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.