Little Judy (Carrie Lorraine) is in the back seat of the car driven by her stepmother Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) with her father David (Ian Patrick Williams) in the passenger seat. As they narrowly avoid a pair of hitchhikers out in the English countryside, a storm blows in and soon the vehicle is lashed with wind and rain, causing it to be stuck in the mud of the road. David gets out to push but to no avail and eventually, as the skies clear, the family decide to walk to the nearest building for help, though mean-minded Rosemary grows impatient with Judy and throws her beloved teddy bear into the bushes...
Which results in teddy making a comeback as a giant-sized version of himself, opening his mouth to reveal two rows of fangs, and ripping David and Rosemary to pieces in front of the little girl's eyes. Oh no, not really, as this was only Judy daydreaming, but it does add a dose of gore to a slow build up where the real threat hails from the house up ahead. What this was turned out to resemble the classic thirties chiller The Old Dark House crossed with then-recent hit Gremlins, only with the kind of twist you would get from Empire Pictures, a low budget eighties outfit led by Charles Band, here filming cheaply in Italy as he often did.
The director was Stuart Gordon, who had the year previous to this being made shot the cult hit Re-Animator for Band, raising his and the studio's profile considerably among horror fans, and Dolls was the project he made next. With all the attention paid to achieving the special effects, it ended up released a year after principal shooting, meaning it was the Gordon film unleashed on the world the year after From Beyond, which was a higher profile effort than this, though not necessarily better. This, for all the simplicity of its storyline - lasting barely over an hour and a quarter of screen time - had a pleasing quality to it, keeping such things as morality and narrative to their essentials.
What you had was a collection of folks in the house for the night, and most of them exhibit less than admirable traits, with the fairy tale stylings only underlined by Rosemary's status as Wicked Stepmother to the innocent Judy - the latter even reading Hansel and Gretel as her bedtime story. The father is not much nicer and the impression is of a child who would be better off with her divorcée mother, and to add to the nastiness the hitchhikers show up, sporting broad Cockney accents and having been offered a lift by roly poly nice guy Ralph (Stephen Lee) who is enchanted by the mansion's owners' dolls which adorn the walls of the rooms. So we can see who is potential victim fodder from practically the word go.
Ah, the owners, played by Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason (best known from Don't Look Now), who make the toys and have some strange power over them, seeing everyone to their chambers and the disappearing to allow their creations to get on with the business of weeding out the nasty from the nice. As you will have guessed, the dolls spring to life and begin attacking the residents, starting with the hitcher Isabel (Bunty Bailey) who proves lightfingered and wants to relieve the elderly couple of their "anti-cues", thus paying the price by having her head slammed against the skirting board for her trouble. This was where Band got his liking for very small monsters, and while there wasn't a sequel to this, there was the long-running Puppetmaster franchise which took the mantle of Dolls and ran with it, with a plethora of small rubber figures slicing and dicing various hapless souls. Here the idea was still fresh and although it wasn't going to win any awards for excellence, it wasn't half bad in its rather basic fashion, if a bit silly, though that was no real problem.
American director of horror and sci-fi, who made his debut in 1985 with Re-Animator, following 15 years working in theatre in Chicago. This HP Lovecraft adaptation was a spectacular mix of chills, black comedy and inventive splatter, but while it still remains his best film, the likes of From Beyond, Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Space Truckers and Dagon do have their moments. He followed these with the David Mamet adaptation Edmond and true crime-inspired Stuck. Gordon also wrote the story for the box office smash Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.