House of Flesh Mannequins is another of those films – like Simon Killer and Ubaldo Terzano Horror Show – which is highly influenced by the likes of Maniac and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in the way it features a psychopath as its protagonist. As with them, it’s not in any way a likable or enjoyable viewing experience; to put it quite frankly it’s hard work, not helped by the modest production values and wayward performances that come hand-in-hand with the minuscule budget (it was made for c$400k). Any kind of humour – or even positive emotion – is entirely absent, despite the at times inherent ludicrousness of the events being depicted; and the filmmaker seek to wallow in the general violence and depravity on show. It’s a film, in other words, which seems to have been fashioned in gothic nightclubs for aficionados of Nick Zedd and Throbbing Gristle.
Sebastien (Domiziano Arcangeli) is the owner of a large apartment block with a number of weird tenants. Just moved in are Sarah (doll-like Irena A. Hoffman) and her disabled father (80s gore movie favourite Giovanni Lombardo Radice). She takes a fancy to him despite his distinctly unprepossessing looks and the fact that he has all the charisma of a mackerel. He gradually reveals more of his past, including the fact that his father filmed him 24/7 when he was a young boy as well as plenty of other weird shit that happened in the family. He now works as a freelance photographer – working for a bizarre pornographer (Randal Malone) who specializes in extreme and illegal material – and spends his free time filming prostitutes as he picks them up and kills them.
This is not a film I can in any way say that I liked. It has a certain power, for sure, and the extremity and odd performances often border on the surreal: a dream sequence (I think) set in the eponymous ‘House of Flesh Mannequins’, a kind of circus style torture garden including hardcore sex acts, is particularly notable. But the script is poor, featuring almost no dialogue which in any way rings true, while visually it simply tries too hard to be Argento-ish, becoming grating as a result.
Director Domiziano Cristopharo has gone on to become something of a one man film industry in Italy, making another four low-budget films since 2010 as well as contributing to six episodic films (and he currently has two films in post production). Lead actor Domiziano Arcangeli is a curious character, a child model who started acting in films in the early eighties and has been appearing non stop ever since: this is a guy who has worked with Bruno Mattei, Jess Franco, Aldo Lado, Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bianchi and Joe D’Amato.