Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dolls: the dead eyes of children's toys

Ever picked up one of those old dolls with the eyes that open and close depending on how you hold it and wonder if it could see you? Ever imagine your teddy bear turning into a flesh-eating beast from beyond?

Little Judy Bower did and then she met some real nasty dolls. Stuart Gordon's 1987 flick "Dolls" sees Judy, her father and her step-mother seeking refuge from a storm at the home of some unethical toy makers.

Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna gave the world the "Re-Animator" franchise, one of the best series out there. "Dolls" was filmed before Gordon's space vampire movie "From Beyond" but took longer to reach viewers due to the post-production effects required to bring the malevolent toys to life.

The living doll effects are great. This was a time before computers ruled special effects, so bringing the dolls to life is more reliant on robotics and puppetry.

The best moment of the film, however, the dolls aren't even visible. You know the dolls are there thanks to the child-like giggling going on as a Madonna wanna-be is having her face bashed into a baseboard. Dolls are tiny, remember. It's a perspective shot that blacks out on impact before pulling back to show the bloodied face of the dolls' victim before she is dragged away. Little Judy (with her Mr. Punch doll) witnesses the dragging but has a hard time convincing her parents that it happened.

"Dolls" is not a cinematic masterpiece by any means. It's a good weekday afternoon, basic cable thriller. It's no better, but certainly no worse, than anything in the "Puppetmaster" series or the delightful "Dollman versus the Demonic Toys."

"Dolls" is perhaps best viewed (in its less bloody cable version) with pre-teens that aren't quite ready for "Friday the 13th."

Threat level: BLUE, unless you are terrified of dolls, then ORANGE.

"Dolls," was directed by Stuart Gordon, produced by Brian Yuzna and written by Ed Naha. It's rated R and clocks in at a cable-ready 77 minutes. "Dolls" is currently available via Netflix Instant Watch.

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