19th Apr2014

‘Dolls’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Carrie Lorraine, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart, Stephen Lee | Written by Ed Naha | Directed by Stuart Gordon

Dolls

The second collaboration between Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Charles Band, Dolls was originally lensed as a “stop-gap” feature between Gordon’s debut feature Re-Animator and its follow-up, From Beyond – a filler piece if you will, to be shot at Charles Band’s newly purchased Italian soundstage (bought from Dino De Laurentiis no less) – from a script by Ed Naha, who had already penned one monster movie, the infamous Troll, for Band’s Empire Pictures shingle. Little did anyone know that the low-budget, quickly shot film would still, to this day, be regarded as one of the highlights of Empire Pictures horror output in the 80s…

And did I mention it just happens to still be one of my all-time favourite 80s horrors? This new Blu-ray release from 101 Films actually marks the third copy of the movie I own (VHS, DVD and now Blu).

Essentially borrowing its structure from the classic The Old Dark House (as have many horror films before and since), Dolls follows a group of travelers – including a precocious girl, her nasty parents, two punk-rock losers and a weak-kneed salesman – who decide to spend the night in the mansion of an elderly couple, a couple who also just happen to be doll makers… However they soon discover that the dolls the old couple make and collect creep around in the night, offing the house guests one by one. And they are next!

As any fan of Stuart Gordon will attest, there’s one thing Gordon always brings to his films – atmosphere. From the manic atmosphere of Re-Animator and the perverse atmosphere of From Beyond, to the gothic nightmarish atmosphere of Dagon. And Dolls is no different, filled with a dark foreboding “nightmarish fairytale” atmosphere that is complimented by some fantastic, somewhat phantasmagorical, gore effects and superb puppet work (from FX guru John Carl Beuchler – who would later go on to direct Friday the 13th Part VII) that really brings the cast of killer dolls to life.

The superb doll work is matched by some superb acting from the likes of Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason as the doll making old couple, Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke. Rolfe and Mason would continue to work with Charles Band, with Rolfe appearing alongside another set of killers dolls in the Full Moon era as Andre Toulon in Puppet Master 3 (and in flashback in its immediate sequels, Puppet Master 4 & 5) and Mason appearing in another Stuart Gordon directed, Charles Band produced Empire Pictures production, Robot Jox.

The new Blu-ray from 101 Films features a new¬†1.85:1 original theatrical ratio HD transfer of the film that surpasses (at least in this fans opinion) the now out of print Region 1 MGM DVD. There is some print damage and plenty of film grain – which given the 35mm, low budget origins of the film are to be expected – yet there’s plenty of detail previously unseen on the VHS and DVD prints and the colours (inspite of the muted colorscape used throughout the filck) really pop. The only bonus feature on the disc is an audio commentary from director Stuart Gordon and writer Ed Naha which has been ported over from the DVD.

A worthy upgrade for fans of the film, Dolls is out now on Blu-ray (and DVD) from 101 Films.

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