Wednesday, December 31, 2014

DOLLS (1987) Blu-ray Review

Dolls (1987) d. Stuart Gordon (USA)

“They Walk. They Talk. They Kill.” Following the success of Re-Animator, Gordon’s second directorial feature shot for Full Moon (though released a year after From Beyond due to the extensive post-production special effects work) was this dark fairy tale of murderous children’s playthings combined with the “motley crew of rain-drenched travelers taking refuge in old dark house” horror staple. While her parents (Carolyn Purdy-Jones, Ian Patrick Williams) are portrayed as over-the-top unfeeling monsters, little Judy (Carrie Lorraine) provides one of the few sympathetic turns as the plucky youngster who appeals to the kindly, mysterious dollmakers (Guy Rolfe and Hillary Mason) who reside therein.

Judy attempts to warn the grown-ups about the dolls’ graphically depicted homicidal tendencies towards the other guests, which include two rebellious Brit hitchhikers, played by Cassie Stuart and Bunty Bailey (of a-ha's “Take on Me” music video fame), but of course, being a youngster, no one will believe her. Except perhaps portly Ralph (Stephen Lee), whose child-at-heart tendencies may be the only thing that keeps him from being put through the miniature meat grinders.

The robust performances suit screenwriter Ed Naha’s storybook narrative, although Lee does occasionally teeter over the edge into melodrama. The admirable doll effects, brought to life via a mixture of puppetry and Dave Allen’s stop-motion animation, yield some excellent scenes of suspense and mayhem, and the broad ensemble performances balance the comedy/horror scales out nicely.

Not a huge financial success, but uber-producer Charles Band would revisit the theme time and again via Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Dollman and their prolific sequels and team-ups.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray looks fantastic, and the extras – most ported over from the 2005 MGM release – round out the package nicely. The first audio commentary, featuring Gordon and Naha, ought to be taught in “supplementals” class for home video, full of anecdotes and fond remembrances, with gentle humor and all references immediately clarified for those not in the know. They are especially generous in celebrating Rolfe and Mason, citing the former's Mr. Sardonicus and Mason's memorable turn as the blind seer in Don't Look Now.

It’s such a top-notch job that it unfortunately makes the dull, lifeless second track (with actors Lee, Purdy-Gordon, Williams, and Lorraine) pale by comparison. Lee seems especially lost, misremembering details and just generally sounding like someone’s grandpa who’s late for naptime.

New to this release is the 40-minute retrospective “Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls,” with Gordon, Purdy-Gordon, Williams, Band, and special make-up effect artists Gabe Bartalos and John Vulich extolling the charm and craftsmanship that has made the film an enduring cult favorite. (Lee unfortunately passed away of a heart attack in August this year.) There are also theatrical trailers, a photo gallery, and a storyboard-to-film comparison.

Dolls is now available from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


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