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Dolls is the third picture directed by Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon to be produced by Brian Yuzna for release by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. It tells the story of seven year-old Judy (Carrie Lorraine) who is on vacation in the English countryside with her father, David (Ian Patrick Williams) and her shrew of a step-mother, Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon). A storm strands them and three other people (Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart and Stephen Lee) at an old mansion inhabited by a charming old couple, Gabriel (Guy Rolfe who played Andre Toulon in Band’s Puppet Master series) and Hilary (Hilary Mason) Hartwicke. Gabriel is a toy maker and the house is filled with old dolls he’s made. At night Judy thinks she sees one of the young women dragged off by “little people”. Her parents don’t believe her, but kind-hearted Ralph (Lee) does and the two soon find out, to their horror, that the Hartwicke’s dolls are frighteningly alive and quite homicidal when you piss them off.
Written by Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk The Kids) and directed by Gordon, this is an amusing 80s horror flick, though a step down from Re-Animator and The Beyond. What makes the film a little uneven is that Gordon can’t seem to decide whether he wants to make it a dark fairytale or an outright horror film. There are some very violent moments with some graphic gore, then there are sequences that are more darkly whimsical. It’s not totally off-putting, but doesn’t help the overall film that there are tonal shifts. Sometimes it seems this is a spooky tale for kids in the spirit of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, that would premiere five years later, but then there are some very vicious and violent moments. The Hartwicke’s seem like well-meaning folk with some strange powers, yet their dolls do commit some very nasty and cruel acts. So, are these dolls to be viewed as good, as they only harm those with ill-intent, or are they something we should be afraid of, as they can be very violent. It makes things a bit uneven and when we get an explanation, we’re still not sure the kindly old couple are to be completely trusted. There are some spooky moments and the gore and prosthetics are well done, as is some stop-motion animation from the late, great David Allen. It’s an OK horror thriller that could have been something better had it picked a tone and stuck with it. In it’s favor, the 80s nostalgia does help a lot when viewed today.
Little Carrie Lorraine stands out cast-wise. She’s a cute kid and she gives Judy a sense of wonder and she is also very courageous when forced by her jerk of a dad to investigate the mansion’s creepy goings-on with Ralph. The rest of the cast are a bit bland. Stephen Lee is OK as Ralph and gives him sort of a big kid quality. Williams and Gordon are fairly stiff and unlikable as Judy’s selfish father and his bitch of a new wife…though they’re supposed to be unlikable. Rolfe and Mason are adequate as the charming yet slightly spooky old couple and Bailey and Stuart are stereotypical teen delinquents. Aside from Lorraine and some of John Carl Buechler and David Allen’s doll creations, no one else in the cast really stands out to make an impression.
Overall, this is an OK and somewhat amusing horror flick that can’t really decide what it want’s to be. Is it a dark fantasy or outright horror?…that depends on which sequence we’re watching. Gordon does create some spooky scenes and there is some atmosphere, but the tonal indecision doesn’t help keep any steady tension. Aside from our young lead, the cast aren’t overly impressive, though the FX in the portrayal of the dolls and the havoc they create, is pretty decent for a low budget 80s flick. It’s a decent night’s watch from a filmmaker that sadly never hit the same stride he accomplished with Re-Animator, which even today still remains his best flick.
3 Mr. Punch’s.