Blood Dolls (1999, Charles Band)

Blood Dolls (1999, Charles Band)Blood Dolls is arguably one of the movies Charles Band was most involved in, seeing that short from starring in it, he’s the writer, director, producer and – through his company Full Moon Features – also the distributor of this picture. Band’s different production and distribution companies have been churning out movies since the early 70’s, the short-lived Empire Productions probably being the most successful one with releases such as Ghoulies and of course Re-Animator.

Blood Dolls was released by Full Moon Features, though, Band’s successor of sorts to Empire Pictures. You might know them from their seemingly endless Puppet Master franchise, currently at number X for ten. So if you’re looking for a movie about killer dolls, you could probably do worse than going with one from Band’s stable.

On to the movie itself, then. Now, let me start by saying that the dolls themselves are rather poor. Design-wise you could still say they look okay but the stop-motion animation used here, is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen. It is bad, very bad. There’s almost 15 years between Ghoulies and Blood Dolls but Ghoulies’ animation – which was already questionable at the time – has got this beat hands down. I suppose you’re wondering then why you should watch a movie about killer dolls if said dolls kind of suck?

The story, maybe? Well, it’s entertaining but not exactly earth-shatteringly original either. Virgil Travis, an eccentric multi-million dollar entrepreneur, is standing on the verge of bankruptcy and vows revenge on those he believes responsible. He therefore creates the dolls who – assisted by Mr. Mascaro, Travis’ right hand man – go out and kill whoever Travis tells them to. Like I said, nothing special there. What does really save this movie then are its characters. Not the dolls, though. Those are easily the most forgettable characters in the movie. There are three dolls, all early victims of Travis’ who instead of being killed were transformed into dolls under his command. You only get to witness the transformation of the third and last doll, Travis’ asian lawyer who didn’t quite pass the bar. She’s transformed into a geisha-like doll. I guess this kind of makes sense with her having been asian. It does make you wonder about the two previous victims, though. Travis tells us they used to be a judge and a district attorney so one might presume they at the very least looked reasonably respectable. Their doll counterparts, however, are a black pimp doll and a testosterone-fueled skinhead doll. Why does he stop transforming people after the third doll? I don’t know and it’s not explained either. It does look as if a lot of electricity is involved in the transformation process and with Travis being as good as broke, that might be the reason. The dolls don’t talk but can make little noises and have small weapons. The geisha has blades, the pimp has guns and the skinhead has knives. The way in which they execute the killings is rather unimaginative, largely due no doubt to the very limited amount of actions they can have the dolls perform. There are a couple of scenes in which the dolls are not or only incidentally involved in the murders and these are far better, actually.

But enough with the doll-bashing, what is good about this movie, then? Believe it or not, it’s actually the characters performed by the real-live actors. In most other movies of this calibre it’s usually the actors’ lamentable performances that take away from the experience but not in the case of Blood Dolls. Don’t get me wrong, these are far from Oscar-worthy performances but almost without exception all of Blood Dolls’ characters are fun and interesting and convinvingly portrayed by the cast. There’s Travis himself, who’s never seen without his mask. Mr. Mascaro with the clown make-up and the razor-sharp teeth and Hylas, the midget masochistic butler. (As is not entirely unusual with Full Moon productions, there is a link here to some of their other movies with Full Moon enthusiasts possibly recognizing Mr. Mascaro as a human version of the Jack Attack-doll, starring in e.g. Demonic Toys.) There are Harrison and Moira Yulin, Travis’ strongest competitors with a penchant for sadomasochism which makes for an interesting relationship. And last but far from least there’s the all-female, all-leather rock band Travis keeps locked up in his mansion for his entertainment. All of these characters are a joy to get to know and it’s only after the entire cast has been good and well introduced about halfway through that the movie begins to sag. Travis begins to do some soul searching, there’s talk of romance and existentialism, all of which really interrupts the flow of the movie. Fortunately the pace does pick up again near the end, though.

One final thing to discuss is the music. As I already mentioned, Travis has imprisoned a rock band that acts as a primitive form of music on demand. How it works is, Travis will shout out a track number and the girls then have to play that particular number. If they don’t react fast enough, the butler quite literally shocks them into action. They play a number of songs throughout the movie, all of them surprisingly good. Supposedly, Band had the idea of touring with the band if it proved popular enough but unfortunately nothing ever came of it. There wasn’t even a soundtrack album released which is a shame, really.

So there you have it. To sum up, I wouldn’t go out of my way to try and pick up a copy but if you happen to find it for an okay price, you might be pleasantly surprised with the okay story, some awesome characters and a fun soundtrack. Don’t watch it for the dolls, though.