Release Date(s)1987 (November 11, 2014)
Studio(s)Empire Pictures (Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Contrary to popular belief, horror fans are actually some of the most welcoming fans on Earth. All it takes is one great horror movie and you’re inducted into the Masters of Horror pantheon for life. John Landis, for example, is much beloved by the horror community despite the fact that the vast majority of his work has nothing to do with the genre. Horror fans are also guilty of having very short attention spans. Dario Argento is still a revered elder statesman thanks to films he made 30-40 years ago. Once his movies took a precipitous dip in quality, fans simply stopped paying attention to them.
Stuart Gordon earned his lifetime pass with his 1985 cult classic Re-Animator, then cemented that reputation with his next Lovecraft adaptation, From Beyond. Both of those movies are essential viewing for any self-respecting horror fan. But none of his subsequent efforts have had the same impact. A lot of fans moved on and stopped paying attention, which is too bad for them. A number of Gordon’s later movies are very entertaining in their own right, including his take on The Pit And The Pendulum and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Dolls.
Ian Patrick Williams and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon play David and Rosemary Bower, American tourists traveling abroad with David’s daughter, Judy (Carrie Lorraine). A torrential storm strands them in the remote home of Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason), dollmakers who look as though they’ve arrived from another century. More travelers arrive seeking shelter, nice guy Ralph (Stephen Lee) and a couple of punker hitchhikers (Bunty Bailey and Cassie Stuart). Once everyone settles in for the night, Judy discovers the dolls take on a life of their own and do away with anybody they find morally lacking. Unfortunately for the Hartwickes’ guests, that’s pretty much all of them.
Dolls is a very different movie than Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations. It’s a dark fairy tale in the Brothers Grimm mode with performances that veer dangerously close to going completely over the top. The comedic and horrific tones don’t always gel, although that’s no fault of the actors, who seem game for anything. The dolls are genuinely creepy and the effects (a combination of puppetry and stop-motion animation) are a lot more effective than you might expect. But even at a lean 77 minutes, Dolls occasionally feels padded and overlong. There’s a reason fairy tales are usually just a few pages long. This might have been an extremely memorable episode of The Twilight Zone (or, considering when it was made, Amazing Stories). But there isn’t quite enough here to sustain a feature film.
Dolls arrives on Blu-ray for the first time in the US as a Scream Factory Collector’s Edition. As usual, the art is reversible with the original key art on the inside but even purists may want to keep this one as is. Nathan Thomas Milliner’s cover illustration is one of the coolest pieces Scream Factory has commissioned to date. Video quality is very good, although the crispness and level of detail varies a bit when effects shots pop up. Audio is offered in both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD and both are well done.
MGM’s previous DVD included two audio commentaries, both of which are ported over to this release. Stuart Gordon and writer Ed Naha take the mic for the first, more interesting track, with Gordon offering an even-handed assessment of the movie’s virtues and flaws. The second track assembles cast members Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams, Stephen Lee and Carrie Lorraine. It takes awhile to get going and could have benefited from a moderator asking questions but it has its moments. Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures have produced a new 38-minute documentary on the film called Toys Of Terror featuring new interviews with many of the principals plus producer Brian Yuzna, executive producer Charles Band and effects artists Gabe Bartalos and John Vulich. It’s a typically solid, fast-paced and informative retrospective. The disc also includes a film-to-storyboard comparison, a still gallery and the trailer.
Dolls is an unusual and entertaining little movie that will likely defy your expectations. It’s from the team that brought you Re-Animator but, apart from an occasional lightness of touch, shares little in common with that movie. It’s from the executive producer of the Puppet Master and Demonic Toys franchises but it’s classier and smarter than those video store staples. It’s too gory for kids but not gory enough for splatterhounds. But if you can tune in to its wavelength, it’s a fun rainy afternoon matinee movie and worth checking out.
- Adam Jahnke
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