Of all the decade's derivative and disposable slashers, somehow even possessed toys found their way into the spotlight. Glory hog Chucky, the ginger-haired hellion with a demonic preschooler's grin and a voice like a New York City construction worker, is the most well known of the bunch. Consequently, people overlooked this minor-gem; Stuart Gordon's scary-sweet horror film was manufactured like a pipsqueak's nightmare-scape.
Out of Roald Dahl (or "The Night of the Hunter"), we find Judy -- a pigtailed tot -- traveling the backroads on a stormy night with her short-tempered father and wicked stepmother. After stalling in the mud, they take shelter in a life-sized dollhouse buried in the woods. The owners are an elderly toymaker and his wife; their home is a haunted palace of ominous lightning strikes, smothering shadows, and shifty-eyed figurines. Judy remarks, "I'm not afraid of the dark. I'm afraid of what's in it."
Naturally, the dolls aren't just for decoration. They come to life at night and attack by biting, stabbing, sawing, swarming, firing off little rifles and even using human battering rams... it's all devilish fun. But "Dolls" is surprisingly gentle for a slasher film. In from the storm stumbles Ralph, Judy's kindred spirit, a hefty boob with a fondness for childish things -- the two thieving, punk-princess hitchhikers he brings along are merely fresh meat. Because one is a child and the other is a child at heart, neither Judy nor Ralph is a target for the enchanted playthings.
"Dolls" is a creepy, campy and hilarious little 80's monster movie. It's also a cautionary tale to parents who ought to be nicer to their kids, and a celebration of childhood itself, in all its innocent optimisms and trepidations. Judy frightfully warns, "What if this is the longest night in the world?" Anyone who hasn't lied awake in the dark with that same thought has never been young. Like the gimmicky army of homicidal marionettes at the core, this film gives those fears splendid life.