Mondo Macabro is pretty well known for digging up lost gems that cater to the more esoteric lot of fans, especially those that appreciate a certain amount of sleaze and silliness in their horror. With recent releases like French Sex Murders and Satanico Pandemonium the company's latest, the necrophilia themed Living Doll, should be an all out laugh riot, no? Well, in a way it is, but it's also a damned cool little horror love story, to boot!
Howard (Jax) is a med student who makes ends meet by working in a New York hospital morgue. He's not the best student, often skipping classes and study sessions in favor of stalking and photographing the lovely Christine (Orgill), a young woman who works at the hospital's flower stand. While Howard's obsession is a dangerous one, that's nothing compared to what happens when he discovers Christine's body laying on a slab in the morgue after a traffic accident! Howard can't accept that the love of his life is dead, and falls under the delusion that she suffers from a rare disease that only makes it appear that she is dead! So, when she's finally laid to rest, Howard digs her up and takes her home to his apartment (a rundown slum run by a nosy landlord played by Earth Kitt). While, in Howard's eyes, Christine is just as beautiful as she was when she sold him flowers day after day, we see that she is rotting at an alarming rate. As rats feed on her maggot infested carcass, so too does this delusion feed on Howard's mind, as his descent into madness leads to murder.
With gruesome special effects by Hellraiser's Paul Catling, moody and effective production values, and a very charming performance by Mark Jax, Living Doll rises well above its low-budget intentions. Sure it's dated, and the soundtrack is the sort of stuff you'd expect to hear in a 70's romantic drama, but the story and the visual effects hold up incredibly well, and make for an absolute blast of a film. Things start off a little clumsily as the British cast seem to have a bit of trouble adjusting to their "New Yawk" accents (at first, I even though Jax was French or Russian!), but it comes together in the end, and Howard becomes a character whose plight we really learn to care about. And, while the limited budget makes for limited sets, directors Litten and Dugdale make the most of what they are given, flooding sets with blues and reds, and creating an almost Creepshow-like atmosphere.
The DVD from Mondo Macabro is loaded with extras, including a short film called "Horrorshow", a video diary, interviews, trailers, stills, and more. The set also features a nice documentary which focuses on the making of another Dick Randall film, but is presented here as a way of showing what kind of man the legendary producer was.
I was really surprised by Living Doll. I expected another goofy Euro-sleaze flick, but what I got was an enormously entertaining, gruesome, and oddly touching film that is now amongst my faves in this genre. Highly recommended!