Obscurity is my middle name. Dustin Obscurity Ferguson. “Death Doll” is one of those films, SO obscure that it remained practically unheard of until just the last few years. Only released on VHS in Poland and the U.K., “Death Doll” was the one and only feature directed by William Mims.
This part shot-on-VHS, part shot-on-film little diddy is about a young woman who after receiving a mysterious warning from a fortune telling machine becomes the target of a madman with an obsession with dolls. The film opens with some uber 80’s credits over VHS shots of a city scape. We slowly work our way to a house in the city. We pan up and transition inside. We are now in an old attic. After a moment we focus on a creepy looking doll placed in a wick rocking chair. Suddenly a hand welding a large knife swings down, penetrating the toy. I LOVE that opening. So offbeat and strange. It sets the tone for the bizarre story ahead. After the badly cropped title screen we witness another odd moment where we see a young woman and her date looking into an antique shop from the outside. What makes this shot strange is that the two individuals in this shot are supposed to be the lead woman and her husband, only they are played by different actors and shot from behind. It wouldn’t be so obvious if the man’s hair was at least the same color and it didn’t cut to the different (real) actors immediately after…oh well. At this point we transition from the VHS footage (which by now I assume was shot and added in later) to the awesome, grainy old film footage. Our young couple enter the shop and are drawn directly to an eerie looking Old Madame Zerba Fortune Telling Machine.
The scenes with the machine are some of the creepiest moments in the film. The Fortune Teller was hand crafted with a sinister look. When our young heroine is given the premonition of danger ahead, it isn’t too long after her husband winds up dead. This is explained with a shot of a tombstone and a brief “all too descriptive” phone conversation where we over hear he was killed in an accidental fire in some cabin. The details don’t mean much because we are really watching this for the doll action, right?
Well based on the cover you would expect some super scary killer doll film. As with most 80’s horror films, the cover is very misleading. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, in fact I am totally in love with it. Instead of the dolls doing the evil bidding, it’s a human killer who leaves the dolls at the scene of each death. Sort of a metaphor I guess for viewing women like usable objects.
Throughout the film we follow our lead “Trish” as she suffers post traumatic stress over the death of her husband (whom just before dying got her prego). After a killer first attempts to come after her she takes refuge with her friend Anna. Trish makes a few connections involving the premonition she was given and the recent events so she teams up with Anna to go back to that same antique shop and investigate the machine (this is where the suspense really takes off). They go back and discover the machine is gone. The owner tells them it never existed…but they sneak away and find it hidden in the basement. Later that night Trish breaks in and plugs it in to receive one more fortune.
Now, the character whom is actually the killer is introduced very early on in the film. At this point we start to suspect who it is. [SPOILER AHEAD] Bobby shows up acting all over protective. Eventually he breaks down, has a cat-and-mouse sequence with Trish before the final overlong explanation as to why he killed everyone. [END SPOILER] The film suffers many of the late 80’s story pitfalls but still manages to be unique and suspenseful while fusing dolls into a standard Slasher film. There are many other spooky moments like the attack on the woman in Trish’s old apartment and just about every scene with the Fortune Machine.
This film is rare as hell. You can’t get it on DVD, and it was never released on VHS in the USA. But those “in the know” can find their copy elsewhere and I do suggest seeking it out. It’s a bizarre film that takes place in it’s own little mad world. I think it has cult classic potential, that is if at least more than a handful of people had heard of it. Highly recommended slasher fans!