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DVD Review: Dolls (1987)

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Dolls (1987)

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Dolls (DVD Review)It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what this 80s horror movie is about. That’s right, you’ve guessed it, dolls; but these dolls are not the common all garden type of dolls that you see little girls pushing around in prams. These dolls have attitude. Try pushing these dolls and they push back—hard.

The story begins in car and one of the nicest characters in the movie is
sitting in the back seat. Her name is Judy Bower, she is seven-years-old, and she does not appear to be having a good time, but that is probably due to the company she is keeping. Her father is never going to make father of the year and seems to view spending time with Judy as an unwanted chore. His wife Rosemary is even worse. She makes Cinderella’s wicked stepmother look like a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, and when she sees two punk girls hitchhiking she nearly turns them into novelty hood ornaments. “Baby,” David Bower tells her “You almost hit them.” “Do you want me to go back and try a second time?” Rosemary asks him.

When the weather takes a sudden turn for the worse the Bowers find themselves driving through a horrific thunderstorm and their car soon becomes stuck in mud, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere. Then a flash of lightning reveals a spooky-looking old house a little distance away so they head towards it, seeking shelter from the storm. When nobody answers the door though, they find their own way inside, via an open basement door. 

The house is owned by toymaker Gabrielle Hartwicke and his wife  Hilary, and when they discover they have uninvited guests in their basement they are less than thrilled (the shotgun is a bit of a giveaway), but as soon as the old couple set eyes on Judy they mellow and invite the Bowers up to the kitchen to get warm.

The Bowers and Hartwickes have barely introduced themselves when the two punk girls burst through the kitchen door, in the company of a man named Ralph Morris. Ralph is a kind hearted soul and when he saw the girls hitchhiking in the storm he stopped and picked them up. Unfortunately Ralph’s car fared no better in the mud than the Bowers’ car did and he got stuck as well. 

It’s a good job the Hartwickes own such a big house because they now have six guests for the night. Right from the start, however, it is obvious that there is something not quite right with the old couple, but whatever their story is, the old couple seem to take to Judy and Ralph, probably because they both love toys.

The two punk rockers, Isabel and Enid, are stereotypical horror movie victims and, with their loud screechy voices, they are just too damned annoying to survive a horror movie. Rosemary Bower, on the other hand, is not annoying; she is just plain nasty and right from the get go it seems likely she will also suffer a suitable punishment at the little plastic hands of the dolls. 

Six stranded travellers, a big, spooky, old house, filled with creepy-looking toys, and a storm that looks set to rage through what promises to be a very long night. The stage is set and it is obvious that pleasant dreams are never going to be on the agenda.

Although Dolls has somewhat of a low-budget feel to it, it is a very good movie that offers a nice blend of horror and humour. The scene where Rosemary throws away Judy’s teddy bear is good example of this. Judy’s response to this outrage against her only friend comes in the form of a daydream in which her teddy gains about seven feet in height and acquires some pretty lethal claws and fangs. The monster bear bursts from the bushes, chows down on Rosemary Bowers, and then dispatches her husband with a viscous swipe of its claws. Judy response to this is to admonish her bear with an “Oh Teddy!” that is so inadequate for the situation that I could not help but smile. 

Carrie Lorraine was a good choice to play Judy. She’d already had a few bit parts, one of which was in Poltergeist 2, but until Dolls she’d never had a starring role. It was, however, her last, because she quit acting and grew up to be a lawyer instead. Carolyn Purdy-Johnson was equally well cast as the super-bitch, Rosemary Bowyer, and she did such a great job of making her character so believably obnoxious that I am willing to bet that very few viewers will have much sympathy for Rosemary when the dolls go to work on her. It’s quite a nasty scene, by the way, and squeamish viewers may be forced to look away. But, for my money, one of the most memorable parts of the movie is where Isabel’s eyes fall out and she has to pick them up and replace them. I know that last sentence sounds ridiculous, so I must point out that, by the time this happens, Isabel has a new set of dolly peepers and her face appears to be turning to plastic. The blood is minimal, but it is still rather disturbing scene.

DVD Review: Dolls (1987)

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Dolls is not a particularly fast moving movie, but it has a good storyline and should appeal to viewers who would rather watch something creepy than try to keep up with a high action splatter-fest-type of movie. The special effects are not as good as those in modern movies, but the scenes were the dolls come to life are adequately convincing; though it has to be said that some of the early scenes—where the dolls are heard, but not seen; or where they are just out of range of the camera—are more powerful than the ones in which the dolls put in a physical appearance. Dolls was directed by Stuart Gordon (Reanimator, Beyond) though, and he knows a thing or two about horror movies; so there is little wonder that the whole thing comes together so well.


Ian Patrick Williams
Carolyn Purdy-Gordon
Carrie Lorraine

Stephen Lee

Guy Rolfe
Hilary Mason

Bunty Bailey
Cassie Stuart



David Bower
Rosemary Bower
Judy Bower

Ralph Morris

Gabriel Hartwicke
Hilary Hartwicke

Isabel Prange

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