Directed by Stuart Gordon [Other horror films: Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), Daughter of Darkness (1990), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), Castle Freak (1995), Dagon (2001)]
Seeing this movie a second time really solidified what I felt the first time around: while certainly corny at times, with some overacting afoot, Dolls has a lot of feeling to it.
There were some atrocious characters in the film (Bunty Bailey’s Isabel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon’s Rosemary, and Ian Patrick Williams’ David), but the heart of the film lie in Judy, Ralph, and the elderly couple Hilary and Gabriel.
Played by Stephen Lee, Ralph was a great character, and while at times he was played up a bit much as the comic relief, I really enjoyed how he was able to connect with Judy (Carrie Lorraine) better than her father or step-mother ever could. And of course, Hilary Mason does wonderful as a witch-type old woman. While Ralph was a great character, though, the true stand-out is Guy Rolfe’s performance as Gabriel.
Charismatic and often kindhearted, Gabriel was a real treat, who spoke with respect to those who deserved it. In many ways, his placement of importance on kids’ and their wonder really reminded me, oddly enough, of a Willy Wonka-type character. Who couldn’t love that?
In relation, this movie had a strong fantasy feel throughout, which, while at times I find bothersome in a horror flick, really worked out well here. Stuart Gordon did a great job balancing the two, and while overall I think Paperhouse (1988) is a better fantasy/horror blend, Dolls is damn enjoyable also.
There were creepy scenes throughout, some subtle, some not so, and the kills were both memorable and, at times, brutal (I enjoyed the dolls attacking one of the characters in waves, but the firing squad death has to be my favorite – the slow motion worked really well there). The stop motion effects were pretty good looking, so kudos to that department also. Lastly, the music throughout the film was deeply enjoyable. Sometimes suspenseful, sometimes fantastical, those who worked on the score did a really great job. High quality all around.
Dolls isn’t by any means the perfect film, but it does possess occasionally poignant scenes and overall comes across as a feel-good movie, despite the violence. It harkens back to the creativity of childhood, and questions why we lost the wonder most of us once had. It’s a pleasant watch, in short, and I’d certainly recommend this to any interested party.