Dolls Blu-ray Review
Dolls is a darkly mischievous entry in Stuart Gordon’s bloody opus
Dolls Blu-ray Review
Stuart Gordon and Empire Pictures subvert fairy-tales in this sinister precursor to Pixar’s Toy Story.Not as gory, nor as controversial as his previous Re-Animator or From Beyond, which was lensed back-to-back with this, Dolls is still a creepy little vignette of witchcraft and comeuppance that plays like a darker, more maniacal episode of The Twilight Zone. That wicked sense of humour still runs rampant throughout a tale of misbegotten, argumentative and unlikable strangers who contrive to spend a night in an isolated mansion presided over by an oddball and eccentric old couple. As the storm-lashed night wears on, each of the travellers encounters the titular toys and comes to regret their cold-hearted and cruel ways as the army of dolls mete out a wicked brand of rough justice to the intruders.Combining stop-motion animation with puppetry, the effects are a quaint and nostalgic delight, and Gordon creates some memorably bizarre set-pieces of Ten Little Indians-style guest annihilation. The performances aren’t exactly top drawer, barring customary excellence from renowned thespians Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason as the two craggy warlocks, and the pair of punk chicks totally aggravate with their appallingly OTT cockney accents. But the camerawork is sublime and the film looks like it has been spray-painted with Hammer Horror redolence, adding to the already goofy-cum-grisly atmosphere.
Tongue-in-cheek and quite absurd, Dolls is nevertheless undemanding hokum that manages to send a few shivers down the spine.
What is Dolls Blu-ray Picture Quality
101 Films present Dolls as part of their Cult Horror Collection, and they do a fine job of it too. The 1.78:1 film is encoded via AVC, region B locked, and it looks very impressive indeed.
Grain is intact and, for the most part, consistent and natural looking.
Given the claustrophobic nature of the tale, the imagery is mostly housebound, but despite the eloquent shadows that suffuse the hallways, the attic and various doll-inhabited rooms, this is all very colourful stuff. I mentioned Hammer earlier, and the aesthetic is certainly influenced by the classic studio’s richly saturated palette, but Gordon was also enamoured with the Corman Poe pictures and the garish qualities that Mario Bava and Dario Argento could bring to the screen. Thus, Dolls is particularly vivid and deeply smothered in primaries. These neither smear, nor are subject to banding.
Contrast isn’t problematic either. Darker portions of the frame are satisfyingly deep and candles or lighter-flames flare up through the gloom with convincing warmth. Noise isn’t an issue and I noted no artefacts. The source print is in good, revealing condition, with only a couple of nicks and pops here, though these don’t aren’t enough to spoil the view. Mac Ahlberg’s photography and lighting is often exquisite, really making the most of what is probably the same corridor, over and over again. Some angles are fantastic, and there are great set-ups that feature the iconic faces of Rolfe and Mason, especially when suddenly illuminated by lightning.
Dolls is particularly vivid and deeply smothered in primaries.
Image quality does inevitably take a slight dive when it shifts to the stop-motion animation, but this is never as jarring as you might think. If you look, you can see the strings on the dolls in a couple of instances, but these are really of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em variety. Wounds aren’t lingered on, but the gore is still pretty clear and gruesome when it occurs. But better still, when the dolls, themselves, are injured, their plastic shells crack apart to reveal ghastly, putrescent flesh beneath. These elements looks surprisingly detailed.
There isn’t much in the way of depth to the image. Lots of creeping around and suddenly coming face to face with hordes of leering and malevolent dolls can’t help but endorse the quite flat appearance of the picture, overall. But with so much detail on offer, and those luxurious colours, I feel this is more than compensated for.
This is a fine transfer that retains its film-like qualities and still looks surprisingly fresh and lively. I’m impressed.
A very solid 8 out of 10 from me.
What is Dolls Blu-ray Sound Quality
The audio track is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that recaptures the film’s original Ultra Stereo and attempts to boost it a little bit further. Whilst there is nothing outstanding to comment on, the track does pretty much what it sets out to do, and does so without any fuss or falter.
Dialogue isn’t smoothest around, but it is delivered clearly. Those two cockernee rebels will inevitably irk with their Dick Van Dyke voices, and the acidic sniping of little Judy’s father and stepmother will surely make the blood boil, but this is all part of the plan. We are supposed to hate these people. And, man, that we do, all right.
The stereo spread across the front isn’t all that wide, although we do get some movement across it. Doll feet skittering just out of sight, for instance. The approach is pretty direct. Impacts don’t really register with much presence, although there is some nice squelching when a head is repeatedly rammed into a skirting board. Surround material is scant, with the score being hauled into a wider field and sporadic atmospherics.
The stereo spread across the front isn’t all that wide, although we do get some movement across it
There are ripples of thunder, some breaking glass as a body tumbles through an upstairs window, minute gunshots from a six inch firing squad, and lots of little slicing ‘n’ dicing effects as the dolls go to work on their victims, but most of this is subdued and limited in ambition. Gordon shot his films very low budget, although they always look far more expensive than they really were. But the soundmixes are usually low-key affairs. Both Re-Animator and From Beyond benefitted enormously from the delirious scores from Empire’s regular composer, Richard Band, and although he supervised the music for Dolls, this is not his original score. The lilting children’s lullaby theme comes across with innocent clarity, the orchestral material sounds fuzzy in that upfront style that Gordon prefers, and the various stingers come across with appropriate dynamism.
All very serviceable, but nothing to really applaud. A 6 out of 10 here.
Dolls Blu-ray Extras
We only get the one extra on this disc. A commentary from director Stuart Gordon, who has been joined by his screenwriter on the picture, Ed Naha. This is reasonably entertaining and detailed, despite some occasional lulls. The two have worked together several times and are clearly close friends. This translates into a warm and cosy chat that rambles along quite pleasantly.
Is Dolls Blu-ray Worth Buying
Whilst hardly the cult classic that 101 Films claim it to be, Dolls is a darkly mischievous entry in Stuart Gordon’s bloody opus. Dipped in lurid Hammer colour and drenched in 80’s kitsch, the story is little more than a series of set-pieces, but there is a curious charm and fairy-tale quality to it all that provides an unsettling and creepy aura. It also opened the gates to things like Child’s Play, Dollman and the Puppet Master series.
The story is little more than a series of set-pieces, but there is a curious charm and fairy-tale quality to it all
On Blu, the film looks incredibly bold and striking, Gordon’s typical visual redolence amped-up to provide a colourful frisson to all the gothic shenanigans. Given the film’s rather limited appeal, even in horror fan circles, the lack of extras isn’t exactly surprising. In fact, we are lucky to get the chat track. But at least this provides some fine and fun insight into the production and the type of filmmaking that Gordon was excellent at delivering.
With Castle Freak and From Beyond already out on UK Blu, Dolls makes a fine addition to the Empire Pictures collection. I just hope that the undervalued and rarely mentioned Dagon makes a hi-def appearance soon.
Recommended for fans of little terrors and for those who like their chills served with a nice slice of ham.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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