Our editor-in-chief Nate Yapp is proud to have contributed to the new book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, edited by Aaron Christensen. Another contributors include Anthony Timpone, B.J. Colangelo, Dave Alexander, Classic-Horror.com's own Robert C. Ring and John W. Bowen. Pick up a copy today from Amazon.com!
Devil Doll (1964)
One of the lesser episodes of the classic cable television show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" involved a 1964 British film entitled Devil Doll. The essential problem with that particular entry was that the movie was too good for the jokes to come easy, but too boring to be really interesting. It was one of those films that was probably safest confined to a room with Mike and the 'bots.
Well, it's been let loose now, on a DVD from Image. The black and white cinematography is startlingly clear, the mono sound fairly crisp, and the extras are reasonably extensive. The question, though, is why?
Devil Doll is one of those flicks that benefits slightly from having a premise that's guaranteed to be creepy: a living ventriloquist's doll. The Great Vorelli (Bryant Halliday, who comes off as a second-rate Christopher Lee) is a hypnotist who is the toast of London. The most interesting aspect of his act is Hugo, the doll who walks and talks. However, American reporter Mark English (William Sylvester, Gorgo) smells something sinister about Vorelli, especially after the stage artist takes an unhealthy interest in Mark's rich fiancee Marianne (Yvonne Romain, Curse of the Werewolf).
It's an interesting story with a great ending, but it's just a short story - a vignette that can't sustain a feature-length film (even one of 81 minutes like this). Devil Doll would've suited an Amicus anthology more, much like its direct predecessor Dead of Night used a dummy as only part of a set of stories. Thrown in the middle of Vorelli's scheming are a lot of boring scenes of Mark in his office, mulling over what to do about the mesmerist. There's only so much of a worried guy at a desk that one can take.
Some of the editing choices, like the use of jump cuts, during the pivotal scenes were inspired, and work with the story (and also serve to mask that Hugo is rather ridiculous looking when he's mobile - it's obviously a midget in a suit).
Frankly, Devil Doll, which often hints at luridness but never quite succumbs, could've used a bit more in the base enjoyment department. It's not sure if it wants to be a sophisticated thriller or an exploitation horror flick. It settles somewhere in the middle, and thus achieves neither (though it's somewhere closer to scandalous in the included European Continental version, which includes some shots of bare breasts).
The DVD's best feature is the running commentary by legendary horror producer Richard Gordon (Fiend Without a Face, Corridors of Blood) and film historian Tom Weaver. It provides a great look into the non-Hammer independent horror scene of Britain, circa the early 1960s. The track is done interview-style, with Weaver bringing up tidbits of information and Gordon reacting and adding to them. The most interesting stories are about antics that midget Sadie Corre (who was inside the Hugo doll) would pull on the cast and crew.
Still, a commentary track is hardly enough to recommend the film. It's sub-standard by any account, although (as I said before) Image did a fabulous job with the transfer. If you're running a "killer doll" marathon, this will fit nicely if you can't find another flick to sandwich in between Dead of Night and Magic.