THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
If for no other reason than the one-two punch of 1985's Re-Animator and 1986's From Beyond, director Stuart Gordon will always have a special place in the hearts of genre movie fans. Some of his lesser-known films are pretty fun too, though. Chief among them is 1987's Dolls, an intentionally weird – and thoroughly entertaining – horror picture that capitalizes on many people's fear of the titular object. This wicked little piece of cinematic dementia is now available in a Collector's Edition Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.
The movie begins with a little girl named Judy (Carrie Lorraine), her father, and her cruel stepmother getting their car stuck in the mud during a torrential downpour. They make their way to the only structure that's nearby. It is the home of elderly toymaker Gabriel Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe) and his wife Hilary (Hilary Mason). Also getting stranded there are a tourist, Ralph (Stephen Lee), and two young female hitchhikers he picked up. It quickly becomes clear that strange things are happening in the Hartwicke mansion. Gabriel's dolls come to life, displaying bloodlust toward anyone they deem evil or not sufficiently childlike. People begin dying in various gruesome ways. Judy is the only one who knows what's really going on.
Dolls made me think of the much-maligned 1980 Flash Gordon movie. Although it now has a cult audience, that film was widely panned at the time of its release, and is still considered by many to contain bad acting, cheesy special effects, and inauthentic sets. I'm a fan of Flash Gordon because I believe it's exactly the movie director Mike Hodges set out to make. I think all the supposed “flaws” are actually an intentional part of the movie's design. They make it seem suitably comic book-y. Dolls similarly has a lot of things that could be considered “bad,” yet I think Stuart Gordon knew exactly what he was doing.
Take, for instance, the performances. It's as though every actor is doing something different. You've got Guy Rolfe doing a standard, but effective Is he or isn't he a villain? kind of thing. You've got Carolyn Purdy-Gordon doing a virtual Cruella de Vil impersonation as Judy's stepmother. You've got Stephen Lee playing everything in the overly broad style of an '80s-era sitcom; he's all exaggerated double-takes and comic sputtering. And then you've got Carrie Lorraine, giving a stiff, unnatural performance as the little girl at the center of the mayhem. Performance styles this disparate cannot be coincidental, especially when the film has been directed by someone who has previously displayed a knack for the offbeat.
This brings us to the dolls. Gordon, working from a subtly witty script by Ed Naha (Troll), devises a number of devilishly gruesome scenes in which the little buggers wreak havoc. This is not mere creepy doll stuff, it's downright sadistic. One doll, for instance, takes a hacksaw to a woman's leg, cackling gleefully the entire time. An unapologetically sick sense of humor pervades these scenes, and quite frankly, they're a lot of fun. The effects team that created the convincing dolls deserves credit, as well.
Dolls is purposefully over-the-top and crazy, like a Looney Tunes short re-envisioned by Freddy Kruger. They don't make horror movies like this anymore, and it's a damn shame. No one will ever accuse it of being a good film. Then again, it's not trying to be good. It's trying to be outrageous, and on that count, Dolls is a rousing success.
Scream Factory's Collector's Edition Blu-Ray comes with the company's trademark special features, which always make a nice compliment to the main feature. Stuart Gordon and Ed Naha do a commentary track, as do cast members Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine, and Ian Patrick Williams. The former is more technical, while the latter is heavy on anecdotes.
“Toys of Terror” is a making-of feature that includes interviews from most of the movie's major players, both in front of and behind the camera. A large portion of it covers the makeup and special effects work, so you can see how the signature sequences were pulled off. There's also a storyboard-to-film comparison, a still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.
Dolls represents another strong release from Scream Factory. If you like crazy horror with a hint of humor, this is disc that belongs in your library.
For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.
Dolls is rated R for language and strong gruesome violence. The running time is 1 hour and 17 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!