Directed by Stuart Gordon
Produced by Brian Yuzna
Written by Ed Naha
Director of Photograpy Mac Ahlberg
Music by Fuzzbee Morse
Cast: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams & Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

1987/78 mins/Color/Dolby Stereo Surround
1.85:1 Anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1

Review from the MGM Home Entertainment DVD

In the mid 80s, director Stuart Gordon burst onto the horror movie scene with RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, two of the most violent and twisted films of that decade. These two movies put Gordon's name on the map and spread a swath of darkly humorous gore across the screen which wouldn't be matched until Peter Jackson's DEAD/ALIVE. Thus, horror fans were somewhat surprised when Gordon's next film was the relatively tame supernatural horror film DOLLS. Because of this fact, DOLLS didn't earn the reputation of Gordon's first two movies. Now that DOLLS is available on DVD, it's worth a second look.

As DOLLS opens, we find the Bower family -- father David (Ian Patrick Williams), stepmother Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon), and daughter Judy (Carrie Lorraine) -- traveling through an unnamed European country. When their car gets stuck in the mud, they seek refuge at a nearby mansion. There, they meet an old couple, Gabriel (Guy Rolfe) and Hilary (Hilary Mason), who are somewhat strange, but hospitable. Soon, the group is joined by a traveler, Ralph (Stephen Lee) who is accompanied by two hitchhikers, Isabel (Bunty Bailey) and Enid (Cassie Stuart), who are looking for shelter from the storm. Gabriel explains that he works as a toymaker and invites the visitors to spend the night in the house, which is filled with many dolls. As the night wears on, the guests begin to realize that the dolls are in fact alive, and seek to punish those who are evil at heart.

Although they are best known for their frenetic action, Stuart's previous films, especially RE-ANIMATOR, had been driven by detailed stories. (RE-ANIMATOR borders on being a soap opera which just happens to feature zombies.) DOLLS, on the other hand, has very little story. In the film, Judy is seen reading "Hansel & Gretel" and this reminds us of what DOLLS is -- a very dark fairy tale. The movie never strays from its very simple plot -- strangers enter old house and encounter killer dolls -- and this makes the movie seem very shallow. I'm usually the first to applaud a short film. I admire a director who gets in, tells his story, and gets out without dragging the proceedings out any longer than they need to be. Yet, DOLLS is hurt by its 78-minute running time, as the film ends very abruptly, and despite the fact that most everyone is dead, the viewer can't help but feel as if they've missed something. There's very little explanation for what is happening in the film, and you can't accept living dolls, then this film will be a lost cause for you.

Despite these problems, DOLLS does have its moments. If you're popping in a movie about killer dolls, then you're going to want to see killer dolls, and this movie delivers. It takes a while for the dolls to come to life, but when they do, they cut through the cast pretty quickly. Yes, some of the doll special effects aren't very special, but Gordon makes good use of creepy close-ups of dolls who suddenly blink, move their heads, or reveal nasty looking teeth. DOLLS is nowhere near as violent as RE-ANIMATOR or FROM BEYOND, but there is some nice gore and most will cringe at the moment when the dolls begin to saw through a woman's leg. Gordon demonstrates his knack for camera work in DOLLS, as the movie contains some interesting shots and one very creepy and atmospheric scene involving someone pushing a baby carriage. DOLLS is never scary, but Gordon gets a lot of mileage out of the creepy dolls. Those expecting another zany gorefest from Gordon will probably find DOLLS lacking, but the movie delivers some mild old-fashioned shocks and is certainly better than the multiple entries in the similar PUPPETMASTER series.

DOLLS shuffles onto DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment. The DVD is a "flipper" and carries both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks pretty good, but it's not without some problems. The most obvious defect is that the image is slightly dark and flat looking. The action is always visible, but one feels that the image isn't as bright as it should be. The colors are good and there is only a slight amount of grain on the image. However, there are some minor, but noticeable defects from the source material. The DVD carries a Dolby stereo surround audio track. This track gave me a great deal of trouble, as I had to try several different settings on my receiver in order to be able to understand the dialogue. Even then, the audio was muffled and uneven.

The DOLLS DVD carries a surprising number of extras. We start with an audio commentary from director Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Ed Naha. This is a good commentary as the pair give specific, detailed information about the origin of the story, how the film got off the ground, and the movie's production. Both have excellent memories of the production. A second commentary follows this one, featuring actors Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, and Ian Patrick Williams. This commentary isn't as good as the first one, as the participants don't have as many anecdotes about the film as Gordon and Naha did. Also, there are several silent passages where it's clear that the group is simply watching the movie. The DVD also contains "Storyboard Comparisons" for 3 scenes (using the multi-angle feature), a "Photo Gallery", and the "Theatrical Trailer" for DOLLS which is 16 x 9.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©

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