I thought for the longest time that I had actually seen Dolls. Mm, not so much. The movie I was perhaps thinking of was Dolly Dearest. Kind of a totally different movie! Realizing my silly mistake, I immediately set out to watch the wonderful film, Dolls, courtesy of Stuart Gordon from 1987.
The chewy, plotty center: Car trouble and a bad storm forces a family to seek shelter at the spooky house of a seemingly kind old couple. Soon after, a motorist and two punk rock girl hitchhikers he picked up arrive at the house as well, and they all start to find out that this doll maker and his wife - and their plethora of dolls throughout the house - are not at all what they seem to be.
"Afraid of the dark?"
"No, afraid of what's in the dark."
Ah, what a wise young child this little Judy is. And what a delightful little movie Dolls is! I completely loved it. I was wary at first, yes, because dolls are fucking creepy, but then pleasantly surprised at the overall humorous mood. The film seems to realize that its premise is silly and would have been hard to take seriously if dealt with incorrectly; therefore, it just decided what the heck, and went the comedy route. It sounds a little strange, but comedy films always take themselves and the situations they present more seriously than most dramatic films.
I was sure that the witchcraft they were using was only to animate the dolls and make them their little killer minions or something, so I really liked the turn the movie takes in saying that all the dolls are actually immoral or otherwise "bad" people that they've turned into dolls. And we get a great seen showing just this when Judy's father is turned into a new version of her beloved Punch doll. He grows a hunch on his back and his chin and nose elongate as his whole body shrinks down to doll size. The effects here are quite well done and frankly look very painful!
The stop-motion animation of the dolls only added to the hilarity. I know that that was the extent of the technology at the time and you cannot condemn the film on this point. Much like the outfits that come straight from a Madonna music video, this indication that the film was indeed shot in the wonderful decade of the 80s to me only gives the film more charm. If you're laughing at the bad animation, but still thinking "Darn, those dollies are MEAN!" then I'd say that these scenes were successful.
I was put off a bit by the ending, with Gabriel and Hilary trying to convince Ralph and Judy that all their killer dolls was just a dream. I'm glad that Ralph and Judy were let go, of course, but that ending is a little anticlimactic and unsatisfying. All in all, though, Dolls is an immensely enjoyable piece of 80s goodness and a great entry to the killer doll canon of films.