Friday, 10 October 2008

Devil Doll (1964)

This film forms part of a very small sub-genre of movies about possessed ventriloquists' dummies which includes the classic "Dead of Night" from 1945 and Tony Hopkins' "Magic" (1978); it is not to be confused with the Lionel Barrymore starrer of the same name from 1936 which is scary in its own right but which has nothing to do with ventriloquism.

I must confess to a soft spot for this low-budget British flick despite its relatively low production values and its pretty awful cast, which consists of two American actors Bryant Haliday as The Great Vorelli and William Sylvester as a visiting journalist, the rather wooden Yvonne Romaine as his wealthy British girlfriend, and Sandra Dorne, an ex sex-bomb from the 50s and now well past her peak as Vorelli's assistant. The real star of the film is Vorelli's dummy Hugo, who not only can talk on his own but who can also walk on his own! He's a pretty threatening wooden doll who's kept caged up at night, and the obvious hatred between him and his "master" is palpable. It seems he's powered by the captured soul of a former assistant and Vorelli fancies Romaine with her money as the next inhabitant of a wooden body.

I hadn't seen this movie for some years when I found it was available on DVD together with a "hot" (and I am quoting the case) Continental version of the same film. With my curiosity piqued I had to see the differences which consist of Vorelli hypnotising a staid music student into doing a "sexy" striptease before his audience (ending with a topless shot), a few brief shots of Dorne's breasts before she is murdered, and a scene set in Berlin where Sylvester's colleague's girlfriend appears topless rather than in a negligee. I was aware that movies were often shot in different cuts for different markets back then, but frankly these very tame scenes from our modern perspective add absolutely nothing to the film, and if anything detract from the spooky subject matter and the logic of Dorne's death.

The movie has something of a cult following and one or two real frissons of fear, but they are lost to some extent in the rather plodding action.

Guess what? Yes, I'm off to New York again for hopefully the last time this year. I should be back in time for the London Film Festival, so more reviews then -- plus of course my latest scintillating selection of in-flight movies.
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