So I find myself watching yet another movie featuring killer dolls. Now this is one of those movies that I remember seeing the VHS box on the shelf in video stores all the time, but I never saw it as a kid. I mean, there were a lot of killer doll movies floating around in the late 80’s and 90’s, like Child’s Play or Puppet Master, so this one kind of got lost in the shuffle among all of them. In fact, it was about 10 years ago before I finally got around to finally seeing this movie. Now the only question is…was it worth the wait when I finally watched today’s movie, Dolls.
The plot: Young Judy Bower is traveling in the English countryside with her father, David and her step-mother Rosemary. As it gets dark and a storm starts up, their car gets stuck in some mud and David gets out to try and get it free, and both David and Rosemary yell at Judy in their frustration, especially when she mentions her mother. Unable to get the car free, David suggests they get out and try to find help or shelter from the storm and so Rosemary and Judy reluctantly follow. As they are walking, Rosemary yells at Judy for lagging behind and throws her teddy bear into the bushes as punishment. Judy has a daydream about her teddy bear coming to life and attacking Rosemary and David, and when Rosemary snaps her out of it, David comes back and begins chastising Judy for daydreaming before noticing an old mansion and they make their way towards it. David knocks on the door but when they receive no answer, they sneak inside the basement. Judy gets scared and causes David to knock over some boxes , which attracts the attention of the owners of the mansion, Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke. Gabriel points a shotgun and asks why they didn’t knock and while David and Rosemary are frozen in shock, Judy politely apologizes and says they did knock but nobody answered and they were simply trying to get out of the storm. The elderly couple take pity on the family and invite them inside to get warm. As they head upstairs, Gabriel and Hilary speak with Judy when David says she has an active imagination, and Gabriel shows her a room full of dolls and says that he will get her some food and then give her a tour of the house, which Judy happily agrees to. As Hilary gives them some soup, and the group introduce themselves, Gabriel comments about Judy not having a doll with her. Rosemary says that Judy dropped her teddy bear in the forest, then kicks Judy’s chair to make her agree with her, and Gabriel gives her a Mr. Punch doll as a replacement, which Judy happily accepts. Suddenly, the kitchen door opens and Isabel and Enid, two punk girls which Rosemary almost ran over earlier, enter the house accompanied by a man named Ralph, who had offered them a ride since it was raining. As introductions are made, Ralph remarks fondly about Mr. Punch, saying he had one as a kid, and when Gabriel asks if he likes toys, Isabel and Enid try to make it sound dirty but Ralph replies that he liked toys as a kid but unfortunately he had to grow up. Hilary tells Gabriel to show their guests to their rooms for the night and he leads the group upstairs to their rooms. Gabriel shows David and Rosemary their room and when David notices one bed and asks where Judy will sleep, Gabriel says she will have her own room, as he sensed they did not want her around. In their room, Isabel and Enid are talking and Enid wonders how they are going to swipe Ralph’s wallet and car keys but Isabel says that she will figure out a way. Meanwhile, Gabriel is showing his workshop and Ralph get excited to see all of the dolls Gabriel has made, telling them about some of his own childhood as he plays with one of them. Hilary enters Isabel and Enid’s room and talks with them for a bit and Isabel asks if the old dolls are valuable antiques and Hilary replies that to some people they probably will be worth something. When she leaves, Isabel tells Enid that since Gabriel and Hilary sleep at the other end of the house, they could swipe some of the valuables and they wouldn’t notice it for days. She then tells Enid to keep the radio going so nobody will hear her sneaking around and Enid reluctantly agrees. Gabriel finishes showing Judy and Ralph around and shows Judy to her room and Judy says good night to her new friends as Gabriel shows Ralph to his room. Meanwhile, David and Rosemary are talking and David says as soon as they get back home, he is sending Judy back to Boston to be with her mother, saying they are both young and free to do whatever they want. Elsewhere, Isabel is wandering along the halls and starts grabbing some stuff when a music box keeps opening, forcing her to close it. As she continues going through the items, the music box opens again and when Judy closes it, she notices the dolls on the shelf have disappeared. As she looks to see if anyone is there, the music box starts playing again and when she turns towards the sound, something grabs her legs and she is dragged into the room before rammed face first into the floorboard repeatedly, before being thrown from the room. Isabel looks up and sees Judy staring at her and she reaches out for help but when Judy starts to reach out for her, something grabs Isabel and drags her away. Judy runs to tell her David and Rosemary what happened but they think she is making it up and yell at her to go back to bed. Judy goes to tell Ralph and he doesn’t believe her at first but when she turns to go away, he notices the blood on her slippers and has her show him where it happened. Finding the trail of blood, the two follow it up to the attic and see a stockade up there and Ralph decides to let the others know what is going on so they leave, not noticing Isabel restrained in a chair behind them. As Ralph starts to go down the stairs, some dolls on the floor bite his ankle and Judy goes to see if he is ok and tells him what happened. Ralph heads to Isabel and Enid’s room and starts banging on the door, waking up David and Rosemary in the process. Ralph and Judy start trying to explain what happened but nobody believes them and instead, Enid believes that Ralph did something to Isabel, prompting David to tell Ralph to stay away from Judy. Ralph tries to protest his innocence and says they should try to look for Isabel but David ignores him and tells Judy that she is staying in their room. Judy says she is staying with Ralph and runs off, with David chasing after her and Ralph tries again to convince Rosemary and Enid of his innocence but they quickly shut the doors in his face. David goes looking for Judy but only finds Mr. Punch, who she dropped while running from him. David threatens to tear up Mr. Punch but is unable to do so and when he tries burning it with a candle, the wax drops on his foot and he drops Mr. Punch and when he re-lights the candle, Mr. Punch has disappeared. Meanwhile, Ralph runs into Gabriel and tries to explain what is going on and Gabriel says that he had spilled a bucket of paint on the floor while he was touching up some of the dolls and when Ralph asks about Judy, Gabriel says she will be fine but if she is still missing in the morning, he will help look for her. Back in her room, Enid is pacing the floor worried about Isabel when suddenly, the radio is knocked off the mantel and the dolls are sitting back on there, causing Enid to freak out and quickly leave the room. Ralph is in the kitchen cleaning the blood off of his ankle when Judy shows up, finding Mr. Punch in the chair next to him. As the two talk, Mr. Punch responds to Ralph’s question but Ralph thinks it was Judy changing her voice. In her room, Rosemary is reading in bed when she is suddenly attacked by several dolls, who stab her and attempt to cut off her limbs. As she runs from the room, she is constantly attacked by dolls and ends up jumping out the window and falling to her death. Enid continues looking for Isabel when she sees Hilary coming down the hall and quickly hides from her. After she passes by, Enid continues looking for Isabel and eventually reaches the attic, where she finds Isabel and is horrified to find that she is in the process of being turned into a doll. When the dolls try attacking her, Enid fights back, using her lighter and belt to smash and burn the dolls, then runs from the attic but ends up being confronted by a group of toy soldiers, who proceed to shoot her. David returns to his room complaining about not being able to find Judy and reaches for Rosemary but thinks better of it and goes to take a shower. Meanwhile, Ralph and Judy head to a secret room and find it filled with all sorts of dolls and Ralph realizes that the dolls are alive. When Ralph tries to smash through the dolls to leave the room, Judy tells him to stop as he is hurting the dolls and making them angry. The dolls attack Ralph but Judy yells at them to stop hurting her friend and they stop, then start talking among themselves about what to do with them. Ralph is worried but Judy says it is alright as Mr. Punch will protect them. Meanwhile, David finishes his shower and goes to get into bed only to find Rosemary’s corpse in the bed. Thinking that Ralph killed her, David smashes a chair then grabs one of the broken legs and goes looking for Ralph. Back in the secret room, the dolls let Ralph and Judy go and Judy thanks them but as the leave, David finds them and starts attacking Ralph. Judy tries to plead with her dad to stop, saying Ralph is nicer than he will ever be but David knocks Ralph unconscious, then does the same to Judy. As David is about to kill Ralph, Mr. Punch comes to life and stops him, distracting David long enough for the other dolls to drag Ralph and Judy to safety in the secret room. David eventually smashes Mr. Punch but Gabriel and Hilary show up and David threatens them and demands they hand over Judy. When he goes to attack them, he is suddenly frozen in place and Gabriel reveals that he and Hilary are a wizard and witch repsectively. The believe that toys are the heart and soul of childhood and whenever people show up at their house, they test them to see if they can feel the goodwill that toys can provide but if they fail, they are turned into dolls themselves, as shown by David transforming into a new Mr. Punch. The next morning, Ralph and Judy wake up are convinced that what happened was just a dream. When Judy asks about her dad, Gabriel reads a letter supposedly from her father that says he is sending her to live with her mom and leaves enough money to get her a plane ticket to Boston, as well as a ticket for Ralph, who is asked to ensure she gets there safely. Ralph quickly wants to leave and Gabriel and Hilary say that they are welcome to stay as long as they want but Judy says her mom would be sad if she didn’t go there but asks if it is ok to visit them. As they go to get in Ralph’s car, they find Judy’s teddy bear in his car and Judy gives it to the couple as a gift and they say they will take care of it as if it is one of their own. As Ralph and Judy drive off, Judy asks Ralph if he is married, then says that he will like her mom. Meanwhile, David, Rosemary, Isabel, and Enid are shown to be in doll form as another car is seen getting stuck in the mud outside the house and the parents argue as they get out and get their things before heading to the house.
Dolls met with mixed reviews from the critics, holding a 58% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most of the critics praised the special effects but were mixed on their feelings towards the plot. Director Stuart Gordon was interested in directing a sequel, with the story line being that Ralph did end up marrying Judy’s mother and raising Judy when they received a package from England that contained Gabriel and Hilary, who had been turned into dolls, but the sequel never happened. The movie was considered a commercial failure, making $3.5 million off of a $2 million budget.
This had it’s odd moments, but it is actually a pretty decent movie to watch. The acting was ok for the most part, with Carrie Lorraine (Judy), Stephen Lee (Ralph), and Ian Patrick Williams (David) doing good jobs in their roles. On a side note, most people will recognize Bunty Bailey (Isabel) as the girl that starred in A-ha’s “Take On Me”. The story was honestly a little confusing, as even though they try to explain what was going on, it still didn’t really seem to make any sense. The special effects were pretty good for the most part but there were a couple of times where they felt a little weak. Like I said, there are a number of killer doll movies out there that are going to have more name recognition, but this at least has a chance to find some ground of it’s own to stand on.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5