Tuesday, September 20, 2005

DOLLS

Director Stuart Gordon (DAGON) followed his breakout H.P. Lovecraft-inspired films, RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, with a charming little pseudo-slasher for producer Charles Band, DOLLS (1987).

Screenwriter Ed Naha's (TROLL) scenario is a twisted fairy tale: A disagreeable couple (Ian Patrick Williams and the director's wife, Carolyn Purdey-Gordon) and their precocious little girl (Carrie Lorraine) find themselves stranded in the English countryside when their rental car breaks down during a sudden storm. They take shelter in a nearby manor house occupied by an elderly doll maker (Guy Rolfe, MR. SARDONICUS) and his wife (Hilary Mason). Soon, another American tourist (Stephen Lee) accompanied by a couple of cute punk hitchhikers, shows up seeking sanctuary and all the weary travelers are assigned guest rooms for the night.

Before long, one of the pretty punks decides she wants to rob the place, and finds that the toy maker's hundreds of dolls, which fill every shelf, nook and cranny of the sprawling house, don't take kindly to such antisocial activities. Thus begins a bloody spree of deadly doll action, and a series of gory demises that should satisfy fright fans with sanguinary tastes.

Gordon brings his usual wit and style to the proceedings, and the cast – especially Rolfe, Mason, Purdey-Gordon and Stephen Lee – is excellent, bringing just the right tone to their performances. David Allen's good, old-fashioned stop-motion effects bring the murderous manikins to life without the benefit of expensive CGI, and they're more than effective.

This unheralded gem, unfortunately buried in the RE-ANIMATOR buzz of the time, kicked off a whole bunch of "killer toy" movies from producer Band, including the seemingly interminable PUPPETMASTER vidflick series. Now available on DVD from MGM/Sony, DOLLS comes to the digital format in a sharp, solid anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. The movie looks beautiful – far better than its cable airings in the Eighties. (A full-frame, open matte version is also provided on the B-side, if you really need to see it as it aired on Cinemax.)

Not only has MGM provided a pristine transfer, but they've actually sprung for a few extra features as well. First off is an informative and fascinating commentary track by director Gordon and screenwriter Naha. Then there's a second commentary track with several of the film's principal cast members. There's a storyboard-to-film comparison featurette and a photo gallery. And, finally, there's the original theatrical trailer (I remember when films like this still played in theaters – Christ, I'm old), which manages to give away all the best effects and gags in the film.

All in all, a great little Eighties horror flick, and highly recommended.

BUY: Dolls