Charles Band must have had some sort of horrific childhood experience with a teddy bear or Raggedy Ann or maybe even an encounter with an anatomically correct G.I. Joe doll, because this guy is really afraid of toys. Almost his entire oeuvre features either puppets or dolls, sometimes both. With 1987’s Dolls, Band served as producer while Stuart Gordon (fresh off of From Beyond) directed, but Band’s signature mix of gore, whimsy, and humour was palpable.
A group of strangers are caught up in a violent storm, and find themselves holed up for the night in the home of the eccentric doll-maker Gabriel (Rolfe) and his wife, Hilary (Mason). The group consists of Judy (Lorraine) and her selfish father and bitchy stepmother; the sweet and gentle Ralph (Lee), and punk rockers/swindlers Enid and Isabel. Gabriel and Hilary take an instant shine to Judy and Ralph, who both seem to have an affinity for the doll-maker’s work. However, Judy’s “parents” and the two teen grifters run afoul of the elderly couple’s creations, and, when all the good little boys and girls are safe in their beds, the dolls come out to play.
Dolls is a funny, somewhat gory, and entertaining little slice of eighties nostalgia that is more like a Grimm fairy tale than an actual horror movie. The dolls, themselves, arent’ nearly as evil as the people they dispatch, and are actually quite friendly to those in touch with their inner-child, which is why Judy’s “wicked stepmother”, the fiendish father, and the thieving tarts all get their comeuppance.
My main problem with Dolls is that, while this sort of film can’t help but to be funny, it seems to go out of its way to do so, and the humour feels forced to an almost slapstick degree. I also felt that it was all a bit too whimsical, especially for an R-rated film. Still, there are some really fun moments here and the effects, for their time, are fairly effective, especially when one considers the film’s meager budget.
MGM releases the film with a load of extra features considering this is a bargain priced release. There’s an incredibly solid widescreen transfer (really quite nice and vivid, especially during the opening scene) as well as full screen on the flipside of the disc. There are also two audio commentary tracks; one featuring Stuart Gordon and writer Ed Naha, and the other featuring cast members. Rounding out the extras is a storyboard-to- film comparison, a photo gallery, and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
While hardcore horror fans may find themselves scratching their heads, those who enjoy Band’s Puppet Masters films will certainly love this one, as it employs pretty much the same formula.