I saw a trailer for this film as a kid and really wanted to see it, but for some reason it never happened. I think my mum may have actually objected to me hiring the video for this one… Fast forward twenty-odd years (twenty-odd years—WTF?!) and I stumbled across the trailer on YouTube, and then found that the whole film was on there too. With the power of being an adult free of mum censorship I gave this a go.
If you haven’t seen the movie, then don’t check out the trailer. It shows a few of the deaths, and being a horror movie that has a bare bones series of inventive deaths approach to plotting, it kind of hollows the experience out a little. The plot revolves around Judy, a little girl, who’s on a road-trip with her father and stepmother on a stormy night. They end up having to seek sanctuary from the elements in a scary house. As you do. And as you can imagine, these characters don’t watch horror, and are in for some terror…
The film doesn’t waste any time in making sure we don’t like the parents. It’s made clear that the dad doesn’t care about his daughter and the stepmother may as well be a Disney stepmother. She’s a bitch. She throws Judy’s teddy into the woods FFS. What a ****. There is a horror scene that follows that is surreal and fun which turns out to be the girl’s fantasy—but considering it ends in two deaths it did make me wonder what the f*** is going on in that kid’s head…
The owners of the house are an elderly couple of toymakers who look like they’ve stepped out of the Victorian/Edwardian era. They offer hospitality to Judy and her parents, and three other travellers who arrive soon after—Ralph and two punk girl hitchhikers that he’s picked up. Again, the film makes short work of making it clear that the punks aren’t very nice. In fact, all the characters in the not-nice-people camp stick to their not-being-nice by not-being-nice to their hosts. But that’s okay, because these characters only have one dimension and it’s pretty clear we aren’t meant to like them and they have ‘victim’ signs over their heads.
For the remainder of the runtime the dolls and toys that fill the creepy house knock off the not-nice people one by one. That last sentence may well sum up the film but it doesn’t go against it. After all it’s an accepted trope and this film makes us WANT these not-nice people to die. The movie has a creepy atmosphere which is let down by the ‘comedic’ scenes (yes the air quotes are there to point out that the goofball comedy around Ralph just isn’t funny) which quelled any tension for me. The strengths of the film are Judy, an okay child actor who pretty much carried me through the movie, and the eponymous dolls themselves. I did find myself questioning how the dolls could have the strength to do what they did to their victims, but shut myself up as they are living dolls killing people—realism pretty much ends there I guess. Also I think someone would struggle a wee bit more when suffering an ankle being hacksawed, but I let that go as some of the effects were actually decent enough to make me grimace.
The dolls are physical props and are either puppets or stop animation so they have presence unlike a lot of modern CGI effects. Yes, there is stuttering in their movement, but this didn’t detract from their menace and they are wickedly expressive little critter–and what’s within them was quite grim too.
Despite the horror and the gore the film has a naïve morality about growing up and losing innocence, and there is a Grimm’s Fairy Tale sensibility about the film that after all the easily accepted horror that the survivors go through there is the suggestion of a sweet happily ever after ending. Aw!
If you like unsophisticated 80s horrors, and especially the movie ‘Puppet Master’ you are bound to find something in this film to enjoy. I’m glad I checked it out—had I been thirteen or fourteen or watching this with a few drinks and fine friends I would’ve liked it a lot more. I’m sure I read on the web that the poster and release date came first for this movie, and the feature was rushed into production around these two ingredients, it’s pretty amazing it’s as watchable as it is. I would give this film three homicidal toys out of five.