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Dolls – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)

DollsHorror is fun because there are some may sub-genres within the main one.  One of those smaller, but very popular ones, is the “Creepy Doll” genre.  Most recently Annabelle has fulfilled that little quotient, proving the sub-genre still has a very big audience.  Even the popular Saw films have the creepy Billy puppet which those coutn in the doll genre.  Predating popular 80s doll movies like Chucky, Puppet Master and the Demonic Toys was Stuart Gordon’s Dolls.  Dolls seemed to set a stage and inspire some of them, mainly Puppet Master that would later come around.  Dolls may have released in 1987, but it was actually Stuart Gordon’s follow up to Re-Animator.  It was shot and done before From Beyond, but due to post production on the doll effects in the movie, it wound up not hitting theaters until after From Beyond had come out.  And like From Beyond, Dolls has been given Scream Factory Collector’s Edition treatment!

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Film 

Little Judy is on a trip in the English countryside with her distant and uncaring father and evil stepmother.  During a storm, their car breaks down and they wind up finding a mansion whose owners agree to let them stay the night.  The owners of the mansion are a cooky old couple who happen to be toy makers.  Also stopping by for the night is a manchild named Ralph and two hitchhikers (Dressed like Madonna and Pat Benatar).  There are a lot of creepy toy dolls all over the house that seem to have an eye on everyone.  And when their home is threatened, they aren’t afraid to take matters into their own hands.

Dolls is a neat little horror movie that sort of plays as a Gothic modern (For the 80s) fairy tale.  Its caught somewhere in the middle of being a horror film for adults and all ages.  For the most part I think this would be a good one for youngsters and families, but its in the details where I can’t fully recommend it.  When you have a lead like the character of Ralph, you can’t fully get on board with it as an adult.  But, it has some consistent foul language and ruthless (And groovy) gore.  However, what the movie has going for it is that it may not be outright scary, but it is creepy as hell.

Stuart Gordon shot the hell out of this movie.  Its one of the best looking haunted house movies I have ever seen put on Blu-ray.  The camera work really elevates the film and sets it apart from many of its doll-horror colleagues.  I mean, doing a back to back comparison with Puppet Master, you can see what talent behind the lens and someone who knows what they’re doing can really make a difference on schlocky productions.  It makes them appear as actual competent productions working as a solid film instead of exploitation.  The stop-motion in the film holds up quite beautifully as well too, which I was pleasantly surprised by.  My favorite part of this movie was just basking in the great cinematography, framing, lighting, set design and camera movements that made for a beautiful symphony in this film.

Speaking of the titular stars of the film, the effects in this one hold up quite well.  As I mentioned, the stop-motion work is terrific.  Some may not care for the stop-motion look, but to me that adds to the creepiness of the dolls.  The gore in this film is bloody, brutal and looks like it hurts too.  Of course, have little dolls rip away and attack in little chunks of your flesh make for discomfort for me anyway.  Moreso than just a random decapitation at times.  The only thing that doesn’t really hold up and looks a bit goofy is the teddy bear come to life at the opening of the film.  However, its a product of daydreaming so you could argue that’s okay because its a part of a character’s imagination and not “real”.

Creeping and haunting, Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is a solid exercise in doll horror.  Its not an out and out frightfest that’ll have you shaking in your boots, but there’s creepiness in the film that’ll leave you with some discomfort.  And people with doll paranoia or a phobia will be uneasy regardless.  The only thing that’ll take you out of the movie is Ralph as its just a weird dynamic with him and Julie and his performance is just a little too kiddish.  Most impressively though is this is a great looking haunted house movie and a lot of people who enjoy classic gothic horror should check it out or revisit it on this lavish Blu-ray.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  This is a gorgeous looking transfer that perfectly captures the mood and atmosphere depicted in the movie.  The image is both classically and modernly haunting and spooky.  The image is surprisingly sharp and bold.  Detail is very high.  You can make out knicks, scratches, finger prints and all sorts of detail on all the wood objects in the film.  The dolls’ surfaces in the film carry every little detail and clothing fabrics and texture are very visible.  This is a really impressive transfer.

Depth:  Depth is solid and looks pretty good in some of the exterior and stairwell moments.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and one of the stars of this transfer.  They are perfectly utilized to enhance the creepiness of the scenes and absolutely make this haunted house movie more haunted.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are wonderfully displayed on this track.  They are bold and pop as well as know their natural appearance.  Greens and reds are vivid and rich.

Flesh Tones:  Natural and consistent.  Detail is very high as you can make out every little wrinkle, blemish and freckle present.

Noise/Artifacts:  There are frequent specs throughout and a handsome layer of grain.  There are a couple scenes where a little spec looks like a piece of falling snow which may bother people who can’t appreciate film prints.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  This is a solid 5.1 track that gets the trick done.  There’s not a whole lot of super impressive moments, but its far from lacking either.  Effect work is louder and too the forefront and every mechanical doll movement and feature is well rounded and distinct sounding.  The score is also produced very lovely under this track.

Low Frequency Extension: Thunder and some crashing is enhanced by the sub.  Its not a deep big impact track, but gives a nice accurate representation.

Surround Sound Presentation: Mainly used for ambiance and score.  Some very wonderful volume placement in the mix in the right left and center channels.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud, crisp and center heavy.

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Extras 

Dolls comes with reversible cover art featuring the original theatrical poster.

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Stuart Gordon and Writer Ed Naha
  • By Cast Members Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Carrie Lorraine and Ian Patrick Williams

“Toys Of Terror”: The Making Of Dolls (HD, 38:22) – Another solid retrospective featurette featuring some cast, Stuart Gordon, Charles Band, effects guys and other producers on the film as they discuss how Dolls started as just a poster and became a full fledged feature film.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:32)

Film-To-Storyboard Comparison (HD, 8:21) – Set up with the film taking up the whole screen and a pop up window with the storyboards for a few scenes in the film.

Still Gallery – 2 theatrical posters and 48 promotional stills (color and black & white) for the film.

More From Scream Factory – Trailers for Pumpkinhead, Phantom Of The Paradise, Sleepaway Camp

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Summary 

Scream Factory packs big terror in the tiny Dolls for this Collector’s Edition.  The film is a good time if you like Gothic fairy tale horror and doll-horror.  The transfer on this one is dynamite and I couldn’t stop geeking out on how awesome this film A) was shot and B) looked in this transfer.  The audio isn’t too shabby either.  The extras are light for a Collector’s Edition, but pack the necessary goods as well as two full commentaries.  Oh and the menu is pretty creepy as well.  That damn VHS cover always creeped me out at the video store and here it is staring me in the face.  Pick this one up for sure, Scream Factory fans!

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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