Dolls is an 80s horror movie directed by Stuart Gordon. It’s a movie many horror fans may be unfamiliar with. When it was released it never got much of a marketing push. I watched a lot of horror movies back in the 80s and Dolls escaped my attention too. It never even made it into the horror section at my local video rental store. When I watched Dolls for the first time the movie was over 20-years-old so this review has been a long time coming.
You don’t need much imagination to figure out what this particular 80s horror movie is about. It’s dolls, but these dolls are not the common-or-garden type of dolls you see little girls pushing around in prams. These dolls have attitude. Push them and they push back—hard.
The story begins in a 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 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 replies.
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 they find their own way inside, via an open basement door.
The house belongs to toymaker Gabrielle Hartwicke and his wife Hilary. When they discover they have uninvited guests in their basement they are less than thrilled (the shotgun is a bit of a giveaway). However, the sight of Judy mellows them and they 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 with a man named Ralph Morris. Unlike Rosemary, Ralph is a kind-hearted soul. 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. He got stuck as well.
It’s a good job the Hartwickes own such a big house because the storm has given them six guests for the night. Right from the start, though, it’s obvious there’s something odd about the toymaker and his wife. Nevertheless, 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 like Dolls. Rosemary Bower isn’t annoying. She’s just plain nasty and, right from the get-go, it seems likely she’ll get a suitable punishment at the little, plastic hands of the dolls.
Six stranded travellers, a spooky 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’s obvious pleasant dreams are never going to be on the agenda.
Although Dolls has somewhat of a low-budget feel to it, it’s actually a pretty good movie that offers a nice blend of horror and humour. The scene where Rosemary throws away Judy’s teddy bear is a good example. 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 and chows down on Rosemary Bowers. Then it dispatches her husband with a vicious swipe of its claws. Judy response to this is to admonish her bear with an “Oh Teddy!” that’s so inadequate for the situation I couldn’t help but smile.
Carrie Lorraine was a good choice to play Judy. She’d already had a few bit parts, including a small role in Poltergeist 2 but, until Dolls, she’d never had a starring role. It was also her last. Carrie quit acting and grew up to be a lawyer instead.
Carolyn Purdy-Johnson was equally well cast as the super-bitch Rosemary Bowyer. She did such a great job of making her character believably obnoxious I am willing to bet 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. Squeamish viewers may be forced to look away.
For me, one of the most memorable scenes is the one where Isabel’s eyes fall out and she has to pick them up and replace them. I know that last sentence sounds ridiculous but, 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’s still rather disturbing scene.
Dolls is not a particularly fast-moving movie, but it has a good storyline and should appeal to viewers who prefer to watch creepy films instead of high-action, splatter-fest-type movies. The special effects are not as good as the one in modern movies, but the scenes were the dolls come to life are adequately convincing. Having said that, some of the early scenes where the dolls are heard but not seen are more powerful than the ones where the dolls put in a physical appearance.
I’m going to end this Dolls movie review by pointing out Stuart Gordon also directed the 80s horror movies Reanimator and Beyond. He knows his stuff. Dolls may not have been as successful as the two aforementioned movies but you might be pleasantly surprised if you give it a chance.
Carrie LorraineStephen Lee
Judy BowerRalph Morris