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"Dolls"
Reviewed by: Brad Jones
Genre: Horror
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Languages English
Subtitles English, French, Spanish
Length 78 minutes
Rating R
Release Date September 20th, 2005
Studio MGM Home Entertainment
Commentary: Director Stuart Gordon, Writer Ed Naha, Cast Member Carolyn Purdy-Gordon
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: Film To Storyboard Comparison
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical Trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: Still, Text, and Photo Galleries
Cast and Crew: Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Hilary Mason
Written By: Ed Naha
Produced By: Brian Yuzna
Directed By: Stuart Gordon
Music: Fuzzbee Morse, Victor Spiegel
The Review:

A film that I've been hearing a lot about recently, It's a Takeshi Kitano film called "Dolls." A buddy of mine at our local downtown hangout has said some positive things about it, and I've even heard some great quotes from Roger Ebert during various reviews, but what gets me every single time is that whenever anyone mentions how great this Kitano "Dolls" is, I keep thinking they're talking about Stuart Gordon's 1987 horror flick, also called "Dolls." I'm thinking to myself, wow, is that film being revitalized as some newfound underground classic, or is it getting a re-release, or have a lot of people just been renting Gordon's "Dolls" all of the sudden. Then I reminded myself that I've never seen Gordon's "Dolls," and I probably should see it so that I wouldn't keep thinking of the damn thing everytime someone mentions the Kitano film. So, I finally watched "Dolls." The one released in 1987, that is. I'm so glad all the songs of "Dolls" praises that I've been hearing haven't been directed towards the Stuart Gordon film. If this film ever gets more play it will be by Charlton Heston in "The Omega Man." ******

"Dolls" isn't necessarily a bad film, it is just insanely forgettable and so predictable that you never want to show this film to a person recovering from a gambling addiction. I'll tell you why. The characters in this film are either way too detestable, way too good hearted, or way too "cliched rockers in a horror flick" that you can bet your child's tuition on who is going to live through the thing. I put down five dollars of my own money on who I thought was going to make it out alive. Granted I watched it by myself, so I figured that if I lost, I would give the five bucks to the cat since I accidentally tripped over him the other day. Well, I'm going to have to apologize to Kitty some other way, because that five bucks is mine, and wahoo for the fact that there is barely any shred of originality in this film. *****

Truth be told, in any other case, I might not have cared too much that a 1987 horror film called "Dolls" was a plodding auto pilot horror film, but this movie is directed by Stuart Gordon. The man brought us the dark comic genius of "The Re-Animator" and the pure eye candy that was "From Beyond." This movie is so below him, And so is every film he's done since then, from "Dagon" to an episode of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." The 80's Stuart Gordon I know would not have made just some ordinary film about killer dolls in a house. He would have made the dolls center stage. Think about it. A whole movie from the point of view of the dolls, and they use human beings as their toys. That's some morbid activity. I gotta put that one in my idea box. But I shouldn't have to, because if Gordon had done that, this would have been a delicious treat, especially since the dolls in this film are those eerie old time dolls that sit on your grandmother's mantle piece and are always staring at you no matter where you stand. ******

As if this were any big surprise, the film opens up on a dark and stormy night as a family is driving through the rain, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The family consists of a father, his little daughter, and the wicked stepmother. You know she's wicked because the film has scenes where she kicks the kid from under the table, and also she wears a mink coat. The father is a pure blood bastard as well, but it's more fun to talk about the wicked step mother, who sets up the movie's most preposterous scene. She throws the girl's teddy bear away, only to have the bear return, in a ridiculous life size bear costume. The costume is then ripped off to reveal a ridiculous life size wolf costume. The bear/wolf graphically attacks, except it turns out that that whole situation is in the little girl's head. Dear god, what the therapist's hell is wrong with this little girl. ******

Once their car gets stuck in the mud, the family trails off on foot, and I swear to god that I expected them, in any minute, to burst into a rendition of "Over At the Frankenstein Place," but no such luck. They do find a mansion though, and are happily greeted by the two kindly old residents. As friendly as they are, there is something off about both of them. The woman really does look like a witch, and the man...I know this is obscure, but he looks kind of like that dreaded Dr. Claw action figure from the "Inspector Gadget" line of toys. The house seems to be filled with an odd assortment of dolls and toys, and it's no wonder. The old man claims to be a toymaker. Moments later, some more guests come in, in the form of dopey and lovable Ralph (Stephen Lee) and two punk rock chicks, who look like they have wandered off the "Return of the Living Dead" set, in the wrong direction. *****

This pretty much just sets up everything. The old folks and the dolls seem to take a liking to the girl, which is probably why they fed her pea soup in the dinner scene. One by one, these characters seem to come in contact with the dolls, either to be tormented or just plain killed. Ralph and the little girl are the only two to make sense of anything, while the other characters are too stupid to do anything but wander off in dark corners and attics. Here's an example of the stupidity that acts as characterization. The father is attacked by a small clown doll who tosses darts into his arm and hands, but even after all of that hassle, the father is still determined that Ralph is the real killer. Even the punk rock chicks figured things out a whole half hour before that particular scene. ****

I've seen all of this stuff before. Even though I didn't hate this film, there is absolutely nothing about it that would make me want to watch it again, and there's hardly anything that makes me glad that I watched it at all. In a film that's surrounded by a plot which I'm surprised didn't get the filmmakers sued by the creators of the "Ghoulies" sequels, you have to cherish whatever neat stuff you can find. Some of the special effects are interesting to look at. There's a lot of stop motion animation going on in the film, which doesn't necessarily look real, it just looks like 80's stop motion animation. But then again there's some other effects that really do work, such as various shots where we see the close-up of a dolls face, and they slowly crack a very creepy smile. Other shots have dolls faces getting smashed open to reveal a skull underneath. Again,these things that belong in a much better film than this. I particularly like one of the attic shots, where in the dark background we see a life size doll move its head to stare at the person walking across the screen. Plus, there's a scene where a man seems to actually morph into a doll, with make up effects that are in between the brilliance of "An American Werewolf In London"'s transformation scene, and the crummy pixels in "An American Werewolf in Paris." *****

That stuff is fun to look at, but they don't really use it to their creepy potential in this film. The visual of it is nice and cringe-worthy, but just listen to the sound effects. When we have some decent shots like the ones I just mentioned, they throw in a soundtrack that is, I assume, the dolls laughing and making weird noises. It's not a laugh like Chucky's or even The Demonic Toys', but more like...how do I put this...you ever wonder what the Keebler Elves would sound like if they ever got high off of helium? They would sound like the Dolls in this film. And with that said, I don't know if they intended this to be just a slasher flick, or a dark comedy. If it's a slasher flick, then it's about as 80's slasher cliched as they come, and if it is a dark comedy, then nothing is really funny in this film. It's just idiotic and pointless. People spend most of the time standing around and looking shocked which they expect the dolls the carry the whole film, be it horror or comedy. The ending to this film is wrapped up so neat and nice and oh so happy that it seems like it's trying to be funny that they would end it so cheerful. Only it was really hard to laugh, because it came across as just a Hollywood Ending pushed up to the extreme. Even when the survivors are driving away, we can hear them talking about happy things that "could" happen after the film ends. *****

I've gotta admit this though, even if I didn't really care much for the film there is one scene here that works perfectly, and if Stuart Gordon actually made this film ballsy and original, this scene would remain the same. A woman runs out of the dark attic and into the hallway she is stopped though, by a row of tiny toy soldiers. The soldiers start playing a nice little tune with the drums and flutes, while some of the others raise their rifles. Sure enough, bang! Apparently real bullets from these tiny weapons have pierced right through our terrified vixen. The character may have been an giant annoying nothing, but at least she went out with some originality.

Image and Sound: This is cleaned up incredibly nicely, not only from the print that I originally saw on Encore months and months back, but also in comparison to that import DVD that floated around long before this one. The sound here works very well too, especially seeing how this is a movie that depends a lot on minor sound effects coming from the minimal movement of the dolls.
The Extras:

There's a Film to Storyboard Comparison which is exactly what it sounds like and exactly what any other type of Film to Storyboard extra is like. The Still Galleries are pretty good, especially the section that shows the different box and poster art from the movie.

Commentary: The commentary is kind of a standard commentary but works pretty well if you happen to be a fan of this movie. I personally not really a "Dolls" fan, but I did enjoy hearing about how many of the dolls were created and what sort of camera tricks went into making them, generally pretty creepy in some parts. Director Stuart Gordon and Writer Ed Naha are featured in the commentary, but also hanging about is cast member Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, who was probably easy to book for this commentary...she's married to the director.
Final Words: It actually caught me off guard when I saw that this DVD has a few extras other than just a theatrical trailer. This is a forgettable 78 minute horror film which isn't all that funny and it isn't all that scary, so I can't say that I really care if it had any extras, but someone as MGM must be a fan. It's especially pretty funny when you compare this DVD to MGM's release of the classic "1984" which is featured with less trailers than this. Why does this have more extras? It would be a pretty weirdo day for me if I racked my brain with more questions about "Dolls" than "1984."

 

 
 
 
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