With Dolls, Gordon interestingly tries to make a horror film as a Brothers Grimm-styled morality play Gordon admits he was inspired by the old Tod Browning-Lionel Barrymore The Devil-Doll (1936) about a revenge obsessed criminal turning his enemies into dolls. The question though, in taking on a childs eye tale, is can Stuart Gordon subsume his characteristically outrageous splatter style in order to adopt the careful atmosphere of both innocence and horror that all good childrens stories have? The answer is not entirely. The films sometimes effective childs eye outlook only serves as a preamble to Gordon launching into his customary gore effects. A gratuitous dream sequence near the start with Carrie Lorraine imagining a giant teddy bear tearing Carolyn Purdy-Gordon and Ian Patrick Williams apart signals the painful obviousness of Gordons intent. The fairytale atmosphere constantly ends up being subverted by splatter effects. Moreover, any fairy-tale morality seems specious when it so obviously exists just to set up the adult characters as deserving victims.
There are some undeniably effective sequences Carolyn Purdy-Gordon pulling aside the bedsheets to reveal hundreds of dolls that then start trying to saw through her ankles with tiny hacksaws; the revelation of Bunty Bailey turned into a human doll, her head lolling over and her eyes dropping out; the formation of the toy soldiers and their slow-motion shooting of Cassie Stuart. Atmosphere is built early on with dolls faces glimpsed suddenly turning, which has a certain creepiness, although this is later abandoned, far less effectively, for the full glimpses of the dolls, which are then revealed as spottily animated and with frequently visible wires. Richard Band conducts a good creepy child-like score, particularly during the opening credits.
Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason are well cast, effortlessly oscillating back and forward between kindly and sinister. Everybody else takes the opportunity to overplay, most criminally being Bunty Bailey and Ian Patrick Williams. Of the over-actors, the only one with any class is Carolyn Purdy-Gordon who gets into her superbitch role with relish.
In retrospect, Dolls greatest distinction seems to be that it is a precursor to the mid 1980s run of possessed doll films with Childs Play (1988) and sequels. Charles Band has made a number of other efforts on doll themes such as Puppetmaster (1989) and sequels and other oddities such as Dollman (1990), Demonic Toys (1992) and sequels, and Blood Dolls (1999). Surprisingly though, Band never sequelised Dolls.