Dolls Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Written by Ed Naha
1987, Region A, 77 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on November 11th, 2014
Stephen Lee as Ralph
Guy Rolfe as Gabriel Hartwicke
Hillary Mason as Hillary Hartwicke
Ian Patrick Williams as David Bower
Carolyn Purdy-Gordon as Rosemary Bower
Carrie Lorraine as Judy Bower
Bunty Bailey as Isabel
Cassie Stuart as Enid
Little Judy Bower is on vacation in the English countryside with her father (David) and wicked step-mother (Rosemary) when their car gets stuck in the mud on a dark and stormy night. The family traipses through the woods to a nearby mansion where they are met by the elderly Hartwickes, Gabriel and Hillary, who provide shelter from the storm. Their house is filled with an assortment of dolls, as Gabriel is a toymaker, and young Judy is immediately surrounded by new “friends”. Soon, the Bowers are joined by another trio of stranded motorists when Ralph, an affable salesman, picks up two hitchhikers, Isabel and Enid, before suffering car trouble of his own. Everyone is welcome and given rooms for the night, but the old dark house is a bit spooky and filled with secrets and surprises.
Pediophobia, the fear of dolls and children, has inspired countless storytellers and proven fertile ground for movies ranging from the innocent Toy Story (featuring the scary neighbor dolls), to much darker fare including Magic, the never-ending Child's Play franchise (home of the iconic Chucky) and more recently, the yawners Dead Silence and Annabelle.
Dolls is a weird film that, as cuddly and kid friendly as it occasionally veers, contains moments of bloodshed and violence meant for adults that, while not excessive, will likely be too much for younger viewers. I mention this because the film's bi-polar nature alienates both audiences. The cast is limited to their archetypical roles, but that being said, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Castle Freak) excels as the bitch-on-wheels stepmother. Ian Patrick Williams (TerrorVision) chews a lot of scenery as Judy's dad, but his performance is balanced by the effective pairing of Stephen Lee (Robocop 2) and Carrie Lorraine as Ralph and Judy respectively. Ralph is just a big kid at heart and Lee really nails it without going over-the-top.
Following the success of Re-Animator, director Stuart Gordon announced plans to return to the works of author H.P. Lovecraft, and his next film would be From Beyond. Executive Producer Charles Band (Prison, Crawlspace) agreed, but invited Gordon to direct another script first, while the Lovecraft movie completed pre-production. Dolls was a Band project written by Ed Naha (Troll), combining elements from both the classic film The Old Dark House (1932) and the Grimm fairy tale Hansel & Gretel. It was agreed that Gordon would direct both films back to back on the same sets, although they could not be more different in tone or subject matter.
The legendary/infamous Charles Band has done a lot for the world of low-budget filmmaking, playing mostly in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. While not quite as towering a figure as such stalwarts as Roger Corman or Dino De Laurentiis, Band has built an impressive filmography over the past four decades and created his own empire, complete with a store loaded with merchandising for many of his titles. Band's films feel safe and give off a family-friendly vibe, but there are frequently subversive moments of shock and horror that keep audiences returning. I do not understand his obsession with dolls, but he is responsible for more than one franchise centering on figurines, most notably the Puppetmaster series that includes an impressive ten installments at last check.
Although not personally afraid of dolls or children, I can recommend Dolls as an example of an accomplished director making the most of the material provided. The darker elements of the script that include people being judged on their moral character and punished accordingly provide a nice venue for Gordon to shine. It is no secret to reveal that the dolls are indeed capable of murder and other sinister behavior, and the sequences involving their mischief and mayhem are among the highlights of the movie. This is not a title for everyone, but I am glad to see it receiving the full special-edition treatment here and fans will want to pick this up either for themselves or for small children they don't particularly care for.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the picture looks pretty terrific. Black levels are solid, colors are rich and nicely saturated while flesh tones appear natural throughout. There is a minor bit of print damage, but nothing too concerning and fans should be pleased with the overall transfer.
There are two audio options provided here, the default DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a more centered DTS-HD 2.0 track. Both are solid offerings, but I prefer the slightly expanded 5.1, as the music cues really benefit from the mix. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Returning from the earlier DVD release are two commentary tracks, the first featuring the writer and director, Naha and Gordon respectively. The two have a lot to say about the production and the informative conversation moves at a decent pace with only a few lingering dips into silent movie watching. The second option features cast members Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine and Ian Patrick Williams all reflecting on the fun times they had making the film. This is a lively track that although fairly superficial, is still a lot of fun.
Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls (38 minutes) is a fun retrospective featuring members of the cast and crew, and while there is a lot of overlap of info from the commentaries, it is nice to get the perspective from added participants, including producers Charles Band and Brian Yuzna (Society) and make-up artists John Vulich and Gabe Bartalos. Sadly absent from the new documentary are the recently deceased Stephen Lee (to whom the piece is dedicated) and the now grown Carrie Lorraine.
Film-to-storyboard comparisons of three key sequences offer a glimpse of the original sketches in a picture-in-picture display, running alongside their finished counterparts for eight minutes.
A gallery of promotional stills (50 images) is provided for your viewing pleasure
The original trailer for Dolls and a collection of additional titles from Scream Factory rounds out the special features on this disc.