A group of college students head for a location where six people were murdered 20 years ago by a killer known as Crinoline Head. Their plan is to investigate the killings for a class project on local legends and to discover if Crinoline Head is really dead, as officially reported, or if he is alive and still stalking the same woods today. As the body count rises, they get their answer.
Dollface, written and directed by Tommy Faircloth, begins in July 1980 at a lake cabin where a mother and her 8-year-old son live. The mother (Suzie Haines) is a doll maker and her son Dorchester is a bit of a Momma’s boy through no fault of his own. His mother is overprotective, chastising him with, “I don’t like it when you’re not close by,” and, “You should always be at Mommy’s side.” And after all, he is surrounded by creepy dolls in varying stages of construction and even creepier doll heads, limbs, and torsos. He’s bound to have problems. As his mother implores him to feel the beautiful crinoline skirt she is using on her current creation, she has a heart attack and abruptly dies right in front of young Dorchester (Andrew Wicklum).
We then flash forward to present day and see a family lost on their way to a wedding. While the father is fixing a flat, the son wonders off into the woods and returns with a worn and damaged doll. There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to this scene other than as a plot device to let you know that the adult Dorchester (John Kap) is still around.
Now cut to a college classroom where Professor Paul Donner, played by Jason Vail, is eliciting midterm presentation subjects from the students in his class on the history of local leaders and legends. One team chooses Dorchester Stewart, AKA Crinoline Head, as their subject. We then learn that when Dorchester’s mother died, it was months before she was discovered, and young Dorchester survived by eating her. He was found clutching the crinoline skirt, refusing to leave the side of his rotting, half-eaten mother’s corpse. Dorchester was allowed to keep the crinoline skirt and was sent to a state facility where he would sit in his room with the skirt over his head to hide his shame, earning him the nickname Crinoline Head. He escaped from the facility when he was 18 and had managed to vanish.
Six years after the escape, Paul Donner was a freshman at the same college in which he now teaches. Derek, a friend of his, invited a group of students out to his lake house for a weekend of partying. However, Derek was really Crinoline Head and the party weekend was a trap. Crinoline Head killed six of them, leaving only Paul and another student to survive. While choking Paul, Crinoline Head was stabbed by the other remaining student and then fell into the lake. Crinoline Head was presumed dead even though his body was never found. However, legend has it that he is still alive and stalks the woods to this day. So of course, seven members of Paul’s history class decide to head out to the site of their professor’s near murder to investigate. The rest of the film is spent killing everyone off, one-by-one, with the first Crinoline Head kill occurring about thirty minutes into the 94 minute runtime. By the end of the film, we end up with a body count of ten.
There’s another seemingly unnecessary side story early that depicts three drag queens lost on their way to their next gig, the Happy Hour Drag Buffet at Howard’s Bar. This plot thread does nothing to move the story along. It’s possible it was included to up the body count, to increase the runtime of the film, for comic relief, or with the intent to build tension for the audience by foreshadowing what was in store for the clueless college students. Regardless of why this thread was included, it really wasn’t necessary to the story.There’s also a caretaker for the property named Betsy, played by Debbie Rochon. Betsy’s personality is kind of a cross between a biker and a stripper. I’ve seen Debbie Rochon in other roles and she does such a good job putting on this character’s camouflage, that I didn’t pick up that it was her until the credits. Jason Vail also accurately portrays a repressed and traumatized college professor. The rest of the cast is sometimes on, sometimes off, which contributes to the hit and miss nature of the film.
Dollface, a sequel to Crinoline Head (1996), is a low budget independent film and the budget is evident in the uneven sound. There were multiple times where I could hear one character’s part of the dialogue but not another’s. There was also one set in which the sound reverberated off the bare walls and interfered with hearing the dialogue.
It was also hard for me to tell what the filmmakers were really going for in Dollface – a straight out slasher film, a horror comedy or a slasher film parody. I suspect the latter, due to some callouts to horror films of the past – e.g., Sleepaway Camp (1983) & Carrie (1976) – but if so, the comic part of the parody is more eye-rolling than successful. Everything seems slightly off in terms of timing, acting, and script and it just didn’t work for me. Some of the lines seem like they should hit the mark, but within the context of the film, my only reaction was the aforementioned eye roll. I don’t mean to imply that there is a lack of effort put into this film. Everyone seems to be trying really hard, but in my opinion, the collective product misses the mark. It’s difficult to tell if the problem is in the script, the direction, the cinematography, the editing, the acting, the scarcity of takes, or a little bit of each of these factors.
Partially for the effort and partially for Vail’s and Rochon’s contributions, I give Dollface 2 out of 5 crinoline skirts. But that’s just me.