House of 1000 Dolls (1967)
“ere are the SHOCKING FACTS discovered within the…”
Director: Jeremy Summers
Cast: Vincent Price, Martha Hyer, George Nader
Synopsis: When a vacationing couple in Tangiers run into an old friend there, they discover that he is searching for his missing girlfriend who has been kidnapped by an international gang of white slavers.
In its opening reels, Jeremy Summers’ House of 1000 Dolls seems unable to decide just who its hero is to be. First, in the exotic locale of a roadside cafe in Tangiers, we have a handsome young Spaniard explaining to his American friends that he is searching for his girlfriend, whom he believes to have been abducted by a gang of international white slave traffickers. As the Americans continue with their holiday, the Spaniard visits a number of bars and brothels with an equally sleek and James Bond-like companion. One of these establishments proves to be the house of the title, an upper-class brothel stocked with beautiful European women, all of whom have been abducted and forced into prostitution, and it’s not long before our hero is reunited with his good lady. However, when he leaves the brothel to alert the police he’s followed by a group of burly men who chase him down and kill him.
That’s when the story’s attention returns to Stephen Armstrong (George Nader — The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel), the bland American to whom our now deceased hero related his woes. Armstrong’s a police pathologist back in the States, with a low opinion of police efficiency, so when he’s called upon to identify his dead friend’s body he decides to investigate both his murder and the disappearance of his girlfriend himself rather than rely on the questionable skills of Inspector Emil (Wolfgang Kieling, who’s probably best known for getting himself gassed by Paul Newman in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain). Armstrong’s investigations take on an even more personal tone when he discovers that his own wife, Marie (Ann Smyrner) has mysteriously failed to re-appear after vanishing as part of the act of the magician Felix Manderville (Vincent Price — Laura, The Abominable Dr. Phibes) and his glamorous assistant, Rebecca (Martha Hyer — The Sons of Katie Elder).
House of 1000 Dolls begins quite brightly, with an intriguing credits sequence in which we see one of Manderville’s comely young victims delivered in a coffin to a house on a dusty Tangier street and screaming in terror when the magician snaps his fingers to awaken her from the trance in which he placed her during his magic show. But sadly the film fails to build on that promising opening, miring itself instead in a glut of dull scenes, many of which are entirely superfluous and most of which are just plain dull. This could be because the script is the brainchild of one Peter Welbeck, who is actually the nom-de-plume of notorious exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers, the man responsible for such ‘classics’ as The Million Eyes of Su-Muru (with which this movie was double-billed) and Sandy the Seal (1968). Towers was clearly a man who thought nothing of building an entire plot around one lurid detail (in this case, white slave traffic), but he simply didn’t possess the talent or imagination to deliver anything of value or interest to any but the most undemanding viewer.
Having said that, although it doesn’t have much going for it — apart from some attractive location photography and Price’s performance — House of 1000 Dolls isn’t a complete disaster, and is at least engaging enough to keep us watching. The ageing US actor George Nader makes a dignified but unexciting leading man, although on this evidence it’s doubtful that his screen career would have amounted to much even if he hadn’t been another victim thrown to the journalistic wolves in order to preserve Rock Hudson’s career. Vincent Price and Martha Hyer are supposed to be the leads but they have only supporting roles, and that’s a real shame where Price is concerned because he at least brings some life to the proceedings despite delivering a fairly subdued performance. Although Hyer’s performance doesn’t compare to Price’s, her mad bouffant hair-do is a marvel of tonsorial architecture. Seriously — the amount of hairspray she must have used in order to keep it in place probably shortened the life of our planet by a couple of years…
Of course, this being a Towers movie, there’s a bevy of scantily-clad young ladies on hand — although nowhere near the 1000 the title might lead us to expect — to distract us occasionally from all those interminable scenes of Nader being followed by an array of shady-looking men in turbans or black suits who like to peer at him from behind walls before launching laughably inept assaults on his persons. They honestly can’t fight for toffee, and at one point even come off second best to a barefoot girl in a bikini. At least Towers was consistent — you always know what you’re about to receive when you sit down to watch one of his movies.
(Reviewed 15th June 2014)