Do you remember, as a child, when your parents teased you with the “Tickle Monster”? It turns out that he’s more real (and even more malevolent) than you could have ever imagined! With seedy photographer Billy Tagg (Michael McGovern) serving as the ancient entity’s latest vessel, the Tickle Monster torments his way through a catalog of Billy’s beautiful bondage babes – until no-nonsense homicide detective Greer English (Laura Romeo) catches wind of it. Now, the button-down detective must go undercover in a world where bizarre and macabre fantasies play out via the internet for the whole world to see. Can Greer stop the Tickle Monster’s reign of terror or will she become the latest fetish doll to die laughing?
Boogeyman, I Know What You Did Last Summer, When a Stranger Calls, Candyman and, most fittingly, Urban Legend, are all well-known and high grossing films that are based on contemporary folklore. They have relied upon the tried and trusted scare tactics of classical stories devised as cultural warnings and merely acclimatised them to suit their relative environment; be it setting – country, town, village – or period in time. The system works yet there are so many unexplored – at least in heavy detail – tales still out there just waiting for their chance at being adapted to the big screen like ‘the body in the bed’ or a bad case of the ‘butt spiders’. There are also some lesser known ones that demand to be left within the realms of obscurity, only rarely to be mentioned again by a drunken camp worker amongst a campfire gathering who collectively proclaim “haven’t heard that one”. The tale of the ‘Tickle Monster’ strikes me as one legend that has largely cowered from the foreground and for an obvious reason – there is nothing remotely scary about a monster who tickles. Amongst your sewer alligators and Bloody Marys, the Tickle Monster appears to be the impotent little cousin who receives no respect. Prior to this film, I had never heard of it and I suspect that this may be the case for many of you. Director David Silvio set himself the difficult task of bringing Fetish Dolls Die Laughing to life whilst transforming it into something gruesome and terrifying on chunk change. Typically, low budget films are a slapdash category that often only achieve cult following status, but next-to-no budget films in the hands of inexperienced directors make the odds of creating something genuinely enjoyable slim to none.
The narrative is a hotchpotch of running subplots intertwined within this story of the Tickle Monster. Though the Tickle Monster takes the forefront, there is never enough of an actual story to sustain it for a feature length of time. The fact that it breaks the 90 minute mark, for me, was commendable but this was down to scenes of digression. For instance, the hardened detective, Greer English and her partner spend several scenes tracking down other unrelated cases. These are a diverse mixture of indecent individuals who are plaguing the town, ultimately yielding to the brutal justice of a 9mm. They are fast paced action sequences but, again, one has to question their relevance to the chief narrative of the Tickle Monster. Answer: there is none – these scenes offer only a modicum of character building and a whole heap of “I don’t know what to do next” in terms of the script’s conception. It’s reminiscent of school exams when you don’t know the answer to the question so you babble your way to the word limit, hoping that the sheer girth of your writing is worthy of more than an a big fat ‘F’.
Fetish Dolls Die Laughing makes no attempt to display common decency; it only deals with fetishism; the macabre and bizarre nature of society that is hidden outwardly but manifests secretly. This above all aspects of the film comes across well. From the ‘Maid of Honour’ killer to Billy Tagg/Tickle Monster (played by Michael McGovern – the writer of the film) the film travels into dark basements and transformed cellars to weed out deplorable killers; killers who are incongruous to their fairly picturesque surroundings. Even the detectives themselves encompass questionable traits within this subversive circus of life.
Billy Tagg is an unassuming and charming guy who has an uncontrollable love of feet and tickling. Like something out of Robert Louis Stevenson, he transforms into the perverse tickler when the urge becomes too much. At which point, he attacks his bound victims with unrelenting tickling till they die through the asphyxiation of sustained laughter. Completely and utterly ridiculous! This is a premise that could turn away the heads of the TROMA execs even. The fact that you have adults so frequently discussing something as juvenile as tickling, should have raised red flags during the writing process. Instead, they talk about it so frequently that it becomes laughable. Add to all this tickling till you bleed and confusion reigns.
Imagine a 80s splatter with Grindhouse exploitation type sensibilities and you can build up a picture of what to expect from Fetish Dolls. There is bad acting and submissive imagery yet the most inappropriate facet of the film is the arousal of tickling. This is not scary, it’s just weird. Of all the weapons to include in a film that categorises itself as horror – just horror – the thought of being ‘killed with kindness’ simply adds to its idiocy. I wish they had categorised this as a comedy instead as I feel I am being slightly harsh and possibly misinterpreting its intentions.
Bear in mind that this film was made with an estimated $4000 budget, that doesn’t really excuse its cheap trashiness – intentional or not. Take a film like Dead Hooker in a Trunk – which was a film made on less than Fetish Dolls – the creators, the Soska sisters, did all they could and utilised every contact possible to make something that bred authenticity. Fetish Dolls, on the other hand, displayed the proverbial “zipper on the monster suit” with scenes where you could make out intestines fashioned from sausage links and newspaper articles with pictures stapled onto them. Silvio’s lack of resources was blatant and it impacted negatively on the film.
Ultimately, Fetish Dolls Die Laughing is an acquired taste aimed at only a microcosm of film enthusiasts. It’s safe to say that I am not its target audience, consequently this film served as a rather baffling foray. Let’s be a little fair – there were some scenes and titbits that I got but, principally, the concept was a little too inexpertly executed to enjoy as much as one could. Conclusively, most horror villains are killed by cutting off heads or through ingenious booby traps but with this monster, all you need do is recite “tickle monster stay away” three times. I did and I hope it does.
Fetish Dolls Die Laughing (2012)