They Walk. They Talk. They Kill. That is Dolls’s tagline, which puts it neatly in line with other misleadingly marketed doll-based movies.
Dolls is the first horror movie I remember actually loving as a young’un back in the eighties. I don’t know exactly what attracted me to it, though as someone who today has a fondness for gothic ghost stories, I would imagine Dolls being a foundation. A large mansion with killer — though barely walking or talking — dolls must have left some sort of mark.
Has it held up, though? That’s tough to say. It might have, but there is a disconnect between what Gently Matured I would have thought had I first watched the movie in 2018, and me now reliving my childhood.
Thirty-one years after its original release, Dolls looks and plays like a product of its time. The eighties were built on the premise of clueless dads with new, heartless significant others, using their kids as pawns in divorces. Granted, more-so in comedies (likely starring John Candy) than horrors. Being shacked up in a mansion with creepy hosts and a group of other stranded guests is a bit more sixties in style. It was overplayed already in 1987, but it at least throws us into the action without much pause for subtleties.
There are few surprises in Dolls, but that might have felt differently back then. Pre the Child’s Play-s of the world, killer dolls at least felt somewhat novel. The effects — all practical, natch — look dated these days, but they’re still charming. Antique dolls attacking those who have lost their inner-children holds up well and is creepy. Stuart Gordon’s direction is stylish, and though Dolls isn’t up there with Re-Animator in substance, it is in a different league than the nine-years-out Pinocchio’s Revenge.
There isn’t a whole lot of depth to the story, but the fairytale celebration of childhood, and a fable-esque punishment of those who have grown cynical has a gleeful menace to it. The cast, too, is serviceable. Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason, old pros as they are, are probably the more familiar faces, though model Bunty Bailey is recognizable from A-ha’s
Take On Me. It isn’t an ensemble dreams are made of, but it works well enough.
Maybe what it all came down to for Young Me was just that: Elements that worked well enough, and a gee-whiz factor that was eerie rather than scary. It was something to watch, rooting for the girl and her protector while boo-hiss-ing those who wouldn’t let kids being kids.
It looks slick still, Madonna-like fashion aside, and it’s grotesquely fun. Today, it is, to me, more a celebration of my childhood than it is of filmmaking, and that’s OK. What Dolls would mean for you, though? I honestly have no idea.