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.
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