Review Date: September 18, 2005
Released by: MGM
Release date: 9/20/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
For whatever reason, little people and little creatures became the vogue pursuit of eighties cinema. Perhaps it was the fascination with maturing prosthetic and stop motion technology or perhaps it was just a mere extension of the shrinking of eighties culture that gave birth to the tiny personal computer or the walkman. That’s reaching, but regardless, little creatures were all the rage. Gremlins, Ghoulies
, Child’s Play
, and Puppet Master
were all franchised into successful series, and even George Lucas had his hand in the movement between Willow and his Ewoks. A movie that tends to get lost in the clutter of such films is Stuart Gordon’s Dolls
. Despite predating Child’s Play
and Puppet Master
in terms of showing demonic dolls, it nonetheless is the least remembered. MGM brought Dolls
back to life as part of their bargain bin horror slate of the ’05, but how well has the film held up long after the little creature genre has subsided?
It is a dark and stormy night. The lightning shoots down, momentarily lighting the cloudy sky. The Bower family drive through the storm, but are eventually caught up in car trouble. They are seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but beyond the trees they see an old mansion. Once they reach the house they find out they are not alone, and that it is in fact inhabited by an elderly couple who specialize in toy construction. They have a lovely collection of dolls, personalizing them all by hand. In come a few others with car trouble, namely a simpleton man and a couple of punker girls. Together they all make a full house, but the house is further filled by a few others left largely ignored. Yes, the dolls are alive, and they want to play.
The Bowers consist of David (Ian Patrick Williams
) and Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon
) and David’s daughter Judy (Carrie Lorraine
). David and Rosemary are archetypal yuppies constantly berating Judy for her overactive imagination. Judy takes their advice with a grain of salt, since Rosemary is not her birth mother, and her dad is a cruel, self-centered embodiment of all things shallow. The punkers are little more redeemable, as they first plot to first rob the simpleton, then decide on bigger things and try to steal the many dolls from the house. Their attempts at stealing the dolls backfire however, as the seemingly lifeless dolls suddenly come to life as they jump down from mantles and attack the vicious and shallow. The punkers go and the parents are next, as the dolls come from all directions like some pint size zombie raid from Night of the Living Dead
Little Judy tries to warn everyone of the doll attack, but nobody in the movies ever believes an over-imaginative child. Judy finds a friend in Ralph (Stephen Lee
), whose mental capacity is not much higher than Judy’s. Together they witness the doll attacks and together they survive them, but what is provoking these dolls to mobilize a miniature army? Surely the elderly toy makers know why, but that is a plot point reserved for the finale.
is a film as small and slight as its main characters. Running only 78 minutes, it feels less like a film and more like an expanded segment from Cat’s Eye
. Character development does not rise above stereotypes and generalities, and the plot is so lean it’s hardly there. We get a couple lines of insight from the toymakers, but otherwise the entire plot and characters are just a setup for jokes and stop motion attack scenes. This is not so much a complaint as it is a tonal and narrative technique. Re-Animator
is not a particularly deep film, and Dolls
even less so, but both are what they are, and for the legions of Gordon/Yunza fans, this technique works.
was a film more interested in its effects than it was its story, and Dolls
is much the same. The effects work by John Carl Buechler (who also had a hand in Ghoulies
) is quite good, with a combination of stop motion photography, blue screening and actual puppetry to simulate life in the titular characters. Their movements are convincing and they, with their pale faces and flat expressions seem innately creepier than Chucky ever was. The mystical music and jokey story sort of removes any possible frights from the film, but at the very least the effects achieve their purpose.
The film is basically a shallow excuse to go from effect to effect, but there are admittedly some witty bits of dialogue scattered throughout. Gordon has fun in satirizing bourgeois insensitivity as the Bower parents deal with their daughter and themselves. At one point they decide not to beat their daughter, not because it would scar her physically and emotionally, but because it would cause them to waste further money on legal fees. Another funny bit is when the husband fails to notice his wife is dead in bed beside her because, well, he’s too shallow to notice anyone but himself. Gordon also has a little fun in playing with the convention that adults never believe what children say, as Judy seems to always be fully aware of the situation as well as the film convention she seems to be stuck in. It won’t win any awards or anything, but the script is light and humorous enough to provide moderate enjoyment in between effects scenes.
When it comes down to it though, this is a film whose only raison d’etre is to be able to put dolls and gore on the same frame of celluloid. Through some inventive effects the film succeeds in that endeavor, and as such it is recommended. However, it certainly won’t provide any insight into our culture’s bizarre fascination with dolls. Really, it doesn’t provide insight into anything, but hey, a toy soldier shoots a woman with a shotgun…twice. That’s pretty cool.
MGM has become known for their quality transfers for cheap, and this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is predictably nice. It is however, slightly grainer than normal for MGM, although no edge enhancement is apparent. The transfer is pretty clean, although white specs do occasionally pop up every so often. As for the color scheme, it seems a little more muted than normal with reds looking a little pinker than they perhaps should. Black levels are good, and while it isn’t as good as some of MGM’s other benchmark bargain transfers, it is more than sufficient for such a release. For those who just can't stand black bars or a director's vision, a full screen transfer is included on the other side of the disc.
Despite claims of having an English stereo track, Dolls
largely sounds mono. There is no notice directionality to any of the sounds, as everything stays balanced in the front channels. Sound is clear, there is no distortion but again, it’s basically mono.
Although not a special edition, MGM has devoted a surprising bit of effort into the supplements for this release. The major extra is a pair of commentaries. The first is by Stuart Gordon and Writer Ed Naha, and they both keep good company and have a lot of fun with the track. They share anecdotes about some of their favorite films and influences and share a lot of laughs. There is nary a silence throughout, and both come across as intelligent and affable folks. The second commentary is with Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams, Stephen Lee and Carrie Lorraine, and wow…awkward. The first two minutes of the commentary are some of the most uncomfortable I’ve had to sit through, as this large group of people kind of sit there in silence, waiting for the ice to be broken. Someone will talk and the conversation will then immediately end, and this repeats itself throughout. The participants get a little more comfortable with each other as the commentary progresses, but there is a lot of dead space, made longer by the uncomfortable air of the whole thing. It is cute hearing Lorraine recollect on her childhood experiences, but overall the track is a really uneasy listen.
A gruesome little red-band trailer is also included, and in its quick glimpses of the titular characters it actually works to make them look scarier than they do in the actual film. A storyboard-to-film comparison is next, and it is provided for three clips from the film. The storyboard is in a windowbox in the right corner while the movie plays, and its always fun to see how the shot was conceived in pre-production and how it differed in the execution. The disc is rounded off with an MGM Horror trailer, a few MGM recommendations and a 29 picture photo galley. Considering the price and considering how barren the other MGM horror titles this year are, fans should deem this a blessing.
delivers on its premise of showcasing murderous marionettes sans string, and offers up some cute dialogue to help string the film from effects scene to effects scene. It is largely forgettable, but at 78 minutes you’d be hard pressed to care you wasted your time. The sound and video transfers are good, but like the film won’t win any awards. The amount of supplements is a bit of a pleasant surprise, and MGM bats .500, with one good commentary followed by one at times excruciatingly uncomfortable. If you are just craving for a good killer doll flick, then you needn’t look any further, but there are far better films being released on DVD this year.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - B+
- Running Time - 1 hour 18 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English stereo
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Audio commentary with Stuart Gordon and Writer Ed Naha
- Audio commentary with cast
- Storyboard-to-film comparison
- Photo gallery
- Theatrical Trailer