DOLLS movie poster | ©2014 Shout! Factory

DOLLS movie poster | ©2014 Shout! Factory

Stars: Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Carrie Lorraine, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart, Stephen Lee
Writer: Ed Naha
Director: Stuart Gordon
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Suggested Retail Price: $29.93

When RE-ANIMATOR hit theaters in 1985, it was one of those debut feature films that couldn’t be ignored. Director Stuart Gordon and occasional producing partner Brian Yuzna delivered an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that has become legendary. A wild gory and memorable ride filled with imagination, perversion and a breakout performance by Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West.

With over-the-top gore that was so extreme the film couldn’t even garner an R rating, Gordon’s unique sensibilities and offbeat humor in RE-ANIMATOR was a difficult act to follow. However, in quick succession, he turned out DOLLS and the criminally underrated Lovecraft adaptation FROM BEYOND.

DOLLS is the odd-man out in Gordon’s early oeuvre. Even though it was his second directorial effort, his third film FROM BEYOND hit theaters before it since additional stop-motion work was needed to complete the doll-centric film.

To be honest, I have to admit, DOLLS is one of the rare Gordon films that I missed. I’ve been aware of it, but even during the VHS heyday, I never ended up renting it.

That said, shame on me, since it’s actually a rather creepy and effective movie that kicked off a long-standing relationship with executive producer Charles Band and puppet/doll movies.

One of the reasons why DOLLS was marginalized so much is that gore fans didn’t get the over-the-top craziness you would expect from the director RE-ANIMATOR. It’s unfair to Gordon, who has always proven to be a unique and versatile filmmaker.

Shot in Italy, the movie stars Guy Rolfe as kindly (but creepy) doll maker Gabriel Hartwicke who along with his wife Hilary (Hilary Mason) maintain a house in the countryside devoted to their dolls. There’s dolls of all kinds, and there’s something very unique about them as well. This comes to light on a stormy night when bad dad David Bower (Ian Patrick Williams), his new shrill wife Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) and young daughter Judy (Carrie Lorraine) are stranded on due to car troubles and are invited to stay at the Hartwicke’s house for the night. Another group of visitors also appear – kid at heart Ralph (Stephen Lee) and a couple of opportunist hitchhikers (Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart).

Soon, the dark and stormy night turns into bloodshed as the dolls literally come to life – and they’re not very happy either.

DOLLS alternate poster | ©2014 Shout! Factory

DOLLS alternate poster | ©2014 Shout! Factory

Low budget horror can sometimes show its seams as ambitions are curtailed by lack of time and money. Surprisingly, despite its low-budget nature, DOLLS does not skimp on the sheer amount of dolls in the film. They’re all over the place and they actually do some pretty unsettling things. There is an ample amount of A-plus stop motion animated work from maestro David Allen which brings some of the dolls to life in addition to some effective special make-up effects tricks as well.

If there is a major drawback with DOLLS, it’s the tonal shifts. Gordon brought a wicked sense of humor to RE-ANIMATOR and the same for DOLLS, but the humor actually takes away from what could have been a great doll-based horror movie. The movie is good, but some of the over-the-top exaggerations actually prevents this from being the great movie it could have been.

The special features consist of an informative making of featuring new interviews with Gordon, Yuzna, screenwriter Ed Naha, some of the special effects artists and actors Williams and Purdy-Gordon). It’s here we learn of how Band asked Gordon to do DOLLS in between RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND. It’s also explained why the film had to sit on the shelf until Allen was able to complete the additional stop motion animation of the doll attacks to beef up the film.

Gordon is one of horror’s greatest unsung heroes – someone who takes huge chances with every film he does and leaves his mark every time. DOLLS may not be his best, but it’s definitely one of his more underrated movies. If you haven’t seen DOLLS, it’s well worth checking out the new Shout! Factory disc.

Go to Shout! Factory to Purchase DOLLS  Collector’s Edition

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