1986 - 77m.
Made in between his now classic H.P. Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator and From Beyond, Stuart Gordon's Dolls doesn't have the reputation it deserves. Released by Charles Band's Empire Pictures, Dolls was always intended to be a quick production between the two Lovecraft films even being shot in the same location as From Beyond. And, even though it's another 'killer dolls' flick from Band, Dolls is one of his best offering up enough bloodiness, neat stop motion effects, and entertainment in its brief 77 minute running time.
To use a cliché, it's a dark and stormy night in the countryside of England and American family David (Ian Patrick Williams), young daughter Judy (Carrie Lorraine), and bitchy wife/step mom Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) are there on vacation taking a road trip across the country. Amongst all the bickering, and Rosemary being a huge bitch, the car ends-up getting stuck in a muddy pothole forcing them to look for shelter nearby. In the meantime, Judy gets to have a daydream sequence where she sees her demonic, now life-size, teddy bear (that Rosemary tossed angrily into the bushes) rip her parents apart after which she just shrugs. Luckily for them, there's an old mansion just down the road, which is inhabited by a kindly old doll maker (Guy Rolfe) and his wife who agree to take them in for the night.
But they're not the only people who are going to be taking refuge from the storm as travelling salesman Ralph (Stephen Lee) and the two obnoxious punk rocker hitchhiking girls he was giving a ride to show-up to get out of the horrible weather. Judy's given a Jester doll called Punch (in a sly wink to the British children's show "Punch & Judy") and soon begins to hear whispering noises around the house. She's soon quite convinced that all of our doll maker's creations may just be alive. Of course, none of the adults believe her, and soon learn they should have listened as they begin to get attacked by the bloodthirsty playthings.
It's during these attacks, which includes people being rammed headfirst into a wall and having two of the dolls hacksawing away at a victim's ankles, that Gordon gets to have some fun with his miniature killers staging a lot of shots in point-of-view camera angles and effectively using the sound of giggling and the creepy looking dolls to his advantage. He's helped immensely by decent stop motion effects that were partly conceived by David Allen who would go on to animate our killers in the first five Puppet Master flicks and also worked on such films as The Howling, Willow and Young Sherlock Holmes (which garnered him an Academy Award nomination).
As scripted by Ed Naha (Troll, Honey I Shrunk the Kids), Dolls is a fun little romp that quickly gets going and moves at a brisk pace thanks to sporting some mild humour, droll attack scenes, and a set-up for a sequel that was never produced. This isn't exactly a deep genre flick as it's more focused on giving you the snack food equivalent of entertainment and I'm not sure if it would've worked as well without the stylized direction of Gordon. The cast also seems to be enjoying themselves with the stand-outs being Purdy-Gordon as the hissable Rosemary and Lee who brings a naïve innocence to Ralph as the only adult willing to believe Judy. Hilary Mason and Rolfe (who would play a similar role two years later in Puppet Master) also do well in their brief turns as our nice, but not-so-nice, elderly couple. And, as child actors go, Lorraine doesn't do too badly either.
The best way to describe Dolls is as a fairy tale gone wrong. It's a lively time and still holds up all these years later as an enjoyable timewaster that just happened to be unfortunate enough to be wedged in between two of Gordon's most beloved films. If you're a fan of Gordon's work, or just (much like Charlie Band) a lover of murderous doll flicks, this joins Child's Play and the original Puppet Master as one of the better of its type. (Chris Hartley, 2/19/10)
Directed By: Stuart Gordon.
Written By: Ed Naha.
Starring: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams.