Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dolls that play deadly games

Dolls (1987)
Starring: Carrie Lorraine, Stephen Lee, Ian Patrick Williams, Guy Rolfe, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Hilary Mason, Bunty Baily and Cassie Stuart
Director: Stuart Gordon
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars
Producers: Brian Yunza and Charles Band

Stranded travelers spend the night in an old mansion inhabited by an elderly couple (Mason and Rolfe) and their magical dolls... dolls that don't take kindly to abusive adults or house-guests that behave badly.

"Dolls" is a comedy/horror flick that has the feel of a fairy tale. In fact, there are seveal sceens and shots that echo fairy tales fairly directly, such as the shot of an elderly woman stirring a pot of stew that makes her look like she's a witch stirring a cauldron, and this atmosphere makes the movie that much more interesting viewing.

The fairy tale feel is perhaps not all that surprising, as it's from the writer who did the script had just finished "Troll" (review here) for B-movie mogul Charles Band, who was also the producer of this picture. This film is a little gorier than "Troll", but if you liked that film, you're bound to like this picture as well.

The film has other classic qualities about it. The setting feels like the manor houses that were the settings for numerous mysteries from the 1930s and 1940s of the subgenre that get's referred to as "dark old house movies". The pacing of the story and the "just rewards" given to the characters in the course of the story have a "Tales From the Crypt" or "House of Mystery" feel to them that makes the film even more fun to watch.

At the same time, the film also ends up being groundbreaking. If not for this film, "Puppet Master" might never have come into being, as much of what goes on here feels like a rough draft for that movie and franchise. (There's even a bit from here that is echoed in the "Puppet Master" films but not surpassed and that's the surprising appearance of filmdom's most unusual firing squad.)

The film is artfully shot and edited, features an excellent score and has a cast of actors that are all perfect in their parts. Comic actor Stephen Lee has a nice turn as a man whose childlike wonder and innocence protects him from the rampaging killer dolls; veteran British character actors Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason are great as the elderly masters of the dark old house; and the rest of the cast present characters so obnoxious that you can't wait to see them get bumped off. Even child actor Carrie Lorraine is far better than most children her age. It's a shame she quit acting after this film.

If you're a fan of "Troll" or of the output of Empire Pictures and Full Moon pictures from the 1980s and 1990s, this is a movie for you. It's definately a movie you can't go wrong with if you included in the selection for a Bad Movie Night. It might even be a film for the entire family if you have teenagers in the house, although I think youger kids might be freaked out by the killer toys and the intense creepiness of certain part of the film.

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