They’re cute, they’re cuddly…and they kill! From horror director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) and screenwriter Ed Naha (Troll) comes this 80s cult classic that combines the pint-sized playmates of childhood with bone-chilling fun. A precocious girl, her nasty parents, two punk-rock losers and a weak-kneed salesman inadvertently become the guests of two ghoulish senior citizens in their dark, haunted mansion. The old couple make and collect dolls that creep around in the night, offing the guests one by one! You may laugh at first, but if they turn on you, you’ll regret it…for the rest of your short life!
Being the horror fan (especially 80’s stuff) I have to admit that this one slipped the net and I didn’t really hear about it until I saw the press release for it. Seeing it was directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Dagon and Faust : Love of the Damned) and produced by Charles Band (Full Moon Entertainment), looking at those two names had me intrigued right away. The films starts off like any typical horror film would with a family’s car breaking down in the middle of the night miles from the nearest town. The family come across a old house and seek refuge for the night from the elderly couple who reside within. As fate would have it, a travelling salesman and two British punks also stumble across the house after finding a similar fate with their car. Coincidence perhaps? It’s over the course of the night that the two groups realise that the elderly doll maker and his wife are not the only inhabitants of the house.
Despite the relatively short running time, the film barely passes the 80 minute mark, the first two acts do seem to go on for a while with not a lot happening. The only kills that occur are hidden in the shadows of the mysterious house. The third act though really does bring Dolls to life (literally!) and proves to be amusing and creepy at the same time. The practical effects that bring the ‘Dolls’ to life is pretty impressive considering the budget and technology available at the time (bit of trivia for you folks,the Dolls special effects were designed by John Carl Buechler, horror fans will recognize that name as the director of Friday the 13th Part VII : The New Blood which had the most amount of censorship cuts due to the intense gore scenes). Dolls appears to be a prototype of the Puppet Master series that Charles Band started a couple of years later with great success. It’s certainly worth a watch though for any 80’s horror fan
Dolls arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080/24p MPEG4-AVC codec that preserves the films original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Shot originally on 35mm, Dolls won’t exactly be demo disc material but it looks great on Blu-ray considering it’s age and low budget origins. There are some inherent print damage throughout with scratches and a few hairs observed on the far side of the screen but for me personally, this adds to the experience. A healthy dose of original film grain proves that no post processing has been done to digitally manipulate the image. Details are refined throughout with background details and facial close up revealing some great detail. The film’s colourful but limited production design is nicely balanced as well
Dolls conjures up an English DTS-MA 2.0 audio track for it’s Blu-ray debut. Originally mixed in Ultra Stereo, the audio mix here is a bit of a mixed bag. The film’s sound effects like background ambiance and environmental effects like thunder have no real impact and can feel shallow and sounds restricted. Possibly because of the low budget nature of the film. There is a nice level of natural bass though which does add a bit to the overall mix but doesn’t exactly support it’s connected sound effect. The score sounds good throughout and adds to the film’s atmosphere. The dialogue though I found was mixed a bit low which resulted in some minor volume tweaks during my viewing.
Commentary : The only bonus feature on the disc is an insightful audio commentary from Director Stuart Gordon and writer Ed Naha
Dolls was quite a surprise. After a slightly lengthy first and second act, the film really did deliver mayhem and comedy horror which reminded me a lot of Gremlins. The audio and video presentation serves the film well but it’s not exactly demo material. Whilst the audio commentary is a nice inclusion, it would of been nice to see some more bonus features (especially the second audio commentary that features on the US DVD) particularly the creation and filming of the Dolls SFX sequences but after looking around, there was not much in terms of behind the scenes footage shot which leaves this release as good as it gets. One to discover during one of those late night viewings, horror fans should get a nostalgic kick out of this.