10th Jun2019

‘Dolls’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Thomas Downey, Dee Wallace, Trinity Simpson, Bret Green, Elise Muller, Melinda DeKay, Robert R. Ryel | Written by Justin Hawkins, Josh Hawkins | Directed by Cuyle Carvin

DOLLS-KEY-ART-DVD

Wow. You’ve got to have some balls to name your film Dolls. You’re stepping on the toes of ther legendary Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) right there… Even moreso when your film actually concerns killer dolls too! This particular iteration of Dolls tells the story of a struggling children’s book author and his rebellious teenage daughter who move into a house they’ve inherited and find mysterious dolls in the attic. They soon learn that the dolls have a sinister, and deadly, past.

Of course Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is not the be all and end all of killer doll movies but it is, for myself and many other genre fans, certainly one of the best examples of the genre. A genre that also counts the likes of Puppet Master, Dolly Dearest, THAT segment in Trilogy of Terror and Child’s Play among its number. Of course for every great killer doll movie there’s a dozen bad ones. Where does this Dolls sit?

Well…

For a LOT of Dolls‘ running time were treated to this odd mix of family drama and TV-movie style horror, you know the type – timid, tame and bloodless. The latter half of the mix merely concerning the titular dolls looking a bit creepy and seemingly moving from their spot in the attic. All the while Sammy and her dad have family spat after family spat, sometimes involving the estranged wife/mother and sometimes the older boy down the street. It’s not until halfway into the film that anything really scary, beyond the usual cheap jump scares – most perpetuated by Sammy’s dad Robert – even happens. And even then that’s a dream sequence rather than any real-life horror!

The lack of scares, and even moreso the lack of clarity, regarding whether the attic-dwelling dolls come to life or not actually becomes something of an intriuging aspect of the movie. After all, we have a recovering alcoholic father and a daughter off her medication – both of whom could be completely unstable and neither would know they, or each other, actually were unstable. Is Sammy messing with the dolls and, thanks to her withdrawal symptons, forgetting what she’s doing? Or is Robert taking the joke of “killer dolls” too far and terrifying his daughter in a drunken stupor? Then there’s Dee Wallace’s neighbor Margaret, she claims there’s something IN the dolls, a demonic force that was inadvertently placed in the dolls by Sammy’s grandmother Edna during therapy sessions.

Even when Margaret tries to convince Sammy about the dolls, delivering the films key exposition on the evils of Edna’s doll collection, the audience is still left wondering if that story is real because, up to that point, we never SEE the dolls really do anything (at least not outside of Margaret’s story and that could be all made up in here head) and the viewers are left pondering not only when and how the dolls will strike but also IF they’ll ever unleash their tiny terror. The lines here are totally blurred – which ultimately adds to the films watchability. We NEED to know if the dolls come to life, we NEED to know if its all in Sammy’s head. We NEED to know what the hell is actually going on!

Instead of answering the pertinent question though – if the dolls really are killers – the audience is instead left totally on tenterhooks. In fact it’s over an hour before any of this films brand of “truth” is revealed. And yet, when the dolls are unleashed at that point, well, we’re still as confused as to if and what actually happened!

Honestly it’s hard to judge the overall audience reaction to a film like Dolls. On the one hand I, like many I presume, was expecting a killer doll movie a la Child’s Play and Stuart Gordon’s Dolls; but on the other what I got was a film that never played it’s hand. It instead blurred the lines between what’s real and what’s in your mind, never really giving the audience a definitive answer – and that made Dolls all the more intriguing for me.

Whether audiences will be as receptive to a film that isn’t as overt and in your face as other deadly doll flicks remains to be seen. But me? I loved it!

***½  3.5/5

Dolls comes to DVD and VOD on July 2nd courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment.

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