For fans of the horror genre, there are plenty of films that have reputations which precede them. Some are for good reasons, others for some not-so-good ones. As I assume most horror fans do, after years of watching the more well known films the genre has to offer, I began diving deeper. Once you open those floodgates, there is no going back. One film that I would hear or read about over and over again was House of Flesh Mannequins. Well, after over a decade, I can finally say that I’ve watched Domiziano Cristopharo’s debut film.
A lonely filmmaker and his beautiful neighbor begin a strange relationship, one that is full of past tragedies and strange new addictions.
Many times when you hear a lot about a film for such a long time, it creates certain expectations. With this movie in particular, I thought I was getting into another low-budget, fairly forgettable experience. While I was indeed correct about the size of its budget, I think it is fair to say that I won’t be forgetting House of Flesh Mannequins anytime soon.
I have seen a couple of films by writer and director Domiziano Cristopharo. From those experiences, I knew to expect a small cast and some pretty wild ideas being expressed before my eyes. These two things were spot on, but this was not a negative thing by any means.
Although small, the cast of performers introduced throughout the film’s now fully uncut 106 minutes were actually much more impressive than I could have ever anticipated. While I won’t say that anyone here would win any Academy awards, I was still impressed nonetheless.
Domiziano Arcangeli (Waiting for Dracula), who also happens to be the producer of the film, does a very good job as the keeps-to-himself Sebastian, an aspiring filmmaker with a sordid past. Even better than his performance is that of Irena Violette (Metamorphosis).
Violette’s portrayal of the increasingly curious and rather straightforward Sarah is a perfect compliment to Arcangeli’s Sebastian. The two characters both very clearly have survived their own tragedies and now they can navigate the aftermath together.
What is it that I’ve heard about House of Flesh Mannequins for all of these years? Well, for one, the level of ‘exteme’ is always a topic of discussion. How extreme can this little indie movie really be? After seeing a whole slew of more underground or obscure horror flicks in the past year or two, would this one really be all that shocking?
The answer for this is twofold really. House of Flesh Mannequins is extreme, but the height of that extremity isn’t really seen until the last 20 minutes or so. Sure, we are fed some pretty disturbing imagery early on as we learn just what Sebastian has been filming and photographing over the years, but really the only other extremeness comes from explicit scenes of real sex. Until that final act, that is.
Using real-life extreme body modification artists, Cristopharo introduces scenes of torture that will definitely cause people to feel rather uncomfortable. I think it is strange to intersperse 100% authentic footage of a woman getting a spike drilled through both breasts with others that are clearly executed using practical make-up effects. It is an odd decision, but one that ultimately seems to have worked for the Italian filmmaker in his debut film, as House of Flesh Mannequins has accumulated a rather sizeable cult following it seems.
Inspired by Michael Powell’s 1960 film, Peeping Tom, House of Flesh Mannequins is one part arthouse, one part porno, and one part gore flick. Sebastian tries to explain to his new friend [and more] that what he films, while revolting to most, is actually art at its finest. Similarly, Sarah expresses the same thought pattern when speaking with her father, played by exploitation and horror veteran Giovanni Radice. Better known as John Morghen, most fans would recognize him from films like Cannibal Ferox, City of the Living Dead, The House on the Edge of the Park, and so many others. In those artistic points of view, however, lies some pretty questionable content.
Sebastian, and, as we learn later in the film, Sarah are fascinated by fear, torture, and ultimately, death. These concepts have shaped them as youngsters and still does to this day. Unfortunately, this leads them down a one way path that ultimately lands them in prison.
House of Flesh Mannequins is said to be based on a true story and while I am not sure this is true, I can certainly see it being pretty close to something that would happen in this strange world we live in.
House of Flesh Mannequins at Home
Any time I need to get back to my “Repulsive” roots, I know I can count on the wonderful people behind the scenes at Unearthed Films. Yet again, Stephen Biro and his small and loyal crew have given fans an entry into the Too Extreme For Mainstream line. As number three in this series, House of Flesh Mannequins is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.
The film is presented for the first time as close to Domiziano Cristopharo’s original vision as possible. The newly re-edited and re-mastered film is presented here in 1.85:1/16:9 widescreen format with a 2.0 PCM audio track. I always look for subtitles when watching a film, even if it is in English, but unfortunately there are none here.
Along with the film, fans new and old alike are presented various bonus features. Included in this new home release are featurettes on the special effects used in the film, cast and crew interviews, and a very interesting interview with Cristopharo himself, just to name a few.
I found the ~15 minute interview with the creative mastermind behind House of Flesh Mannequins the most interesting. He discusses how difficult it was to get the film made and what he had to go through behind the scenes to finally bring his vision to life.
I don’t think I will be revisiting this one anytime soon; The story does seem to drag on in some parts and I honestly am not sure I even grasped what the goal was here. Still, I have a lot of respect for Domiziano and am happy he was finally able to present fans a better representation of his directorial debut.
It features great special effects and really does have a better overall production value than most of its low/no budget contemporaries.
Be sure to pick up House of Flesh Mannequins today, if you think you can handle it, as I give it 2 flesh-ripping spoons out of 5.