BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Stephen Lee, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams, Carrie Lorraine
First there was Re-Animator, then there was From Beyond – for his third film director Stuart Gordon cut back on the Lovecraft stuff and teamed up with executive producer Charles Band again – Band worked on From Beyond – to make Dolls, a film that was closer in style and tone to Band’s regular B-movie output rather than Gordon’s, but with Gordon’s input a killer doll film that had a little bit more heart and soul than most of the other creature features that Band was putting out.
During a heavy rain storm two groups of people seek shelter in an old mansion. David Bower (Ian Patrick Williams – Re-Animator), his wife Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon – Re-Animator/From Beyond) and his young daughter Judy (Carrie Lorraine) get stranded when their car gets stuck and the jolly Ralph (Stephen Lee – The Negotiator) turns up with two female hitchhikers that he picked up, and all are welcomed into the house by the elderly owners Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason), who take a shine to the innocent Judy and the childlike Ralph. Gabriel reveals that he makes dolls and senses that Judy and Ralph are both good souls, and as the night moves on and tensions rise between Judy’s bickering parents and the hitchhikers look about to see what they can steal, the toys come alive to attack those whom they think deserve it.
As a mid-’80s horror film from the makers of From Beyond and Re-Animator, it would be fair to say that Dolls is lacking the same gore and splatstick humour that marked those films out, along with other staples of the era like Evil Dead II and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. But although the blood is a little more restrained and the humour not quite so obvious, Stuart Gordon manages to do quite a bit with regards to the setting, which is creepy and unsettling from the off, bringing together a fairy tale vibe with some classic Hammer horror atmosphere.
But although Gordon sets the right mood very early on, it’s the dolls themselves that make the film work. Counting on puppets and dolls to create the terror in a film can be a difficult thing to accomplish credibly, especially when the film is really made or broken by how good the effects are, but the effects work in Dolls is some of the best of the era. Seeing whole dolls moving around via stop-motion may look a little clunky when you put them up against some of the visuals from more modern films like Curse of Chucky, but the subtleties of having eyes moving, mouths curling up and an effective shot where a whole shelf full of dolls all turn their heads at once is a lot more unsettling than having a doll run around with a knife.
Where Dolls gets let down, though, is in some of the performances. Ian Patrick Williams is unimpressive in his role and plays it like a TV actor (which he was) given a shot to work in a ‘real’ film, which could be forgivable if he hadn’t already been in a few feature films already, but the real flies in the ointment are Bunty Bailey and Cassie Stuart as the two hitchhiking punks, who simply can’t act. Everyone else is fine without anybody being outstanding, and the lack of Stuart Gordon regulars Jeffrey Combs or Barbara Crampton is glaringly obvious.
But nevertheless, Dolls stands up as one of the best examples of how to do a killer toys film. The relationship between Judy and Ralph is touching enough to keep you invested as the story sets itself up and, unlike many of today’s horror films, it doesn’t leave you feeling cold or down at the end, with everybody who deserves it getting what is coming to them and there is a telling shot as the credits begin to roll that the story doesn’t end there. The picture quality on the disc is excellent and, although there aren’t any extras apart from a Stuart Gordon commentary, well worth picking up if you fancy a little lighthearted horror that’ll creep you out and may make you smile a little bit too.
Special Features: Director’s commentary
UK Release Date: 17th February 2014