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John’s Horror Corner: Dolls (1987), a heavy dose of 80s-nostalgic murderous stop-motion demon dolls from goretastic director Stuart Gordon.

June 23, 2019

MY CALL: This might be the first killer doll movie featuring several stop-motion dolls. And even if it’s not, it’s fun and gory and clearly influenced many of our favorite subsequent evil dolls films. MOVIES LIKE Dolls: Other quality evil doll films include The Boy (2016), Annabelle: Creation (2017), Dead Silence (2007), Demonic Toys (1992), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Tales from the Hood (1995), Dolly Dearest (1991) and Puppet Master 1-5 (1989). Plus there’s Child’s Play (1988), Child’s Play 2 (1990), Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017).

After finding their car stuck in the mud during a storm (such a classic trope, by the way), David (Ian Patrick Williams; Re-Animator, Bad Channels, Growth), Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon; Re-Animator, From Beyond, The Pit and the Pendulum) and their daughter Judy (Carrie Lorraine; Poltergeist II) seek shelter in a nearby mansion.

The mansion is occupied by elderly dollmaker couple Gabriel (Guy Rolfe; Puppet Master 3-5 & Retro, The Bride) and his hospitable wife Hilary, and as soon as welcoming Judy’s family in from the rain, they give her a jester doll to keep her company: Mister Punch. Then more wayward travelers (an awkward motorist and two young punkettes) join the cast for the sake of a larger body count. Shortly after their arrival, Judy discovers that the dolls seem to be alive… and they tend not to like adults.

The creature effects are quite satisfying for 1987 (and on a budget). This classic gets off to a glorious start with an engaging monster scene when Judy’s teddy bear turns into a big monstrous demon bear. The dolls throughout the mansion have human-like veiny eyes that move about and they smile to bare mangled demonic tiny teeth. Mischievous and menacing little things—clearly inspiration for Charles Band’s (executive producer of Dolls) soon to follow Puppet Master (1989).

Most of the early “action” occurs off-camera but remains feisty as victims are slammed into things or dragged down halls. Later, the stop-motion doll attacks are wonderful and abundantly visualized. They bite and stab and literally saw victims as the victims kick and stomp them away. I feel like the mobs of stop-motion dolls inspired Tales from the Hood (1995), and we often see numerous animated dolls on-screen at a time which, back in the 80s, was a big deal in special effects.

The special effects develop when the dolls start dying en masse. It’s reminiscent of Gremlins (1984) being doused with water—appropriately gross and creature effects-rich. The transformation scene of the man into a doll was pretty spiffy as well—including protruding cheek bones and a developing hunchback. And we come to find that other victims end up as dolls in the likeness of their life, bestowing the film a more haunting menace.

Although I’d consider it among his lesser 1980s works, director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon) manages to create a thriving triumph from an otherwise simple premise for which writer Ed Naha (Troll, CHUD II: Bud the Chud, Dollman) permits those most innocent and purest of heart to triumph.

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