Before Chucky and all its various rip-offs, there was the movie that originated the doll-as-homicidal-maniac premise: 1987’s aptly-named DOLLS. As far as shlock horror movies go, this one comes with an impressive pedigree – particularly in the case of its director, Stuart Gordon. Gordon directed the classics THE RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, so I had high expectations for DOLLS. While it wasn’t as good as those other cult classics, this one still entertained me with its mix of humor and gore.
DOLLS opens with a never before used setting…a dark and stormy night. An American couple is driving through the British countryside with the husband’s daughter from his first marriage, Judy. The little girl’s step-mother is a Cinderella-esque raving bitch. If that wasn’t bad enough for poor little Judy, her father is every bit as bad as her step-mother.
After the car predictably breaks down, the family takes refuge in an old country home. They are greeted by a seemingly friendly elderly couple, Gabriel and Hilary. Before long the group is joined by more stranded guests – portly Ralph and two 80s-era British punk chicks. Or are they British? Their accents were very affected and over the top a la Gwenyth Paltrow or Madonna. And to further cement their waste of space in this movie, the fake Brit chicks don’t even show their fake Brit…well, you know.
Gabriel, it turns out, is an old-school doll maker - a guy who regrets the mass production of dolls because they take away the souls of the toys. Gabriel is not shy about going on and on about how dolls are living beings. Can you see where this is going?
None of Gabriel’s guests buy into his psychotic shtick about living dolls – none except Judy and Ralph that is. They both love dolls and eat up the old man’s diatribe. Now Judy clearly has an excuse, she’s a little girl. But Ralph is a middle-aged man. I think the director wanted us to think that Ralph is this sweet guy because he’s fat, speaks in a high voice, and loves dolls. But, for me, that’s the creepiest part of the movie. Maybe I am still stunned from the E channel’s reenactment of the Michael Jackson trial.
Anyhoo, guess who remains living at the end of this movie? Surprise isn’t the strength of the film, but watching the evil dolls come to life and one by one knock off the cast-members is. The effects are surprisingly good – in some ways as good if not better than the CHILD’S PLAY movies. And having a variety of dolls do the dirty deeds makes it that much more fun because they can vary their killing styles.
Some drag a victim into the wall enough times until her face is bashed in. Others use little carving tools to slice up the evil step mom. The toy soldiers shoot real bullets. Everything is done with style, skill, and plenty of blood. And it’s pretty fun when we discover the “big surprise” as to why the dolls look so lifelike.
DOLLS was the first of its kind in this genre, which grants it bonus points. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen enough killer doll movies that the patina has worn off and we all now know how this thing plays out. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a worthy trailblazer. DOLLS may not be the classic that RE-ANIMATOR was, but Stuart Gordon knows how to make an entertaining horror movie that is well worth your time.
RATING: *** (out of four)
BUY DOLLS on DVD
BUY DOLLS on DVD