Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Ed Naha
Produced by: Brian Yuzna
Reviewed by: Brett H.
The killer doll sub-genre of horror is one that often gets little to no respect and I donít agree with this at all. The premise is a bit silly at first, but really, supernatural horror films are very silly in general, and part of the fun is in that. Unrealistic, out of the norm, just plain weird, it all plays into why we think horror films are so entertaining. The tone of the movie is really what matters. Childís Play was the perfect example of this, really bringing a dark aspect to these films and scared the bejesus out of me as a kid and nearly every other kid I know back then and since. Dolls, which came out a year earlier, takes a humorous but none the less very stylish approach. And since itís a non-Childís Play killer doll movie, you know Charles Band is hiding in the shadows somewhere. Yep, executive producer.
David, Rosemary and seven year old Judy (Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon and Carrie Lorraine) are on vacation when their car gets stuck in a patch of mud. David is divorced to Judyís mom and Rosemary is now married to David and most naturally, she is a bitch to Judy, who is a very sweet little girl with a wild imagination. They canít get the car out so they decide to hoof it to the nearest shelter, which happens to be a mansion just off the road from where they are stuck. David and Rosemary walk along, neglecting Judy, but no matter. She has her best friend, Teddy, a stuffed bear to tag along with her. Rosemary thinks Teddy is slowing Judy down, so she hurls him into the woods. This is where we first see for ourselves just how active Judyís imagination is as Teddy ďcomes backĒ as a huge stuffed bear and teaches Rosemary a lesson. And, itís not a G-rated seven year-old lesson either.
It begins to storm hard and thereís no answer at the door of the mansion, so they decide to sneak into the house via the cellar. When inside, they are met by an old couple who introduce themselves as Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke. They seem harmless, Gabriel is even a doll maker and Judy is pretty happy to find out that someone else shares an interest with her as Rosemary and David donít care about her one bit. Seeing as Teddy was ďlostĒ in the woods, Gabriel gives Judy a new toy, a doll by the name of Mr. Punch. Some more stranded people make their way into the house, a couple of punk rock chicks and a chubby kid-like guy by the name of Ralph (Stephen Lee). Judy bonds with Ralph and they talk a lot about toys with Gabriel as heís such a kid at heart. Ralph tells Judy about how his father died when he was nine and he always used to tell him that when he went to sleep, his toys would come to life.
Weird things begin happening in the spooky house and when one of the punker chicks goes to lift a few antiques from the house, the dolls come out to play. Judy witnesses her bloody corpse being dragged along the floor and when no one believes her, she goes to Ralph, who doesnít take the news any better. That is, until he sees the blood on Judyís slippers. They go looking for the chick and it leads them to the attic where the blood trail ends and in the background she can be seen. But, itís not the same chick that went to rip goods from the old folks, sheís no longer human. Sheís a bit on the plastic side. In this house, only the people who are young at heart survive and her soul is now encased in the body of a doll.
Dolls, against all odds manages to be a great little horror film, full of wit, fun and style. Those familiar with the works of the team of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna shouldnít be shocked, but I will admit I went in thinking the worst. As great as Re-Animator and From Beyond are, you just canít expect a random killer doll movie to be able to compete with these. Although itís not quite on the level of Re-Animator, it sure comes close to the latter and the smile is sure not to leave your face during this one from start to finish. It's not laugh out loud funny, it just maintains an aura of fun throughout the way because of the actions of characters, their words and equal to this, the dolls themselves. Thereís nothing at all to complain about in the film. Direction, set, acting, script, everything is as sharp as the little dolls' knives. And daggers. And saws. These little buggers come prepared.
The dolls in the film all look good, not nearly as good as Chucky, but there are just so many of them that itís easy to turn your head. There are clowns, jesters, babies, soldiers, cute ones with very sharp teeth, the variety is definitely there. But, the film isnít a typical doll slasher at all, itís really a fairy tale that while being completely absurd has an underlying truth to it. Dolls is about never leaving the realm of childhood and the characters of Ralph and Judy bring this with such sincerity that itíll warm your heartÖ in an evil sort of way. The characters feed off each other and at times Judy has more courage than big kid Ralph, but Ralph never lets her down. His lines are always funny or sarcastic and Stephen Lee plays the character so well that you just know he is like this in real life. Carrie Lorraine is amazing as Judy and it shocked me to find out that she was never in a movie since Dolls. Itís actually pretty sad how her stepmother and father treat her, sheís such a nice kid and they couldnít give a ratís ass that sheís there and in fact plan to ship her away to her mom and never see her again.
The dolls arenít overused either, they mostly make their appearance in the last third of the film. The film has enough stuff going on with a few fantastic characters that you donít even miss them and when they show up, itís like finding the toy at the bottom of the box of Cracker Jacks. Gabriel and Hilary are demented but sweet and basically weed the good out from the bad with their collection of dollies/souls, and they prove their goodness at the end. Although their actions during the night werenít exactly nice, it just adds to the surreal fairy tale like atmosphere of the film. The movie looks absolutely stunning on DVD, virtually like it was just shot yesterday and it gives the killings a really gruesome quality all the while making the flashes of lightning look that more creepy. MGM did such a fine job and included two commentary tracks, a storyboard to film comparison and the original trailer for the film, which is sure to please. So throw logic out the window and let your inner child out. Or else. Buy it!
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