Demented Dolls, Anyone
Because we’ve all had a creepy toy we thought was watching us. Don’t lie!
Annabelle – The aptly named Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors) stars with Alfre Woodard (Desperate Housewives) in this 2014 prequel picking up where The Conjuring began with pregnancy perils, babies in danger, and that innately creepy titular doll. A lovely church, sewing at home, and classic cars create a mid century safety before news of cults on the big old flickering television, home invasions in a time of unlocked doors, and a rocking chair creaking on its own add chill up your spine nostalgia. It’s pleasing to see period news reports and the actual past horrors rather than have a modern teen re-discovery or sepia flashbacks. I never knew a zooming sewing machine had the right rhythm for intercut editing and escalating perils, either! The marital and parental fears are honest, and moving to a new town or apartment can’t out run the scares and records that play by themselves. However, the of the time cliché husband leaves his pregnant wife home alone after an attack and blames the supernatural on postpartum depression – as does a dismissive detective unwilling to consider the paranormal when the church will. Priestly words of warning go unheeded, and though lovely, Woodard is worth so, so much more than the magical negro best friend stereotype. Bookstore research and going down to the dark building basement at night are likewise trite, and some of the doll antics are too bemusing to be scary. Shadowed claws and brief horns work well for the demon, but the full reveal becomes slightly ridiculous in the same old same old third act. If a demon can do all this terrorizing with ancillary ghosts and a doll that doesn’t really do very much on its own, then why does it want an infant that can do nothing? The ending is obviously left open for franchising opportunities, and babies, dolls, and moms have been done too many times in horror already. The 100 minute duration builds enough suspense, however it is tough to believe this is Rated R and the feeling that Chucky was better lingers more than it should. While there are easy jump scares, trick elevators, spooky flickering lights, and a few unique frights keep the time entertaining.
The Devil Doll –Tod Browing (Dracula) directs Lionel Barrymore (It’s a Wonderful Life) and Maureen O’Sullivan (Tarzan and His Mate) in this demented 1936 tale based upon the book Burn Witch Burn. It’s all somewhat preposterous, of course- shrunken people being passed off as dolls in order to exact their master’s revenge! Fortunately, the fun if primitive effects and tiny treats don’t look too bad and actually add to the neat laboratory and science abominations. Yes, all these Parisian folks have American accents, some of the miniature scenes are comical before scary vengeance, and there is a brief scene that won’t be for dog lovers. Thankfully, quality mistaken crimes, good old-fashioned payback, and an entertaining chase montage keep up the pace. More intriguing, however, is the unique cross dressing disguise toeing the Hayes Code here. Barrymore works it wonderfully; we never get the feeling the fashion or tone is hammy. By contrast, there is an element of sophistication and superior thought. It may seem odd to have such wacky science alongside these early taboos, mature suspense, and crime thriller designs, but the stars keep the humanity fun, relatable, endearing, and certainly worth a look.
Dolls (1987) – The demented little music and titular creepy, absently staring disembodied heads are immediately effective in this 1987 eerie from director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). The British style is also bemusing, with bad English punk chicks and yuppie Dynasty then-sophisticates creating a lovely little ensemble accented by askew filming angles and individual agendas. I know it all seems corny and passé, but the suspiciously broken down car on stormy night outside a spooky manor with a creepy kid, peculiar old people, and a wicked toy or two premise and gothic atmosphere more than make up for any datedness. Great candlelight, maze like interiors, and antique décor forgives any bad effects and doll animations – which are actually quite good considering the era. The seemingly obvious killer dolls may be cliché, granted, however, the unseen camera perspectives and slow reveal on who or what is doing all the slice and dice violence keeps the suspense and scary just this side of campy. I can see how some of today’s drinking game horror audiences could find this wonderfully humorous, and some scenes are indeed funny and charming, yet the witty and freaky morals are balanced wonderfully. Some viewers may also feel this is merely a supersized Tales from the Crypt episode. After all, there have been similar anthology tellings – Tales from the Hood immediately comes to mind, but more recently Dead Silence and of course, Chucky. Fortunately, at only 77 minutes, the spooky pace and fearful timing are just right here.
You Make the Call, Addicts!
Ouija – Yes, I have a glow in a dark version but no matter how you pronounce it, this 2014 spooky is toppling with teen cliches and pat jump scares – pretty blondes dabble where they shouldn’t and hello paranormal consequences! Too many teens pad the body count, and re-shoots make for choppy, confusing editing. The acting is iffy, boy toys are weak, and this latent BFF is way too invested. Do these girls seriously think this is a rare game or secret divination known only to them? While the survivor’s guilt and death retrospection had some promise, one can’t really expect anything groundbreaking in a Michael Bay produced Platinum Dunes horror movie. Robyn Lively (Teen Witch) and Lin Shaye (Insidious) could have been fine support, but the adults conveniently leave these traumatized kids alone and presenting the concrete corpus delicti evidence to the police is never considered. Phone videos and laptop uses, thankfully, are brief – I’m so glad this wasn’t found footage styled – and no smancy opening credits waste time, either. Sadly, despite fine ghostly movements, creepy messages, flickering lamps, blue lighting schemes, and interesting camera angles, the lazy characterizations rely on tough girls turning scared tropes and stupidly presuming this toy is contacting the right person. Viewers are supposed to believe a millennial teen doesn’t know how to Google some local history? Plot holes and dumbed down changes make the open for a sequel conclusion obvious – I hope there is a damn authoritative adult asking how all these kids died in Deux. There is a good story and fun to be had here, but pointless meandering makes these ninety minutes seem for naught, cutting the wind out of Ouija’s sails for wise horror audiences.