A car breaks down on an isolated country road. It is not only a dark and stormy night, it is the longest night in the world. The occupants, little Judy and her dysfunctional parents, are forced to seek shelter for the night in a remote old mansion. The mansion comes into view as it is illuminated by a flash of lightning, of course.
Dolls pokes fun at the formulaic haunted house cliche while also providing some genuine scares. This late-80s thrillfest is not gentle with the gore. In fact, it kind of revels in the gore, but in a comedic, self-indulgent way. It is not cruel and sadistic as some of the more recent horror movies have become.
Meanwhile, back at the spooky old mansion, the family is greeted by an elderly couple who manage to be benevolent and frightening at the same time. The couple, Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke, are dollmakers.
They are enchanted by Judy (who has amazing comic timing for a child), if a little put off by her snooty, cold-hearted bickering father and step-mother. Soon another trio, a guiless, puppy-dog friendly salesman and two Madonna-damaged “punk rock” troublmaking hitch-hikers escape from the storm to join the party.
Hmm, horror movie + dolls + stranded strangers + stormy night = yes! Dolls that come to life! Bloodthirsty, evil dolls that kill! Score! I love dolls that come to life. In spite of the comedic moments, these dolls are no joke. They are some scary-ass dolls.
Director Stuart Gordon of the Re-animator films has an adept hand at combining comedy and horror. Although not quite on par with films like Evil Dead, this B-movie is still one of the best in the genre.
Along with the campy laughs and cringing horror, there is a definite sense of Twilight Zone-like karma, where the characters you have come to loathe get theirs in the end. The relatively unknown actors are all perfectly cast and have a blast with their roles. This is one of my favorite “sleepers” to turn people on to. So get together a fun group of friends, make some popcorn, and watch the dolls go wild.