Tongue-in-cheek and quite absurd, Dolls is nevertheless undemanding hokum
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.
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 serious 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. Tongue-in-cheek and quite absurd, Dolls is nevertheless undemanding hokum that manages to send a few shivers down the spine. Its surprisingly tight running time also means that it never outstays its welcome. Recommended for fans of little terrors and for those who like their chills served with a nice slice of ham.
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