OF BLOOD and THE BLOODY JUDGE) as a an early victim, as well as Yelena Samarina (from THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN and MURDER MANSION) as the house’s Madame Viera.
When it was first released back in 1967 (on the top half of a double bill with THE MILLION EYES OF SU-MURU, another Towers production also featuring Nader), AIP cut 17 minutes of the original 96 minute running time and added a brief prologue, presenting it as ''A depiction of white slavery as it exists today''. The studio also reshuffled a few of the scenes which didn't really hurt the plot, though some of the deletions did. After its brief theatrical showings, it quickly disappeared and was soon forgotten. Eventually it made its television debut on the ''CBS Late Movie'' in the late 1970s. In the 1990s, the HBO home video label distributed a full-screen videotape of the theatrical cut, and years later, it made its DVD debut (in a full-screen PAL version) courtesy of a European company called ''Umbrella Entertainment''. In 2011, MGM finally released the film as a manufactured-on-demand widescreen DVD as part of their Limited Edition Collection.
Kino Lorber has now licensed HOUSE OF 1000 DOLLS from MGM and have done a new HD transfer of the film specifically for this release. Like MGM’s 2011 DVD, the print source used is the longer 96-minute cut of the film and the 1080p HD transfer preserves the film in its original 2.35:1 Techniscope aspect ratio. Starting off with the early 1970s AIP “sky” logo (apparently inserted from MADHOUSE), the transfer is a significant improvement over the MGM DVD. The image depth is excellent throughout and clarity is very impressive, and contrast levels also remain stable. As the DVD tended to have muted colors, the color saturation here looks vibrant, and the film has an organic appearance that’s consistent throughout and free of excessive dirt and debris. Grain shows up from time to time, and is more noticeable in some of the nighttime scenes. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is strong, and dialogue, with all its post-sync dubbing, is clear while the music score comes through nicely. No subtitle options are included. The title song recorded by ''Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers'' is mentioned in the opening credits, but is nowhere to be found on this print source. As for the extra footage, it simply extends present scenes, and adds a few others, some of which do help to make clear what the shorter theatrical print did not. Although it's rumored the ''dirty'' footage Price spoke of was edited into the longer version, it's not here, and likely never existed. There is a little more violence, and the girls who run afoul of their captors are whipped a bit longer, but that's it.
A commentary is included featuring film historian David Del Valle and low budget filmmaker David DeCoteau (NIGHTMARE SISTERS). Del Valle states that this project was originally conceived as “Sax Rohmer’s House of Dolls”, to be shot in Dublin as a period piece with not only Price but Klaus Kinski and Rupert Davies, and that Terence Fisher was to direct it! DeCoteau serves more as a moderator, and shares a good amount of info about producer Towers (who he knew) and proclaims his fondness for the film’s cinematographer, Manuel Merino, who worked on a number of Jess Franco films. Del Valle (who originally saw the film at a drive-in on a double bill with MARYJANE) believes that the cut of the film presented here is the most complete version available, and he also mentions Price’s disappointment in his career with AIP at this time, right before his contract was up for renegotiation (and he would do another seven features for the company). Rounding out the extras are trailers for MADHOUSE, TALES OF TERROR and MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE, all available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. (Phil Lindholm and George R. Reis)
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