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Death Doll (1989)
Obscure, creepy potboiler worth seeking out!
"Death Doll" is one of those "lost" movies I heard about for so many years as a teen. It was a 1989 production (although some research uncovers an actual 1984 production date) shot and directed by a man named William Mims.
The story is simple: after the death of her husband, young Trish is stalked by a madman leaving Dolls in his footsteps. There's a handful of deaths, but this film relies more on suspense than gore.
There's several things that rise this film above other standard 80s slasher fare. For one, it's got atmosphere and lots of it. If you like creepy little potboilers from the 80s (the made for TV variety) then you'll probably really dig the set-up and execution. There's also a really freaky looking hand-crafted Fortune Telling machine in the movie that predicts future terrifying events in the film. Every time she appears on screen I get the chills. After the first premonition came true, Trish goes back to the antique mall to find the machine again. What follows is a suspenseful game of cat and mouse with Trish and the Killer.
This movie sort of exists in it's own world. I've seen 2 cuts of the movie. What I assume to be the original 1984 cut with the 1984 copyright date, original opening credits and music as well as an alternate opening shot of the actors outside the antique store. The other cut from 1989 has a different shot-on-VHS opening sequence, alternate title screen and credits and for some odd reason there's even a re-shot opening scene, but using two different actor doubles (shot from behind and far away). I'm guessing Mims wanted to approach the opening scene differently later and must have not been able to get the original actors.
But what really attracts me to this film is the combination of the eerie artwork (both versions: the doll getting stabbed in the chair and the big evil Doll face) combined with the fact you pretty much can't legit get this film anywhere. It's my understanding the 1989 version was released on VHS in the UK and the 1984 cut was released in Poland I believe. Although when I questioned Mims himself about the two different versions, he seemed confused and unaware of the 1984 version...so that still remains a mystery. And to date, there hasn't been a U.S. release, although it's a U.S. production. The real reasons are unclear, but I gather from Mims it had something to do with a poor distribution deal.
I've spoken to William several times over the years and even came close to Directing a "Death Doll 2" (which could still happen, you never know). But after all my questions to him and all my viewings of both cuts of the movie, the whole thing still remains as mysterious as ever to me and I highly recommend this movie to fans of obscure 80s slashers, especially those involving Dolls. It's a film I found myself increasingly obsessed with over the years, and it's likely to have the same effect on other rare 80s horror fans. Pretty much the perfect horror film for the fan looking for the ultimate lost slasher. Seek it out, if you know the right places to look.
Father's Day - BEST segment, hands down!
I went into this with high expectations, and while "Halloween" and "Christmas" (the ones I expected the most from) proved to be disappointments, I found the "Father's Day" segment brilliant, touching and also terrifying. The manner in which the story builds thru the playback of a childhood recording, how she drives out to the middle of nowhere, and the suspense leading to where she was headed, all great elements rounding out a truly unique segment. I found myself on the edge of my seat from the time she started the tape to the very end.
"Easter" was bizarre and interesting and "St. Patty's Day" was pretty unexpected but cool. "St. Patty's Day" felt like classic British horror or something. Very elegant, artistic and suspenseful. The little girl did a fantastic job. "Christmas" suffered from what many shot-in-LA indie productions experience which was the total lack of snow, thus creating a true "Christmas" atmosphere. It was an OK concept, but overall not really scary or exciting. And I feel like the gadget the story focuses on will really date it in 10-15 years and seem silly. And I felt like "Halloween" was a total wasted opportunity. With the "Halloween" setting they could have done so much, but other than it being centered around 3 girls stuck inside on Halloween, you wouldn't know it was set on Halloween. No pumpkins, no trick-r-treaters, no atmosphere what-so-ever. Seemed more like that story could have been molded into any of the "Holidays" and I wish that segment went to someone who really cared to do something cool with it, as that segment alone could have really brought this indie anthology into "classic" territory. "Valentine's Day" was a classic style shocker and "Mother's Day" was pretty creepy, but had a weak ending. I was really hoping for a cool "Independence Day" story or "Thanksgiving", but maybe it was for the best since there was really only a couple standout segments. Overall, well worth the watch, even if a handful of the stories are throwaway. I'd compare it to "ABCs of Death", with about the same ratio of good stories.