Appellate Judge Dave Ryan doesn't want to play with these dolls.
Dolls don't like to be toyed with.
After a moderate financially-imposed (it's hard to fund indie films, you know) hiatus from the world of cult horror, producer/director Charlie Band and his Full Moon "label" are back, with new energy and a new business plan. Instead of sending their B-horror films to cable television, Band and Full Moon are now focusing on direct-to-DVD releases. To kick off the Full Moon Mk. II era, Band has gone back to the most successful well Full Moon dug in the '80s and '90s: the angry killer puppet genre. Doll Graveyard doesn't quite live up to the high standards set by the classic Puppet Master films, but it's a decent and fun (albeit brief) return to form for Band, and is well worth a look for the die-hard Full Mooners out there.
Facts of the Case
It's 1911. A young girl named Sophia (Hannah Marks) is playing with her dolls and breaks a vase. Her dad Cyril (Ken Lyle) turns out to be a real a-hole about the whole thing, forcing her to bury her dolls in the backyard. Somehow, Sophia winds up falling into the hole and smacking her head on something, whereupon Dear Old Dad buries her with the dolls. Nice guy. Roll credits.
Zip-zap, and it's 2005. A suburban dad, Lester Fillbrook (Lyle again), is off on a date of some sort, leaving his two kids home alone. Guy (Jared Kusnitz), his son, is really into action figures, making him somewhat of a nerd. His sister Dee Dee (Gabrielle Lynn) is a hot piece of action; she invites her two friends, whorish Olivia (Kristyn Green) and sweetheart Terri (Anna Alicia Brock), over for some party action. Their girls' night out is crashed by two jocks, Dee Dee's boyfriend Tom (Scott Seymour) and his buddy Rich (Brian Lloyd). Everyone except for Terri and Guy proceed to get liquored up.
Meanwhile…well, Sophia's spirit has come back, and is trying to take over Guy's consciousness. Her dolls are back, too—and this time, they've got attitude. Plus the power to move around and stab people, which they exercise with lusty abandon. Can Terri and Guy stop the dolls before they wipe out everyone in the Fillbrook household?
Let's get this straight: Full Moon pictures aren't supposed to be classics of cinema. They're B-movies through and through, and don't aspire to be anything more than that. You have to accept that. What you get in return is a film that doesn't treat you like an idiot consumer who will fork over your hard-earned dollar for whatever crap is put in front of you. It respects you by being the best film it can be under the circumstances. Doll Graveyard, like virtually all Full Moon features, is a pretty-well-crafted B-film, with good production values and decent effects, a wry sense of humor, and earnest but inexperienced actors. Its only major flaw is its extremely short runtime. It's nominally 71 minutes long, but the end credits—among the slowest-crawling I've seen in my life—pad out what is really a 60-minute film. And at 60 minutes, it feels more like a long TV show than a full-on motion picture. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Also, as a bonus for music fans, the padded-out credits feature a really good song by Alex Band, Charlie's son, who is the lead singer of LA band The Calling ("Wherever You Will Go").
The story is, as one would expect (and possibly demand), formulaic. Band, who got behind the lens for the first time in a while for this one, doesn't diverge from the standard horror formula: horny teens get skewered and/or filleted by something creepy; good teens solve the problem. There's not a lot of doll backstory given, which is a shame. The dolls clearly have personalities—I would have liked to have known more about them. But Band is clearly setting these dolls up as a potential long-term franchise, so I'm sure we'll learn more in future installments.
The cast is populated by unknowns, most of whom have no other film credits to their name. However, all of them put in a good effort, and although the acting isn't Oscar-caliber, it certainly doesn't detract from the film experience. Hey—everyone has to start somewhere. These actors actually show some potential. Kudos go out to Green as the trampy Olivia and Lloyd as the drunken Rich, each of whom have a natural feel for their characters.
Of course, a Full Moon puppet film lives or dies with its puppets. Or, in this case, its dolls. And, as noted above, these dolls have more than their fair share of personality. Basically rod puppets (as their ancestors in Puppet Master were), they've had some small CGI effects (blinking eyes, in this case) layered onto them in post-production to make them even creepier. There are four of them in the group: a standard little gingham dolly with teeth like a piranha, a German army doll (of the Kaiser Wilhelm era) with a pointy hat, an African tribesman named Ooga Booga (who has a little spear), and a really good looking samurai doll. Unfortunately, due to the brevity of the film, they don't get to do all that much. Again, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of them, so I expect we'll get all sorts of doll adventures in the future.
The video and audio is about what you'd expect for an independent release—competent, but not outstanding. The Dolby stereo mix is adequate for the task; the widescreen transfer is, for the most part, crisp, but occasional digital artifacts did pop up. One area where this disc outstrips the typical independent release is in the extras department. A decent "behind the scenes" featurette is included—it's short and a bit thin, but given that this is a low-budget indie film, it's about 400 times more than what's usually included with such films. There's a decent blooper reel, too. A gaggle of trailers for current and future Full Moon films are included, as is a brief presentation on the newly-launched Full Moon website. Finally, Charlie himself gives a short message to the Full Moon fans, outlining what's on the horizon for the company. All in all, there are about 30 minutes' worth of extras on the disc—a solid amount for such a low-budget disc.
Doll Graveyard is fun while it lasts, but it doesn't last long enough. If this were a first feature from a new director, I'd have to wonder whether he or she had the chops to pen and direct a full-length film. But since this is Charlie Band, who's had a sold track record since the mid-'70s, I think we can cut him some slack. Just be glad that Full Moon is back, and that their films still have that humor, charm, and quality that distinguished all their great cult horror films of the past two decades. Doll Graveyard isn't da bomb, but it's definitely a large hand grenade. It's more of a fun horror film than a gross-out film. Good for a rental, it will go down easy.
This court finds Doll Graveyard not guilty, leaving Charlie Band free to go play with his dolls some more. And that's for the best.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wizard Entertainment
• Behind-the-scenes Featurette
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