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DOLLS

This isn’t one of Stuart Gordon’s better films, but it does contain some very enjoyable moving doll effects.

The Package
     Stuart Gordon directed this film (with longtime producing partner Brian Yuzna) for Charles Band’s Empire Pictures back in 1987, and shot it back to back with FROM BEYOND, utilizing the same sets. The script was by Ed Naha, who knocked it off following TROLL (an Empire production directed by John Carl Buechler, a special effects supervisor on DOLLS). Apparently there was a proposed sequel to DOLLS that never came to fruition (dry your eyes), although Mr. Band did turn out a slew of doll-themed horror flicks--PUPPETMASTER, DOLLMAN, DEMONIC TOYS, DOLLMAN VS. DEMONIC TOYS, BLOOD DOLLS, WHEN PUPPETS AND DOLLS ATTACK, DOLL GRAVEYARD, etc--and middling though DOLLS is, it’s still very likely the best of the lot. No, I haven’t actually sat through all those films, but I’m confident that DOLLS is superior to BLOOD DOLLS and WHEN PUPPETS AND DOLLS ATTACK!

The Story
     During a road trip through the English countryside the young Judy, her father and bitchy stepmother find themselves stranded near a deserted castle. The place is owned by Gabriel, an ancient toymaker, and his wife, who kindly allow Judy and her folks to stay the night. Before long, however, they’re joined by two punk chicks and a nerdy salesman named Ralph. Gabriel allows them to stay in different rooms of the castle, all packed with creepy dolls--which are alive and homicidal. It seems the dolls are actually flesh and blood people who’ve been killed, reanimated and shrunk to doll size…a fate awaiting Gabriel’s present guests!
     The first guest to be tormented by the living dolls is one of the punk gals, who gets her head banged repeatedly into a wall. Judy witnesses the killing and tells her folks about it, but they won’t listen and so she informs the more sympathetic Ralph. He accompanies her on an exploration of the castle’s corridors and winds up being accused of the crime.
     More killings follow: Judy’s stepma is harassed by the dolls until she jumps out a window, and the surviving punk gal is shot to death by a toy soldier firing squad. This leaves Judy, who survives because she’s a child, and Ralph, who’s spared because he’s a child at heart.

The Direction
    
This film is the very definition of a “quickie.” It’s underscripted and perfunctory, with quite a few missed opportunities. Promising elements like a dolls-squirming-under-bed-sheets gag are lessened, if not outright ruined, by Stuart Gordon’s by-the-numbers direction. He doesn’t seem to have cared much for the material, and the same is likely true of screenwriter Ed Naha, who provides little in the way of mystery or genuine invention (much less narrative energy or character development) in his perilously thin script, which doesn’t develop its killer doll concept much beyond the obvious.
     Yet the film is fun to watch for one reason and one reason only: the dolls! Brought to life via puppeteering and old school stop motion, the film’s many killer dolls are a sight to behold, and work largely because of the old fashioned special effects methodology. In other words, there are no digital effects in this film and it’s all the better for it!
 

Vital Statistics

DOLLS
Empire Pictures

Director: Stuart Gordon
Producer: Brian Yuzna
Screenplay: Ed Naha
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Editing: Lee Percy
Cast: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Cassie Stuart, Bunty Bailey, Carrie Lorraine
 

     

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