A small Texas town is terrorized by evil possessed baby dolls.
Every once in a while you see a movie that manages to set its stall out early. Very, very early in some cases; Doll Factory is definitely one such movie. When one of your characters is seen driving a car with the licence plate “PEN 155” you know you’re not going to be seeing Noel Coward levels of witty repartee….
Doll Factory was written and directed by Stephen Wolfe (Midnight Abyss), and released recently – although it would appear that it was filmed in 2014 and has, presumably, been shelved for a while. Our opening scene takes place on Halloween, 1976, and is filmed in an obviously fake grindhouse style; complete with over saturated colours, excessive grain and cheap, scratchy film stock. Set in an abandoned warehouse (obviously the titular Doll Factory), it features two seemingly hapless cops attempting to hold an unseen enemy at bay, and a spectacularly-afroed convict apparently intent on reading aloud an incantation of some kind from an Evil Dead-style spell book. Within the first two minutes we get a used condom joke (just because) and a surprisingly full-on glimpse of the eponymous Dolls; foot-high, porcelain faced little critters with helium-high voices, a nice line in witty one-liners and a definite thirst for blood. It has to be noted also, that we are not talking about the cutting edge of special effects for the dolls here!
One of the cops is quickly offed in bloody fashion, and while given the chance to deliver the traditional heart-felt death-throes monologue, his erstwhile partner is more intent on seeking permission to take a crack at his soon-to-be widow rather than hearing his dying sentiments. Again, another pointer of the direction Doll Factory is headed in; rather more gleeful comedy than horror. Once this short intro soon is out of the way, we jump to present-day suburbia and a teen Halloween house party in full swing. Among the parade of costumed douchebags and – douchebagesses, I guess? – we meet our main protagonists Mark (Justin Herman) and Kay (Nicole Elliot), as well as their pals Derek, Allison, Miguel and Blake. Allison quickly shows off the rather surprising item she’s found hiding in her mom’s closet; the Evil Dead-knockoff spell book, complete with apparent skin binding and cover adorned with pentagrams and human face (isn’t yours always in the last place you look?) So what’s the sensible thing to do with your new spell book? Why, head to the abandoned factory and read some demon-summoning incantations aloud of course! Naturally this does not end well…
Once we’re at the factory and the kills start coming, it’s clearer than ever that Doll Factory is not taking itself seriously at all. Within minutes we’ve had an eyeball plucked out and a pair of feet cut off with razor wire; all accompanied by more pithy one-liners and wacky sound effects, both from the dolls and the hapless teens (I’ll be honest, the feet one made me laugh out loud). It has to be said though, while again the effects on the dolls are simplistic and cheap – I’d say intentionally so, and it actually makes them pretty endearing (for psychotic killer dolls) – and there’s some obvious CGI blood here and there, the practical effects are actually really rather good! Heads are sliced in half, dicks are rudely sliced off – and for the most part they hold up pretty damned well on screen considering the movie’s tiny budget of around $200,000.
Mark and Kay escape the factory and run to the local cops for assistance with their Satanic doll-related shenanigans; and lo and behold, the elder one of the two they meet is none other than Bart Barclay, from the 1976 intro sequence! The only clue to his now advanced age being a very cheap stick-on beard (again, pretty sure this is intentional stuff). Bart gives them short shrift so they call on Kay’s geeky brother Melvin for assistance; this gives the filmmakers a chance for some nerd-based humour (which again actually lands surprisingly well), including jokes about how you’re never allowed to see the name of a little-known search engine that rhymes with “floogle” on a computer screen, and how clichéd movies and TV shows ALWAYS show a computer hacker at work.
We soon meet the movie’s two biggest assets (for me at least), who are Darius Grimley (Boo Gay) and Yegor Zakhaev (Patrick Sane); Grimley being the previously-afroed convict from 1976 and Zakhaev being the big bad, a Russian warlock of sorts whose aim in death is to flood the world with his doll servants. Both of these guys knock it out of the park in terms of bringing their characters to life, and are hilarious every moment they’re on screen.
Doll Factory is reminiscent of quite a few other slyly comic horror movies, not least Ghoulies and Gremlins, but also of Peter Jackson’s earlier low-budget schlock horrors like Bad Taste and Brain Dead (Dead Alive to US audiences). This movie is not high art; it’s juvenile, cheap and not in the least bit scary. However, for a lot of the time it is very funny indeed, so in that I think the filmmakers and actors involved have achieved exactly what they set out to do; it has some great practical effects and it’s certainly never boring, making full use of its 85-minute run time. So if you’re in the mood for something daft and throwaway you could do way worse than give Doll Factory a watch.