Friday, October 23, 2015

EUROCINÉ’S THE HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS – DVD REVIEW


Virtually unseen in this digital age, Pierre Chevalier’s The HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS (1974) was produced by the budget-conscious specialists at Eurociné, a still-active French distribution and production company based out of Paris, who are probably best-known for producing Jean Rollin’s & Julián Esteban’s aquatic zombie snoozer ZOMBIE LAKE (1980) and a number of Jess Franco films, including The AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1962) and FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973, a.k.a. EROTIKILL). 

Barely released outside of Europe, The HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS is one of Eurociné’s notorious patchwork efforts starring Silvia Solar and Sandra Jullien (from Jean Rollin’s The SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES [1971] fame), which utilizes redubbed footage from Gianpaolo Callegari’s AGENT SIGMA 3: MISSION GOLDWATHER (1967), an Italian spy flick also starring Solar (which undoubtedly accounts for the reused footage) and Franco regular Jack Taylor as the titular agent.  Of course, this slapdash bit of cinematic manipulation is nothing new for Eurociné, whose alternate version of Jess Franco’s A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1971) contains numerous added reshoots (courtesy of Jean Rollin) of zombie mayhem not seen in Franco’s original edit.  Probably one of their most notorious fusions of sleaze is Alain Deruelle’s JAILHOUSE WARDRESS (1979), which utilizes newly-shot footage cobbled together around redubbed footage from Jess Franco’s BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1975) and Alain Payet’s HELLTRAIN (1977)! 

Like most of these patchwork efforts, the minimal storyline is usually lost among a variety of differing footage and redubbed dialogue, which strives desperately to make some semblance of coherence; The HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS is no exception.  Opening with red-tinged credits against the supposed “House of the Lost Dolls” (the same house from Jean Rollin’s zombie reshoots, and the very same house from the opening of Jess Franco’s GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS [1986], no less!), nudity fills the screen from the opening shot as Yvette (Magda Mundari) accepts “a date” with Mr. Gaston (Raymond Schettino), but he actually wants to bust her out of this prison/brothel, even though it’s “très dangeroux”.  This way-out-in-the-woods, clandestine destination of sin can only be accessed via a very bumpy dirt road – which doesn’t allow our escapees to drive very quickly! – and then, in a mind-boggling bit of idiocy, our couple decide to celebrate their successful escape with a little hanky-panky in the woods.  They eventually make it to a lowly police station where, via flashbacks, Yvette proceeds to recount her story to a highly doubtful police inspector.  

Jack Taylor from Gianfranco Galligari's SIGMA 3 AGENT GOLDWATHER (1967).
    
It seems Mr. Raski (Olivier Mathot), along with his accomplice Sylvia (Solar), is running a white slavery syndicate where he conveniently gets to sample the goods (“Lache moi!”).  The women are then put in large wicker baskets and shipped to the titular location run by Madame Zozo (Gillian Gill), but once again, are repeatedly taken advantage of by Raski’s henchmen, led by Eurociné stock player Yul Sanders (=Claude Boisson).  Much of the film unfolds through a seemingly endless parade of women being groped in grungy garages and the ship’s cargo hold (hence the film’s German release title, which translates as “The Ship of Imprisoned Women”), which does nothing to enhance the film’s already flimsy plotline.  With the help of Yvette’s testimony, some mysterious government agency gets involved and recruits Special Agent Jack (Jack Taylor from SIGMA 3) to help infiltrate this seedy organization, which takes him from Tangiers to Barcelona.  Of course, much of this footage is taken from the aforementioned Callegari film, and is mostly relegated to car chases and cut-rate punch-outs, while the unscrupulous Sylvia kills a snooping woman with poisonous fingernails.  Then, much like Bela Lugosi was hilariously “doubled” by Tom Mason in Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), Jack Taylor is also doubled by some anonymous guy in a few of the sleazy, nudity-filled ’70s scenes.
Montreal newspaper ad courtesy of Mike Ferguson & Steve Fenton.
After getting some solid intel from Barcelona about that mysterious cargo ship, the case is reassigned to Magda (Sandra Jullien), who ends up in Raski’s office with promises of a “three-week stay in a palace” and flying “premiere class”, but is instead drugged and seduced on Raski’s office floor.  Like the other girls, she too ends up being raped in the ship’s cargo hold in yet another protracted, nudity-filled scene.  Destined for “The House of the Lost Dolls”, Magda manages to escape after karate-chopping Sylvia, and then Jack shows up for a shoot-out on the docks as the film clumsily moves between SIGMA 3: MISSION GOLDWATHER and Chevalier’s newly-shot footage with Jullien.

Directing under his usual pseudonym of Peter Knight, Chevalier is probably best-known on these shores for his hokey, invisible woolly-monster movie The INVISIBLE DEAD (1970) and his cheap Sybil Danning action flick, PANTHER SQUAD (1984).  Scripted by “A.L. Mariaux”, some have speculated that the present film was written by Jess Franco, but it’s most likely the work of Eurociné head-honcho Marius Lesoeur; but in the end, who really knows?  Like most of Eurociné’s output in the ’70s, it’s incredibly cheap-looking, with harsh lighting and flat photography, this time courtesy of Gerard Brissaud, unlike Eurociné’s usual stock DP, Raymond Heil.  Incidentally, Heil went on to shoot John O’Hara (=José Jara)’s similar-sounding OASIS OF LOST WOMEN (1982, a.k.a. POLICE DESTINATION OASIS), which also used many of this film’s sleazy sequences! 


Originally released on Dutch videocassette (courtesy of EVC) in English with Dutch subtitles, this has yet to turn up on English-language DVD or an English-friendly European DVD.  So far, the only version currently available is from XT Video out of Austria under the title Das SCHIFF DER GEFANGENEN FRAUEN (“The Ship of Imprisoned Women”).  Released in 2006, this edition is enhanced for 16x9 and includes both German and French language options and sports the film’s alternate, and rather nonsensical, English language export title POLICE MAGNUM 84.  Marketed as written by Jess Franco (“Based on a story by Jess Franco – imprisoned and violated”), this Austrian DVD also contains an original trailer; alternate video credits and a small still gallery. Although technically OOP, the film does pop up for sale occasionally on eBay.

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