Title: DollsDirector: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy, Carrie Lorraine, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart, Stephen Lee
Plot: Traveling with her father (Williams) and arrogant stepmother Rosemary (Gordon), Judy (Lorraine) finds herself stranded by a thunderstorm and forced to take shelter in a mansion owned by the elderly toymakers Gabriel (Rolfe) and Hilary (Mason) Hartwicke. Judy’s family are also soon they are also joined by the mild-mannered Ralph (Lee) and the two punk hitchhikers (Bunty Bailey and Cassie Stuart) he picked up only for these guest to soon find themselves being targeted by the very alive doll collection.
Review: This is a film which I’ve been wanting to see since watching the documentary on Stuart Gordon’s career which came as one of the bonus features for his “Masters of Horror” episode “Dreams In The Witch-House” and it was the footage of a giant sized teddy bear turning into a were bear and slashing Ian Patrick Williams across the face that I knew I wanted to see this film….as I’ve said many times before sometimes it takes just one shot. What I wasn’t expecting though was for Gordon to give what could easily have been the film’s climax in the first fifteen minutes for the film’s opening!
Okay so it’s a dream sequence, but its such a cool idea and like so many aspects of the film done so well that you don’t mind Gordon throwing in a scene which seemingly could have just been him going off on a whim or perhaps just having a cool idea he couldn’t work into the film any other way. Never the less it’s a great opening if one which perhaps makes for the film to find a way to follow it up, especially seeing how he teases out the killer dolls for a at least another thirty minutes after this scene instead choosing to focus on the mish-mash of characters he throws together in the mansion and who Gabriel and Hilary seemingly have no problem giving a place to stay for the night while at the same time being one of the creepiest on screen couples ever!
For the most part the group we have are all largely and perhaps intentionally unlikable from Judy’s father and Stepmother who she seems to be more of an inconvenience to, especially when at one point they are making plans to dump Judy on her mother so they can run away and enjoy their youth. A strange statement for either of them to be saying when they are so clearly middle aged but this is the plan they are going with anyway. Challenging them for the title of most odious couple though are our British punk hitchhikers Isabel and Enid who are some unknown reason are hanging around in the countryside and speak with nerve shredding cockney accents because seemingly Gordon assumes that how all British people speak.
On the other side of things the supposedly good people are limited to Judy who seems to only have one setting seeing how she responds to pretty much every situation the same way. Ralph mean while is much more likable and provides many of the films comedic moments thanks to Stephen Lee being allowed to improvise some of his parts. Needless to say the good people are also the ones who like dolls, with Ralph lamenting his father forcing him to give up his toys when he was younger.
One of the strengths of the film is really in the set design with the Hartwicke’s mansion being a suitably gothic and creepy setting, while also one which doesn’t give away the game too early on, with the expected shelves of dolls being hidden away behind closed doors rather than having them watching on from every wall like we have seen in similar films such as “The Doll Master”. Even when we get the first kill Gordon a director hardly known for subtly here shows great restraint as he keeps the attackers off screen, teasing us instead with the sounds of their shrill little voices as they set about bashing Isabel’s head into a wall.
Thankfully when we do get to see the killer dolls it’s not the disappointment that I had been expecting with stage hands essentially bouncing the dolls about to make them appear as it they are moving as now seen with the later entries in the “Puppet Master” series. Instead we get wonderfully stop motion animated Dolls who are generally creepy to watch attack people and it’s during the attack scenes that we get so many of the films highlights with the dolls setting upon their victims with tiny knifes and even the occasional hacksaw as we see with Rosemary’s death who also for some explained reason also randomly throws herself out of a window in a scene in which it appears she is jumping over a line of dolls only to then suddenly throw herself through the window.
While not super heavy on gore what we get in terms of gore and deaths is more makes this a satisfying watch with Gordon attempting to add more gore scenes in post production he soon realised that they didn’t suit the tone of the film and cut them all out which I’d say was the right mood tonely for the film and certainly it doesn’t feel like anything has been lost by the removal of these. More so when we still have a lot of fun treats including a death by doll firing squad and one character being turned into a Mr. Punch doll which ensures that this film is more than memorable enough without bathing everything in crimson.
Of course the mystery of the living dolls is pretty straight forward and only further helped by everything in this world being so clear cut especially when it comes to whose good and whose bad with Gabriel and Hillary turning those deemed as bad into living dolls under their control. Laughably neither Ralph nor Judy discover this secret as they are instead convinced it was all a dream and encouraged to go on with their lives via a letter supposedly left for them by the now missing members of their party.
This film is another fun entry on Gordon’s film making C.V. and while it’s not near the likes of “Re-Animator” it’s still a noteworthy entry and one of the few films he has made that I would truly have loved to see a sequel to, which seems unlikely to happen especially when Gordon axed his previous attempt to give this film a sequel during pre-production. Still for fans of killer doll movies this is unquestionably one of the better entries in the genre.
*Written as part of “The Shortening” blogathon at “The Deadly Dollhouse of Horror Nonsense”