Australian wildfires. Devastating earthquakes. Tragic plane crashes. A terrifying global pandemic. Now Stuart Gordon. The man that I think very well set in motion full blast, my exploration into (at the time) lesser-known horror films. I’m pretty confident that it’s safe to say 2020 can eat a big hairy dick.
On March 24th, 2020, the horror world received the news that legendary filmmaker Stuart Gordon passed away at the age of 72. According to a source that had spoken with someone close to the family, Gordon had been sick for some time, (from what I don’t know). The grand visionary of independent horror and theater aficionado lit up the 80s’ VHS section with such works as Re-Animator, From Beyond, and of course, the film I really want to talk about right now- DOLLS.
If you’re familiar at all with my internet ramblings, you already know my love of horror history watching Halloween in my diapers with my father. Around the time I was eight-years-old, I was well versed in the Slasher and Universal Monsters Genre; with A Nightmare on Elm Street 1, 3, and 4, Friday the 13th films, Halloween movies with almost a nightly visit from Stephen King’s Silver Bullet all in pretty heavy rotation in my Pioneer VHS cassette player. What can I say- creature of habit. Until one day on our Tuesday night visit to our local Mom and Pop video rental store, something had caught my eyes that changed my comforting rotation of horror flicks forever.
As an eight-year-old little girl, I was completely enamored with the VHS cover alone. You see, I had already had a fascination with creepy dolls. Mainstream popular films like Poltergeist and at the time, a recently released Child’s Play had only fueled that curious fetish further.
Squirlling off for a sec, again, just another grand example of how powerful good ole’ VHS box art had and continues to have with such online retailers as Shout! and Arrow preserving that beautiful legacy of horror home video art.
Anyway, I grabbed it off the shelf to show the Mother and disgusted as she was looking at it with an attempt to push me into another rental from the “kiddie” section, she gave in. Upon our return, I settled in with a nice juice-box of Hawaiian Punch, (if you remember those boxed 10-packs- fist bump to you buddy) a can of Sour Cream and Onion Pringles and rode the Full Moon journey into this crazy ride of killer yet somehow weirdly compassionate dolls, witches, and straight to the point moral warnings to humanity. Or at least in this version- be a decent human or a witch might turn your dumbass into a creepy as fuck decorative dolly porcelain. And you know what? It’s been one of my all-time favorites since then.
DOLLS is sort of a dark and twisted fairy tale with just the right amount of gore and goofiness. The film starts with a shithead Dad, the even bigger shithead Stepmom, and a young girl Judy clutching her favorite toy “Teddy” getting stranded in the middle of creepy backwoods nowhere England with a severe thunderstorm approaching. In an attempt to seek shelter, the family heads out on foot to a spotted castle-like mansion that just so happens to be sitting close by- it’s like none of these guys had ever seen a horror movie in their entire life. Little Judy, lagging behind annoys the evil step-mother played by Stuart Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, snatches Teddy and tosses it in some bushes setting up one of the most glorious scenes in the film.
Big kudos to special effects supervisor and head honcho make-up artist Gabe Bartalos (TCM 2, Basket Case) for this magnificence that runs consistently throughout the film.
Moving on, the trio makes their way to the mansion, breaks in because why not, and gets met by an elderly toymaker couple at gunpoint played by Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason; who then takes pity on them upon seeing the presence of a child in the mist. They take them through the endless hallways in the home to see the place is filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of nightmare-inducing dolls. Then we throw in two criminal punk rock hitchhikers with a bumbling but loveable man-child also seeking asylum and hot-damn we got ourselves a movie now!
The dolls themselves pretty much do the couple’s bidding. Giving people a chance to basically just not act like a dick and be respectful. It seems like these really are the only rules in this home filled with little homicidal plastic terrors. But, we wouldn’t have a movie if that were the case, so of course, some of these people cross the dickhead line and pay the ultimate price. According to the Blu-ray from Scream Factory, Stuart Gordon reveals his inspiration behind the look and story of DOLLS involving being accidentally locked in a room full of Victorian-style porcelain horrors for a period of time.
Yep. Big bag of FUCK NO for me.
Dolls, usually overlooked by such films in Gordon’s Rolodex like From Beyond and Re-Animator, has gained a monumental cult of popularity over the past ten years thanks to the multiple horror internet outlets dedicated to this sort of thing. To me personally, the story of what is actually a pretty damn abused girl by the hands of her asshole father and his new wife partnered with her pure innocence and love of toys remains extra special and a cautionary tale at its finest. It also opened up a whole new world of 80s’ horror shortly after as I began to expand my genre curiosities based on VHS box art alone.
Thanks for the memories and the movies Stu. Rest in peace toy soldier.