Dolls (1987) Blu-ray

ragnarok_trl03_nor_gr_g24__15_87968This review is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Lee (1955-2014). He played Ralph Morris in the movie. 

I was not aware of the existence of Dolls until I saw a screenshot in The Postal Zone of a 1988 Fangoria. There was just a small photo of the dolls, mention of Stuart Gordon’s name and something about it being an “unheralded gem,” or words to that effect, but a horror movie about killer dolls? Pass, I immediately thought.

I didn’t end up seeing it until the Sci-Fi Channel aired it one afternoon back in the day when they were still marketing themselves as a channel catering to science fiction. I liked it. I ran into it a second time back in early 2005 when Showtime aired it this one time only. Just on the off chance they might be running it widescreen I popped in a VHS tape ready to record it and as luck would have it they did. But I had to wait until the opening credits were over before I knew that for sure. Sometimes cable would run the opening widescreen and then blow it up to full frame right after they were done. I was really shocked Showtime didn’t do this with Dolls. I also knew without a doubt it meant it would be hitting DVD later in the year. Back in the early 2000s, certain channels (TCM, AMC, cable) had a tendency to run remastered movies as a prelude to a DVD release later on. I remember catching a lot of MGM’s Midnite Movies on TV, looking all sweet and tasty and widescreen suddenly, months before they debuted on disc.

It wasn’t until the 2005 DVD of Dolls and hearing the commentary that I learned it had been shot right before Stuart Gordon did From Beyond (1986), but post production on it ran so long because of Dave Allen’s stop motion it ended up getting released after From Beyond. That was revelation #1, then came revelation #2, which was also gleaned from one of the commentaries, that Dolls was shot on the same soundstages as From Beyond. This now explains why that shot of the basement, when the family breaks into the house, always looked so familiar. It’s the same basement Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffery Combs) and Bubba (Ken Foree) tangled with that giant, interdimensional, lamprey eel-thing that ended up sucking all of Tillinghast’s hair off his head and body.

In the movie we get introduced to three separate groups of characters out of which two become the flicks survivors/heroes. And we start off meeting the Bower family first, who are on a vacation in England. You’ve got David Bower (Ian Patrick Williams), the father, Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon), the classic “wicked stepmother,” and eight-year-old stepdaughter, Judy (Carrie Lorraine). To be honest Judy’s father is a douchebag too. All three get stuck in a sudden thunderstorm and then stuck in their car on this lonely country road. The family chooses this nearby mansion to seek shelter and run into the elderly owners, Gabriel and Hilary Harwicke (Guy Rolf and Hilary Mason). Gabe is a toymaker, specializing in handmade dolls. Hilary is just his creepy wife.

While they are granted a nightly stay and are having a warm bowl of soup at the kitchen table our final group of characters burst in. Ralph Morris (Stephen Lee) and the two British chicks, Isabel (Bunty Bailey) and Enid (Cassie Stuart), David Bower refused to pick up after the opening credits and almost ran down. Issie and Enid are of the period; very 80s chicks, one dressed punk rockish, the other looking more like a Madonna groupie. Ralph is our hero and still has a soft spot for toys and the memories of them when he was a kid.

We don’t get a sense of the “danger” within this abode until Isabel thinks she can make a quick buck by sneaking about and stealing what she thinks might be expensive antiques in the house. This is where we learn the various dolls seen around the house aren’t exactly inanimate objects. They can walk, stalk and kill . . . oh, and giggle. This isn’t a bloody movie, but there’s some gore dappled here and there, mostly in the death scenes of Izzie and Rosemary.

As the cast gets whittled down Judy father’s, David, becomes the real villain of the movie, while the Hardwicke’s remain a creepy couple but hardly evil. The stop motion effects by David Allen are, as usual, a highlight.

As I mentioned earlier this has gotten a DVD release before in 2005 and is just now making it’s way to blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory’s genre sub-label, Scream Factory.

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English subs only. This new transfer is absolutely breathtaking; crisp, colorful and beyond anything its DVD counterpart could ever offer. Audio was excellent too.

All the extras from the DVD were ported over while a new doc was made for the blu-ray:

  • New SCREAM FACTORY bonus extra: Toys of Terror: The Making of “Dolls” (38:22)
  • Audio Commentary with director Stuart Gordon and writer Ed Naha
  • Audio Commentary with cast members Stephen Lee, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy Gordon and Carrie Lorraine
  • Storyboard-to-Film Comparison (8:21)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery (50 photos)

If someone were to ask me give me two reasons why I should trade in my Dolls DVD for this blu-ray, I’d tell them the new transfer and this short documentary, Toys of Terror: The Making of “Dolls.” Most of the usual suspects are interviewed anew for this like Stuart Gordon and his wife, Carolyn Purdy Gordon, Brian Yuzna, writer Ed Naha, Charles Band, and actor, Ian Patrick Williams, plus new interviews with FX artists, John Vulich and Gabe Bartolas. They talk about how the concept came about, how it came to be filmed before From Beyond, the extra gore they added to it then took out, and some talk of the girls, Bunty Bailey and Cassie Stewart. I had no idea Bunty was that chick in that music video, “Take On Me,” by A-Ha, and that Cassie used to like to regale the cast with stories of her affairs with famous people.

If you’re a fan of this movie, and/or the filmmakers, and you’ve got the funds handy, this is a must upgrade, plain and simple.

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About Shawn Francis

Movie collector and horror writer.
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