Released by: Shout Factory
Released on: December 6, 2016
Director: Padraig Reynolds
Cast: Christopher Weihl, Kym Jackson, Kennedy Brice, Tina Lifford, Samantha Smith, Yohance Myles, Brea Grant, R. Brandon Johnson, Ashlynn Ross, Matty Ferraro
Year: 2016 Purchase From Amazon
Somewhere in the Mississippi backwoods, a policeman named Matt (screenplay co-writer Christopher Weihl) tracks serial killer Henry Bale (Matty Ferraro) to the abandoned rural hospital where he has taken his latest victim. He puts an end to Bale's miserable life (although not before Bale brutally does in his victim, along with a local cop). Afterward, Matt collects a box of primitive folk dolls from the crime scene and puts them in his car for transportation back to the station. While he and his partner, Darcy (Kym Jackson), wait for the CSI folks to show up, they're startled by the sudden appearance of creepy voodoo woman Della DeGracie (Tina Lifford), who hints none-too-subtly that she would like her dolls back, please. Matt tells her no on the reasonable grounds that they are, in fact, evidence. But, on the way back to the station, he drops by ex-wife Amy's (Samantha Smith) house to see his 12-year-old daughter, Chloe (Kennedy Brice). Chloe makes straight for Dad's car and helps herself to the dolls, thinking they're a present for her (and Dad doesn't think to check on them before going back to work).
Amy the ex, it turns out, owns a craft shop (called Chloe's Collectables), where Chloe—apparently either home-schooled or on summer vacation—maintains a table from which she sells her homemade jewelry. She puts the talismans she inadvertently swiped onto necklaces and sells a couple of them to some grownups, after which very, VERY bad things happen to the purchasers and their loved ones. At the same time, Chloe herself falls prey to a severe illness that mystifies the doctors (although anyone who's ever seen a horror film made after 1973 will immediately peg the problem as demonic possession).
As Matt and Darcy investigate the outbreak of violent goings-on, the trail leads them to—wait for it—creepy voodoo woman Della. In a scene packed with backstory, Della tells about her creepy childhood in the creepy mountains of Guatemala. The creepy village in which she lived, it seems, was put under some creepy curse or other, and the local medicine woman made a bunch of "worry dolls" to keep the kids from freaking out as the local grownups dropped like flies. Years later, when Della, for reasons unclear, moved to Mississippi and took charge of raising young serial-killer-to-be Bale, she gave him a box of the dolls to help him cope with his own fears… or something. Anyway, the whole thing's spun out of control for some reason, and she tells the detectives that the only way to end the madness is to find all the dolls and bring them back to her. Oh, and one more thing… Matt needs to bring Chloe along, too, or she won't get better. (Nothing fishy there, right?)
Yes, it's all pretty corny and predictable, but let's be fair. Nobody sits down to a film like this expecting high art. And The Devil's Dolls, for what it is, is actually reasonably engaging. The screenplay is fine as by-the-numbers efforts go, as are the performances. Several of the cast, as it happens, have been in things you've certainly heard of and most likely seen. Their collective resume includes work in the films Transformers (2007), 2 Guns (2013), and Jerry Maguire (1996) and the TV shows Masters of Sex (2013-), American Horror Story (2011-), and The Walking Dead (2010-).
The direction by Padraig Reynolds is likewise adequate, although punctuated by violence so extreme that it will either take you out of the movie or draw you into it, depending on your taste.
The Devil’s Dolls comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory imprint with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio in glorious MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1080p high definition. The film was shot on hi-def digital video, and there are no complaints about the detail level, which is unusually high even for a format that prides itself on sharpness and clarity. We could go into detail of our own describing the detail you get in trees and faces, but it would be a waste of time—because there isn’t a moment that doesn’t look gorgeous. The colors are also pretty natural, a rarity at a time when most horror films either look hazy blue, Anderson Cooper gray, or Snooki-puke brown. The blood and gore is so realistic-looking red that it appears almost black at times. Black levels are deep and silky, and the usual artificial grain designed to make video look like film is so subdued as to be almost nonexistent. All of this is placed on a BD50, with ample space put to good use housing the film at a high bit rate. If anyone complains about the image, tell them to shut up, because they don’t know what they’re talking about. (Unless the complaint is that it doesn’t look like a black and white film from 1942, in which case they’d be right, though still stupid.)
The audio, which comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 package, is as sharp as the image. There isn’t a sound that doesn’t come through crystal clear, and dialogue, effects, and score are perfectly mixed. Nothing is too low nor too high, and the remote needn’t be clutched at all times like Martha Wayne’s pearls in a back alley no rich people would ever walk through at night. The score is fairly minimal but it isn’t necessary anyway. The primary driver is the dialogue, and it’s well rendered, as are the sounds of cutting and slashing for those who love that kind of thing. For those who can’t hear, or just like to watch films with the subtitles on to feel special, you’re in luck, especially if you’re bilingual: Shout! has opted for both English- and Spanish-language tracks.
There are no film-specific extras, unfortunately (so if this is your favorite movie, you’re shit out of luck). There are, however, a couple of trailers for other Shout! releases, which automatically kick into play when the disc is inserted. The sleeve also features reversible cover art, if one is inclined for a slightly artier and less lurid look.
The Final Word:
The Devil’s Dolls may not be a great film; hell, it isn’t even a very good one. But it isn’t exactly terrible either, and gore fans should find a lot to like in it. There are no real extras, but the image is sterling silver freshly polished, and the sound is a brand-spankin’-new CD when all you’ve ever had to listen to were audiocassettes. In other words, both are real winners. And if all you need is a diversion, you could do a hell of a lot worse than The Devil’s Dolls. So break out the popcorn (or the hand if blood and torture turn you on); you’re in for a bumpy but shiny ride.
Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s on its way.
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