A serial killer's curse unleashes a season of slaughter in the backwoods of Mississippi. According to an ancient Guatemalan tradition, parents teach their children to allay their troubles by giving them handmade "worry dolls" just before bedtime. But when several of these talismans — which once belonged to a notorious mass murderer — find their way into the hands of unsuspecting residents of a small Southern town, it sets off a grisly wave of bloodshed. The latest from Rites of Spring director Padraig Reynolds is a voodoo-slasher shocker bursting with scarily inventive kills.
When I was a teen and saw ‘The Exorcist,’ I was young and way too immature to assess what makes that film so great. There are twenty minute intervals between the occurrences that happen to little Regan that honestly had me bored as a child. Fast forward to today, and I totally disagree with teenage me and find those character moments to be the real reason why the movie is so great. You get to know Regan, and care about her and her plight because of the amount of time you spend with her. ‘The Devil’s Dolls’ is teenage me coming back to haunt me like the voodoo dolls that haunt the cast of the film. It never slows down to let us get to know the characters before the next gore-filled kill. As a result, I felt like the movie was keeping me at a distance.
This is the kind of movie you can judge by the first scene. Amber (Ashlynn Ross) is being tortured in an abandoned warehouse by a serial killer known as Big Al (Eliezer Ortiz). She gets loose while he is praying to an Egyptian voodoo doll, and runs outside where she hops into a cop car passing by. Big Al comes up to the cop car and runs a drill straight through the cop’s head while a cartoonish amount of blood squirts out and dousis Amber. This happens to set the plot in motion but it doesn't follow the MO of any of the other killings in the movie. It's just there to start us off with a gory kill and that is it. Some “Gore Hounds” can enjoy this kind of thing. Me, I usually look to sympathize with the victim. And since we don't know anything about this woman, I can't relate to her and I become disengaged. This same problem will happen throughout the movie where I felt distanced from all of its main characters.
Matt (Christopher Wiehl) and Darcy (Kym Jackson) have been on the case to catch Big Al for a long time, and because of the incident with Amber, Matt has his chance to shoot him and does. Among the evidence retrieved, there is a series of voodoo dolls that are seemingly cursed. For some bugnuts reason, Matt takes that evidence and gives it to his 11-year-old daughter Chloe (Kennedy Brice), so she can sell it at her mother Amy’s (Samantha Smith) knickknack store. Immediately, Chloe and everyone who buys the dolls devolve into rabid animals fueled by the worst part of themselves.
The problem is, we don't get a chance to have any sympathy for these characters because we only know them at a basic level. Matt is divorced from Amy, but he still will do anything for his daughter; that is all the character development we get for Matt and Amy. Chloe likes handmade jewelry and misses her dad when he's not around. If these characters were any thinner, you could blow in their general direction and knock them over like a deck of cards. And that's a shame because the actual kills in this movie are surprising and memorable. When that drill does through the cop’s head like I mentioned earlier, it was one of those “Daaaaaamn that was brutal” moments that people like in their horror flicks. In fact, almost all the kills in ‘The Devil’s Dolls’ are creative and seem to be the main focus of the filmmakers. It's just a shame that there is no drama behind it.
I actually don't hate ‘The Devil’s Dolls.’ So many horror flicks these days feel like they have enough padding to fill the couch I'm sitting on. ‘The Devil’s Dolls’ is nothing but expedient. It does whatever it needs to do to get to the next well thought out kill, and then it's on to setting up the next one fifteen minutes later. It also is unpredictable with its carnage. I never knew who was the new meat for the slaughter. But I also didn't care who it was going to be either. If you tend to sympathize with the victim in your horror, you will have a big problem here because it wasn't on the page and is not in the film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Devil’s Dolls' comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory, with some standard packaging with a little something extra that we have come to expect from their releases. We get a traditional slipcover to hardcover case, but inside lies the special sauce in this particular release. We are given a BD-50 Blu-ray, but behind that is an awesome alternate cover for the case that you can flip around and have a cool new cover that I would picture being the actual poster for the film. Once we hit play, we get the traditional trailers that lead to our still image main menu that lets us navigate from there. The alternate cover isn't a huge thing to do for a release, but it shows that Shout! Factor does care about their releases and that has become something I admire about the company.
‘The Devil’s Dolls’ brings buckets upon buckets of blood to Blu-ray with a 1080P MPEG-4 AVC encode that is a real achievement when put into context. Shout! Factory puts out quite a bit of straight to Blu-ray horror flicks and they all look great. With that being said, this is one of the best I have seen from their collection of low end horror. Framed at a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, details on how this was filmed are sparse, but because of the overall smooth and sharp quality of the picture, I would say this was filmed digitally if I had to guess. There isn't an ounce of unwanted grain on the screen. Close ups provide amazing facial detail, and the bloodier they get, the more detail we see.
Along with being horrifically brutal, the opening scene has some interesting cinematography to it, with its washed out and blown out look. But it never flattens the image or affects the white levels of the transfer. Black levels remain deep, but exactly where they are intended to be. The only minor gripe I have is the cinematography itself does play it a little safe and doesn't want to think outside the box. But that is a small gripe in a transfer that is far better than I would have ever given it credit for.
Shout! Factory possesses your home theater system with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that, like its Video Quality counterpart, is far better than you would ever give it credit for. Every swipe of a knife, bludgeon with a hammer, death by hedge trimmer, and decapitation is met with a hard swoop followed by an impactful thud. Speaker separation is very dynamic, with every inventive kill sounding unique and unlike the one before.
The score of the film isn't anything remarkable, but the way it is presented is. With a healthy level of base always being heard in your surrounds, the score feels immersive and impactful despite its seeming uninspired and derivative. That is the power of a good surround mix, it makes you forget the shortcomings of the movie itself and immerses you in spite of those flaws. Dialogue and overall levels are at a healthy volume to assist the immersion as well. You can chalk this mix up as another great Shout! Factory surround mix from a company that is becoming one of the most reliable for great sound mixes.
There are two types of horror fans out there. The ones that root for the killer, and the ones that root for the victims. As a child, I was a glorified "Gore Hound" and always loved the more fast-paced horror flicks, anticipating the next time one of the characters were meat for the grinder. That was because I always rooted for the killer. But then I grew up and became more into story driven films with interesting and intricate characters, and before I knew it, by the time I started college, I had switched sides to be firmly on the victim's side. After all, that leads to more interesting characters that are more fleshed out. So, when a kill does come, it is more impactful because you are much more invested in the characters. 'The Exorcist' is a great example of this because of the amount of time we spend getting to know Regan; it is truly horrifying to see a little girl I have warmed up to become so demonic. 'The Devil’s Dolls' is made for people like childhood me. All the kills are bloody, inventive, and great. But I feel myself very retracted from these characters, so therefore I feel very retracted from this movie. The film is aided a great deal by the video and audio quality that Shout! Factory gives to all their material. But there are better straight to Blu-ray releases that feature the same attention to detail as they do in their discs. If you wanted to check one out I would suggest seeing 'Fender Bender,’ a straight to Blu-ray release I reviewed just this October.