Posted by Richard Harland Smith on April 24, 2007
Watching Saw III (2006) recently, my cocking eyebrow arced itself imperiously as the action decamped to a warehouse festooned sinisterly with mannequins. Oh dear, I thought… that old chestnut.
The use of mannequins as agents of suspense goes back at least as far as Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss (1955), in which the disembodied arms of future department store mannequins dangle above the heads of the sweaty dramatis personae like the accusatory fingers of the Gods. Perhaps inspired by Kubrick, Japanese auteur Seijun Suzuki set a couple of action scenes of his gangster picture Underworld Beauty (Ankokugai no bijo, 1958) in the loft of an artist who sketches and sculpts mannequins. In Mario Bava’s classic body count thriller Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964), dress dummies clot the mise en scène, casting shadows and providing cover for a fashion house slasher.
Like eerie fin de siècle China dolls (did little girls at the turn of the 19th century get any sleep?), mannequins give good creep… and creep up in many classic genre films. In The Omega Man (1971), last man Charlton Heston pursues last woman Rosalind Cash in a dusty department store, where she attempts to evade him by literally posing as a mannequin. Ivan Rassimov plays a suave headcase with a boudoir full of stabbing mannequins in the Euro-sleaze classic Spasmo (1974), while schizo hillbilly Chuck Connors turns unwary sightseers into mannequins in Tourist Trap (1979) and Joe Spinell’s Maniac (1980) fills his grotty New York 1BR with mannequins he keeps as trophies for the sluts he has stalked and scalped.
Hearkening back to Kubrick, Spanish B-movie-maker Amando de Ossorio crafted a chilling little suspense setpiece set in a mannequin-maker’s shop for Tombs of the Blind Dead (La noche del terror ciego, 1971), the first of his “Blind Dead” quartet. It’s a fairly desperate move on Ossorio’s part – the scene doesn’t hook up with anything else in the movie and blithely contradicts the “rules” of the undead and highly conservative Knights Templar as they run down high-living contemporary Spaniards – but it still works a horripilating charm.
I'm always up for a good mannequin scare but Saw III throws the potential away to go for the gross-out. That's okay… I'll always have Plaster of Paris.
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D Academy Awards Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Art Direction Art in Movies Asians in Hollywood Australian CInema Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Black Film Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Children Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Film Composers Film Criticism Film Festival 2015 film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films About Gambling Films of the 1930s Films of the 1960s Films of the 1970s Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Film Hosts Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Memorabilia Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes movie flops Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Magazines Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movie titles Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals New Releases Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Russian Film Industry Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Set design/production design Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Spaghetti Westerns Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller Swashbucklers TCM Classic Film Festival TCM Underground Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies U.S.S. Indianapolis Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies