Dolls (1987) Film Review 4/5

One of the things I love most about horror movies is the fact that some characters are just there in the movie to die. Yeah, I said it. I like disposable teens. Not just any disposable teens, the ones I (and by extension, everyone else) like best is when the disposable teen is just asking to die. I don’t mean in the “Oh look at my jiggling breasts, think I’ll go take a shower” kind of way, I mean in the “Listen to me, I’m a huge prick and when I finally get killed, you’re going to cheer!” way.

Yes, I know. There are a lot of things I claim to love most about horror movies, and depending on the day of the week, that IS what I love most about horror movies. Generally, it depends on the movie. While there are universal traits in horror movies, some movies utilize particular traits better than others, and the trait that “Dolls” works to its fullest is the disposable asshole character, mostly because there’s such a clear delineation between the obviously good, the obviously bad, and the… well, let’s get to the story.

David, Rosemary, and Judy are the traditional family unit. David (Ian Patrick Williams), the husband, is a gold digging boy-toy. Rosemary (Caroline Purdy-Gordon) is the Abominable Step-Bitch. Judy (Carrie Lorraine) is the adorable and relatively well-adjusted, if a bit too creative, daughter of David and his original wife, who apparently isn’t a huge cunt. They’re in the midst of a nice leisurely drive through a dirt road that’s been turned into a swamp by torrential stock footage rainstorm when their car breaks down and gets stuck.

About the same time, though we don’t see this, Ralph (Stephen Lee), a sweetly-stupid manchild, picks up a couple of hot, snotty, punk-rock hitchhikers named Isabelle (Bunty Bailey) and Enid (Cassie Stuart). Having ignored the hitchhiker’s credo of “Always bring your towel,” these two groups rush to the only place that offers shelter in the storm: a big old creepy mansion. This is where things start to get interesting.

Gabriel (Guy Rolfe, who later goes on to star as Andre Toulon in the “Puppet Master” movies) and Hilary Hartwicke (Hilary Moore, who was apparently so old and senile they had to name her character after her so she’d know they were talking to her) welcome the people breaking in with surprisingly open arms. They give their soaking new friends dinner and towels, as well as warm places to sleep for the night on what Gabriel characterizes as the longest night of the year. Gabriel and his wife make dolls; these dolls are beautiful pieces of porcelain art, and they are also creepy as hell.

I understand that some dolls in horror movies are meant to be creepy and are designed to be creepy. These dolls, however, are creepier simply because they look like any number of thousands of old porcelain dolls that litter flea markets and Home Shopping Clubs throughout the nation, and I think these are creepier than anything designed to be deliberately creepy. Preternaturally red cheeks, big shiny glass eyes, little shambling limbs… being killed by a doll would be like being killed by a freaky baby, and I think that’s why I don’t trust dolls. And babies.

Gabriel, in this film, is the kind of character that doesn’t really fall into one or the other category. He’s one of the few people in the movie who is actually nice to Judy, giving her a Punch doll, but he’s also the direct source of the things which are killing everyone who isn’t nailed down. Then again, most of the people who get killed deserve their spectacular death scene, so Gabriel comes off as both a good guy and a bad guy. Guy Rolfe is able to walk the fine line between creepy and pleasant, which is a very difficult line.

One thing I noticed as the movie drew itself to a close. I find myself caring more about the dolls than I care about any of the people save Ralph and Judy, but with a cute ending, a relatively cute kid, and lots of the best lines (and most of the best acting) for Ralph, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by “Dolls.” I expected something forgettable, but got something that was actually pretty damn good, buoyed by some killer stop-motion animation (literally), gratuitous New Wave girls, an iron maiden sighting (the torture implement and not the band) and some sweet corpse-to-doll metamorphosis makeup.

Evil dolls have the best quality workmanship. First these dolls, then the puppets of “Puppet Master,” and then “Child’s Play” superstar Chucky. Evil dolls take a beating and keep on beating right back, and that’s why my children will have nothing but evil dolls and action figures growing up.

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