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Vorelli is a ventriloquist & hypnotist, with an amazing dummy, Hugo. Vorelli meets and pursues a beautiful heiress (Marianne); he mesmerizes her, and induces a baffling coma. His buxom mistress (Magda) fears he'll dump her for the younger woman, and threatens to expose him. Vorelli tricks Hugo into killing Magda while he's safely elsewhere. Marianne's boyfriend Mark investigates. He discovers another killing in Vorelli's past, of a man called Hugo. The girl wakes from her coma, and announces she will marry the hypnotist. When the triumphant Vorelli tells Hugo his plans for Marianne and a new, female dummy, a final confrontation yields surprising results. Written by
Mike Rogers <MICHAELPEM@aol.com>
The dwarf who portrays Hugo the Dummy was performed by a woman even though Hugo is a male dummy. See more »
When Hugo walks toward the audience the back of his jacket is intact. When he walks back to his seat there is a hole in his back jacket for the hand to control him. See more »
[talking on the phone]
Now get your tail out of bed and get to work.
Wilco, Wilco, stay cool and all that jazz--hey, how'd you know I was still in bed?
It figures, boy, it figures.
See more »
A beautifully-crafted low budget shocker which has unfortunately been overlooked in view of the classic 'Ventriloquist's Dummy' episode from the horror compendium film, DEAD OF NIGHT (1945; episode directed by Alberto Cavalcanti). Actually, it bears very few similarities to it: the dummy may be called Hugo as in the earlier film (though DEVIL DOLL was in fact based on a short story written by Frederick E. Smith), but here we have the ventriloquist who is doing the mind-controlling and the dummy who is subservient to him, whereas in the 1945 film it was the other way around.
Some dated elements like the dance number early in the film (couldn't they have thought of something more sinister as a way of making the heroine, Yvonne Romain, fall under the hypnotist's spell?) are not enough to spoil DEVIL DOLL's very effective suspense sequences, especially whenever The Great Vorelli and Hugo get to share the screen. Performances are generally adequate (including William Sylvester as the requisite American 'star') but Bryant Halliday obviously dominates the film as the villainous Vorelli. Reminiscent of John Barrymore in SVENGALI (1931), his sheer magnetic presence makes one wish he had made more films of the caliber of DEVIL DOLL. (On a side note, we DVD Maniacs should also feel obligated towards him for his capacity as co-founder of Janus Films, 'home owner' of The Criterion Collection!)
Some critics find the film a bit flat, almost like a made-for-TV film: it does have a tendency towards showing the actors in close-up but this, as explained in the commentary, was more due to budgetary limitations than to a conscious choice of film-making style adopted by the director; furthermore, the plot's very dependence on various states of emotion on the characters' part makes the intimacy of it all entirely appropriate!
Which brings us to the ending: though unconvincing in detail (Vorelli's transference of souls gradually took place over a period of months but here it happens in a flash!), the impact of it is undeniable and makes for a hugely satisfying climax to a wonderful little film, a genuine sleeper and now regaining some well-deserved momentum with Image Entertainment's excellent DVD release.
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