India has been an avid fan of all things spooky and scary ever since she can remember.
"Nobody wants dolls that are special anymore."
— "Dolls," 1987
Lots of Horror Clichés, But Also Dolls
Despite its unimpressive title—wonder how long it took the writers to come up with that one? — Dolls isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. And by that, I mean it’s somewhat better than Puppetmaster (not exactly a high bar to clear). Still, there are worse ways to spend seventy-seven minutes of your life (see my review of Microwave Massacre for more details).
When the opening credits are accompanied by disembodied doll heads, you know what you’re in for, and Dolls doesn’t disappoint. The film follows Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine), a little girl who is on vacation with her father and stepmother. After their car gets stuck in the mud during a thunderstorm, the family is forced to take shelter in a (creepy and conveniently placed) mansion, home to elderly dollmaker Gabriel (Guy Rolfe) and his wife.
If you're thinking that setup sounds cliché, please know going in that Dolls isn't afraid of cliché. There’s the car which breaks down at the worst possible moment, a decrepit country home that should be condemned, travelers forced to seek shelter, and hosts with a hidden motive. In the beginning at least, Dolls is a fairly typical horror movie.
And then we get dolls.
The Plot Twist
Oh, did I mention these are KILLER DOLLS??? And these aren’t just any homicidal playthings—it turns out they only kill people who, as Gabriel puts it, "can’t be saved." You’re probably thinking this means they murder psychopaths, serial killers, and child predators—anyone who is irreversibly corrupted. (In which case, I’m rooting for them.)
Something About an Inner Child?
Of course not, because that would make sense. Instead, the dollies are only interested in offing people who’ve lost their “inner child,” whatever that means. Doesn’t seem like the toys know, either. They’re probably just using it as an excuse to kill anyone who pisses them off. (That would be an interesting murder defense, though. “Your Honor, I was trying to help her get in touch with her inner child. I didn’t mean to stab her.”)
But wait, there’s more. When Enid (Cassie Stuart) smashes a doll’s head while in the process of battling a horde of angry toys, she reveals a small, shriveled creature which resembles a cross between a mummy and a long-lost relative of Aqua Man.
Dolls Unsure of Its Own Mythology
However, if you’re hoping to learn more about whatever's wearing the dolls like some sort of skin suit, think again. After dropping this bombshell, the movie proceeds to ignore its own revelation. Which is a shame because I want answers. Judy refers to the creatures as “little people,” so does that mean they’re elves? (If so, I prefer the Keebler version.)
Then again, at the end of the movie Gabriel and his wife turn Judy’s dad into a doll, which means it’s also possible that the toys used to be people the couple decided couldn’t be saved. But if that’s the case, why don’t the dolls kill them instead of unwanted visitors? The two look like they’re pushing one hundred; I think the toys could take them.
Since I wasn’t alive in the 80’s, I can’t say this for certain, but I’m beginning to believe there was a trend which involved making horror movie characters as unlikable as possible. If not, then some of those screenwriters were in need of professional help (and a career change).
Judy isn’t so bad—she’s pretty mature for a seven-year-old—but her parents are another story. Let’s put it this way: there’s a scene in the beginning where Judy imagines her teddy bear killing them, and I really wished it was real. At least they get what's coming to them.
In addition to the Bower family, Gabriel and his wife—who haven’t updated their wardrobe in the past two hundred years—welcome another trio of travelers: Ralph (Stephen Lee) and the hitchhikers he picked up, Enid and Isabel (Bunty Bailey).
Dolls Unsure Which Country It's In
Speaking of wardrobes, Enid and Izzy's clothes are ... something else. They’re supposed to be goths/punk rocker types, but their outfits are so over the top it’s laughable.
The girls’ accents are also confusing, since they—along with Gabriel and his wife—sound as though they’ve just come from tea with the queen, while the rest of the cast is as American as apple pie. The movie is set in the English countryside, so the Brits make sense. Why are Americans there???
Alas, this is just one of many questions which will never be answered. Fortunately, I can live with that.
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