Director – Stuart Gordon
Cast – Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Carrie Lorraine, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Stephen Lee, Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart
Release Year – 1987
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I have remained a fan of Stuart Gordon for his awesome debut film Re-Animator, as well as From Beyond, Castle Freak, and his “Masters of Horror” entry titled The Black Cat. If you know me, then you know I love anything having to do with killer inanimate objects, especially dolls. Well, when you give me killer dolls AND Stuart Gordon, you just can’t go wrong in my book, and this film does just that…it doesn’t go wrong.
Dolls follows the Bower family while on vacation as they suffer vehicle problems on a desolate road. Things get worse for them when heavy rains begin to fall, but much to their delight they locate a bed and breakfast motel run by a charming old couple, the Hartwickes. The home is adorned by hundreds of well-crafted custom made dolls, a trade of Mr. Hartwicke, a deadly trade. Little do the Bowers know, the Hartwickes have an unusual source and inspiration for their dolls, one that will ensure the Bowers never leave.
Stuart Gordon was in his prime during this early part of his career, and it shows with his first three films, Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dolls. While I always associated From Beyond as Gordon’s second film, Dolls was actually completed before From Beyond, but the special effects and post production forced Dolls to suffer a later release, and given the awesomeness of the film’s FX, the delay was proper.
Stuart Gordon’s execution in opting for great claymation and stop-motion effects made for a truly sweet and enjoyable watch. The tone and execution of the film is a bit silly, but a respectable “feel good” silly that definitely comes off as unlike Gordon’s other films. You cannot take this film seriously at all if you expect to enjoy it, and if you go into this with the right mind then you should enjoy it as much as I did. Thankfully, despite the film’s silly nature we do get some sweet horror thrown in, including one scare that managed to give me some slight goosebumps, a rare feat nowadays. The look of the killer dolls was awesome, and we even get some sweet gore and kills at the hands of the little devils. Gordon’s pacing is well done, which comes naturally thanks to the film’s short 70 minute(before closing credits) runtime. Yes, only 70 minutes! Thankfully, this short runtime is a very good idea given the nature of the film. Had this been a South Korean film it would have been stretched to their standard 2 hour runtime despite the film’s content, which would be a very bad idea. Bravo Mr. Gordon for being real with us.
Story-wise this flick is fun and as I mentioned earlier…makes for a fun watch. The idea of anything involving killer dolls is awesome, so this film succeeds on plot alone. I loved the idea of a family staying with a charming yet obviously strange couple with a sinister secret to hide, which allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of the protagonists and see what we would do if in such a situation. A few other characters are thrown in to add some variety to the character mix, and thankfully none of the additional characters were a waste of time and in fact contributed to the story. The usage of the killer dolls was nice, and the logic behind their existence is awesome and adds to the genuine and enjoyable creepiness of the film.
Overall, this is a fun and enjoyable watch that I recommend to fans of killer doll films, especially those who enjoy Stuart Gordon’s work. We get good direction, sweet killer doll action, a fun story, and some good kills thrown in to make this a non-serious watch that still delivers the “goods”.