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Film / Dolls (1987)

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They want to play with you.

Dolls is a 1987 horror film directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna.

A family consisting of innocent, neglected little girl Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine) and her surly, abusive father David (Ian Patrick Williams) and stepmother Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon) are driving in the English countryside when a thunderstorm brews up and their car gets stuck in the mud. They are forced to take refuge in a big, old mansion occupied by elderly couple Gabriel (Guy Rolfe) and Hilary (Hilary Mason) Hartwicke. Promptly, kind-hearted businessman Ralph (Stephen Lee) arrives with two British punk rock girl hitchhikers, Isabel (Bunty Bailey) and Enid (Cassie Stuart), in tow. The Hartwickes allow the six to stay the night. Something is not quite right about them... they are too charming and hospitable. Gabriel is a toymaker, and thus, every room of their mansion is piled high with mysterious antique dolls. Something is not quite right about the dolls either...


This film was the inspiration for a string of killer doll movies.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: David and Rosemary are horrible parents. Gabriel and Hilary spell this out near the end.
  • Affably Evil: Hilary and Gabriel are the kindliest old pair of doll collectors that ever lived, which makes it deceptively easy for would-be victims to take advantage of their hospitality. They don't veer into faux-affable because their evil is of a karmic sort—innocents like little Judy and Ralph are safe.
  • And I Must Scream: As dolls, David and Rosemary look at each other and then shake as if they were screaming at the top of their lungs, but no sound is heard.
  • Anti-Villain: Gabriel, Hilary, and the dolls. They are only antagonistic if provoked, or if they see someone like Judy being mistreated.
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  • Asshole Victim: David, Rosemary, Isabel and Enid are turned into dolls for their horrible deeds. Instead of crying "horror!", the expected reaction is "Karma!"
  • Berserk Button:
    • A relatively subtle one, but look into Hilary's face when Isabelle holds roughly a doll and especially when she calls the toys shit.
    • The dolls have one in the form of people trying to steal from their owners, or those who try to hurt innocent children. The latter is especially prominent in Mr. Punch where Judy is involved.
  • B-Movie: The film was clearly made on a low budget. That said, the acting and special effects are pretty good in spite of that.
  • Big Damn Heroes: An Ax-Crazy David is about to strike the killing blow on an unconscious Ralph when Mr. Punch intervenes with a well-thrown knife.
  • Bittersweet Ending: David, Rosemary, Isabel and Enid get mauled by the dolls and turned into dolls themselves. Gabriel forges a letter claiming that David and Rosemary abandoned Judy and that she is to go back to live with her birth mother in Boston, never to see them again. At first Judy is slightly sad, but she gets over it, and then Ralph takes her away back to Boston, wherein it is implied he will marry her birth mother.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: David appears at first to be less mean and rude than Rosemary his irritation and indifference to Judy notwithstanding. By the end when alcohol brings the real him to the surface he is reduced to a violent and physically abusive sociopath (perhaps the cruelest in the group) who tries to murder Ralph, hits Judy and takes savage delight in destroying toys. One could argue that there was foreshadowing to this side of his when he angrily told Rosemary to shut up and immediately took it back and also when he used a Slasher Smile while trying to control his anger with Judy.
    "Mommy's not here sweetie".
  • Body Horror: People are transformed into dolls and the process is quite horrific.
  • Cheerful Child: Judy, which is quite an accomplishment with guardians like these. Imagination always helps a child though.
  • Creepy Doll: Attacking someone in an old house while indulging in evil laughter.
  • Cut the Juice: At one point during the climax, David is being threatened by the Mr. Punch doll with an electric drill... which gets unplugged the second he finds the extension cord.
  • Dramatic Thunder: The whole story takes place during and because of a thunderstorm so a lot of them happen during dramatic moments.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Judy and to a lesser degree Ralph go through all sorts of torment, but they come out of this happy, safe, and implied to become family. In fact, although Judy is led to believe her father and stepmother abandoned her, once they're discovered missing and eventually presumed dead, it's likely Rosemary's money might go to her.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Unlike her compatriot-in-crime, Enid has some genuine reservations about stealing from the old couple, and not all of them concern the authorities, even making a comparison between them and their parents. It doesn't dissuade Isabelle but it does split them up under the wrongest circumstances possible.
  • Evil Laugh: The dolls chitter and giggle constantly.
  • Evil Old Folks: Gabriel and Hilary keep giving off these vibes, seeming very nice but engaging in unusual behavior. Subverted. They gladly punish wrongdoers, but they adore children and have no malice for good adults.
  • Fake Shemp:
    • Carolyn Purdy-Gordon doubled for Bunty Bailey when Isabelle is being turned into a doll, as the latter had already been sent home.
    • The close-up shot of Enid grabbing her "boy toy" belt as she prepares to fight the dolls was provided by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon's niece - as Cassie Stuart was unavailable.
  • Friend to All Children: Gabriel, Hillary, and the dolls do not take kindly to anyone who would hurt a child.
  • Good Parents: Judy's mother is said to be this. David is well-aware that Judy would rather stay with her. Gabriel also remarks that being a parent is a privilege and that children should always be properly cared for.
  • Hate Sink: David, Rosemary, Isabelle and Enid are incredibly loathesome characters who lack any redeeming qualities (although Enid does have some standards).
  • Here We Go Again!: During the end credits, we see another family show up, this one with TWO kids. The moment you hear the mother say "shut up" is where you know that some new dolls are going to be added to Gabriel and Hilary's collection...
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: Isabelle and Enid take the help of others for granted, as seen they mock and insult Ralph who took them and and jumped at the chance to rob him.
  • Humans Are Flawed: While berating David for his flaws, Gabriel and Hilary express this view. They feel more adults than not are bitter but still have the chance to change their ways. Gabriel alludes to some who left the mansion without incident or even as better people, but he adds that some just can't be saved.
  • Insistent Terminology: "Elves."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: When David makes a motion to backhand Judy after she tries to tell him about the dolls dragging one of the punk girls away, Rosemary stops him while claiming she doesn't want to use her money to pay more of his child support payments.
  • Killer Teddy Bear: Subverted with Judy's teddy bear. While it does attack Judy's parents after Rosemary throws it in the bushes, it's just Judy's imagination.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Gabriel and Hilary make up some stories to explain the disappearances of the other guests. Ralph points out the various holes and unlikely developments, but he's too spooked to really press it.
  • Living Toys: The dolls stalk the house looking for bad people.
  • Manchild: Ralph. He still loves playing with toys and is implied to by a child at heart. Uniquely for this trope, it's shown as a positive thing; it's why he and Judy are the only survivors.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Ralph. He is pretty much the scapegoat for the other travelers who without proof or even good reason decide that he is the killer. Hysterical Woman Enid started it.
  • Morality Pet: Judy to the dolls, Gabriel, and Hilary. The mutual compassion shared between the young girl, the dolls, and the older married couple protects Judy and illustrates the dolls and their owners are not soulless monsters.
  • My Little Panzer: The soldier toys are toys with the might of soldiers. Shocking, I know.
  • Nice Guy: Ralph in contrast to the other visitors to the mansion.
  • Noble Demon: Gabriel and Hilary. The two of them don't plan to turn any visitor that comes to their house into dolls, but they certainly don't have any qualms about letting the dolls have their fun with people who try to rob from them or seriously abuse their hospitality, or about disposing of cruel and downright rotten people. Their mercy extends solely to innocent people who have not provoked the dolls and are really pure at heart.
  • Not So Harmless: Gabriel and Hilary, especially Hilary, who simply appears to be senile.
  • Obviously Evil: The Hartwickes did not need their magic powers to see that Isabelle and Enid were bad news from the start. Their punk rock dress was not the reason as much as their extremely horrible, abrasive and ungrateful behavior and tendency to more or less intrude and ask about valuable old shit all the time. They practically scream low-life thieves. This also makes Ralphie a Horrible Judge of Character.
    • Rosemary is of a different kind. She is mostly freezing cold, with a permanent scowl on her face and almost incapable of speaking a sentence without making nasty remarks.
  • Old, Dark House: The old couple's house where all the characters end up taking refuge.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: It is hinted the things inside the dolls are fairies. Very different fairies. This is best demonstrated by some of them burn and smoke after Enid whips them with her belt; fairies traditionally have an aversion to iron and metal.
  • Parental Abandonment: Gabriel forges a letter to make it look like David has done this to Judy in order to explain his disappearance.
  • The Quincy Punk: Enid and Isabelle. They got a ride from Ralphie with the plan to steal his wallet, and make a point of asking Hilary how valuable the antiques in their house are with obvious intent to rob them, too. And they play their music too loud.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gabriel and Hilary give one to Judy's father as he's slowly turned into a replacement Punch doll all on how badly he treats Judy and the fact that as long as there are sad children who are treated with disdain and cruelty, toys will always be there.
    Gabriel: Being a parent is a privilege, David. Not a right.
  • Rich Bitch: Rosemary. She constantly reminds David that their money is really hers. At one point, she stops him from hitting Judy - not because it’s wrong, but because they, or rather she, will have to pay more in child support (which is probably the only reason they bother with the kid to begin with.)
  • Screaming Woman: And they have a damn good reason to, not that anyone hears them.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Ralph clearly doesn't believe the cover story, but he also doesn't want to push his luck and is content to leave the mansion.
  • Shipper on Deck: In the end, Judy clearly hopes to set Ralph up with her mom.
  • Shout-Out: Judy is given a Punch doll (not the one her father gets turned into), as it goes together with her name.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Played for laughs when Ralph wakes up after the climax. He seems quite relaxed, but then he suddenly remembers and shouts, "THE KILLER DOLLS!"
  • Supporting Protagonist: Overlapping with Villain Protagonist and Unreliable Narrator, David can be viewed as this, aside from his actor getting top billing, some of the arcs revolving about the elderly couple, his daughter Judy and Ralph and the Killer Dolls are told from his viewpoint.
  • Villain Protagonist: It can be said the Abusive Dad David can be considered to be this, due to his actor given top billing, but the real good and heroic characters are Judy, Ralph, Gabriel and Hillary.
  • Villainous Breakdown: David shows a disturbing Slasher Smile as part of his where he stops pretending to be civil and allows the vicious animal inside him to take control after the murder of Rosemary. Ever since he drank there were more and more hints and red flags about this behaviour.
  • Ungrateful Bastard:
    • With the exceptions of Ralph and Judy, the others in the group do not feel the least bit obliged towards the kindly old couple who offered them a house to spend the night. Even David who feigned politeness called Gabriel an old fart behind his back.
    • Isabelle and Enid have this as their way of living, as they count on people helping them to take advantage of them.
  • Was Once a Man: Several dolls used to be human. David turns into a punch doll at the end.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Gabriel and Hilary merely want to punish bad people.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Judy gets extremely angry when the dolls try to kill Ralph and calls them out for being so horrible to him. Granted, he was attacking them, but because he's been put through an increasingly frustrating and terrifying experience and knows the dolls did something to the other adults. However, instead of turning on Judy as you'd expect, the dolls appear to truly listen to Judy and stop hurting Ralph. This is an indicator that they're not just a bunch of miniature psychopaths who hurt anyone they can for fun.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Rosemary is a bad mother and Judy's by marriage, but since David is equally awful, the "lack of blood bond" part of the trope is downplayed. Considering the ending, though, the "birth mothers are better" part is played straight.
  • Would Hurt a Child: There are multiple allusions to David and Rosemary being content to hit Judy. David keeps a better lid on it at first, but Rosemary openly threatens it. During the climax, David pushes Judy to the floor for trying to stop him from hurting Ralph.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: The dolls really get a kick from tormenting and maiming everyone except Judy. It's hinted anyone pure enough has nothing to fear, since Judy reassures Ralph that the toys will leave him alone for being a "dressed-up child".

Alternative Title(s): Dolls