You guys might be familiar with Stuart Gordon’s other horror movies, such as From Beyond, Re-Animator, or Dagon. Well, while Dolls is rated R, it’s a bit more kid-friendly than his other work. Maybe not enough to show your five-year-old, but I guess you gotta start them somewhere.
In fact, the whole point of the movie is to be kid-friendly and young at heart, or risk elements of childhood coming back to punish you. A young girl, her uncaring father and abusive stepmother, a mild-mannered businessman, and two punk chicks (who double as thieves) arrive at the mansion of an elderly toy maker and his wife to get out of a nasty storm. Over the course of the night, the immoral members of the party are steadily picked off one by one and forcibly transformed by the dolls that reside within the mansion, until only the child and those with a strong inner child are left. Those who have completely lost their innocence and given over to being adults are the prey, but those who still remember being a child and respect their toys or who have never left their childhood survive.
There are a lot of killer toy movies out there, but few have quite the same moral message, instead preferring to focus on the idea of supposed innocence harboring evil intent (similar to a lot of killer kid movies). But in Dolls, the wicked are punished but allowed the chance to redeem themselves as toys. However the manner by which this is represented is not entirely consistent. Some of the toys contain shrunken human corpses within, while others don’t. The transformation sequence for the people you see turned into toys also lacks consistency, with one being bloodier and taking longer while the other is quick, probably intensely painful, but features no gore of any kind.
This contributes to the film’s biggest problem: it’s uneven. Sometimes deaths are bloody and nasty. Other times…not so much. The tone also varies from lighthearted and almost comedic to brutally violent. The most revolting moment of the film is definitely the uncaring father discovering the corpse in his bed (which has been there a while and slowly managed to get blood all over the part of the bed that he can’t see, but the audience can), but it’s followed by him smashing a chair and shouting in a way that comes off more goofy than anything else. Or better yet, there is a child’s fantasy in the first ten minutes of the movie where a teddy bear transforms into a huge monster, brutally mauls two people, and then turns to its owner and shrugs sheepishly for having done what it did.
Still, I liked the movie quite a bit. Perhaps not as much as some of Gordon’s other films that I have watched, but I have highly enjoyed everything I have seen him direct, and this was no exception. The screenplay for Dolls wasn’t written by Gordon however, but instead by Ed Naha, who also wrote scripts for Troll, Spellcaster, and even an obscure and terrible fantasy film I watched years ago called Wizards of the Lost Kingdom. How Dolls turned out ok, I don’t really know. I attribute it to Gordon.
Those of you who are interested in a more lighthearted horror experience but still want some amount of gore…well, you could certainly do a lot worse.