House of Dolls refers to the house where three estranged, to put it mildly, sisters Diana (Alicia Underwood, Ghost Note, When Androids Dream), Helen (Taylor Cox) and Charlotte (Naomi Lopez, New Year’s Evil, The Devil’s Ring) are forced to deal with each other in order to collect an inheritance.
Considering how much they hate each other there must be a lot of money at stake to make the three of them plus Charlott’s boyfriend Justin (Jack Rain, AWOL-72, Desecrated) spend a weekend in a house built to resemble a giant dollhouse. But, according to their grandmother Celine (Dee Wallace, Critters, The Nest) his final wish was that they reconcile so here they are.
Large sums of money might also explain the masked killer who’s roaming Los Angeles killing anyone with a connection to the girls. That ranges from one of their boyfriends to the manager of the club where aspiring musician Charlotte’s video shoot was interrupted by a police bust.
I have a feeling director Juan Salas (The Wolf Catcher, The Trple D) found this location and then he and co-writer Iv Amenti quickly whipped up House of Dolls’ script to shoot in it. And I say quickly because it doesn’t feel like any time or effort was put into giving the viewer anyone to care about, or anything resembling a coherent plot.
Most of the first act is our introduction to the three sisters and it does a good job of letting us know just what unlikable people they are, especially the coked out diva Charlotte. And if they’re annoying separately you can imagine what they’re like once they’re brought together to hunt for the clues he left to the money’s whereabouts.
Most viewers will be more interested in the trail of bodies that the House of Dolls’ killer is leaving in his wake. They are bloody and include a disembowelment, a smashed-in skull and somebody crucified against a refrigerator and then cut in half with a chainsaw. There’s an almost giallo-like level of sadism and violence on display here and it’s done with practical effects.
Unfortunately, while the killer’s leather trenchcoat looks menacing enough their pink spiked ski mask just looks silly. The scene where they headbutt someone to death with it looks funny rather than frightening as are multiple scenes where characters just walk up to the killer yelling at them until they get stabbed. Worst of all, in one of the film’s more important scenes the victim suddenly acquires a very noticeable shower cap when they’re knocked into the pool.
To that we can add some predictable plot devices, a cop (Meeko, Night Rapper, The Monster) who is one step behind the killer, one of the sisters being killed and the remaining two decide not to call the cops but keep hunting for the cash, the silent killer who gets chatty in the last few minutes and his very predictable identity. And, of course, lots of crappy music on the soundtrack.
Now to be fair, House of Dolls does have some nicely lit and composed shots courtesy of cinematographer Jorge Villa (The Devil’s Ring, Mr Lee: 20 Years of Power) including part of a murder scene reflected in a piece of a shattered mirror. They further suggest that Salas was aiming at creating a giallo and fell short of the mark.
Some good kills and the occasional flashes of potential stop House of Dolls from being bottom of the barrel, but they can’t do much to offset an extremely weak script and some equally poor acting.
House of Dolls had its premiere on September 30th and is available on Digital Platforms via VMI Worldwide. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more info.