Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Review - "Night of the Dolls"

Do you want to immediately get my attention in a horror movie?  Do you want to get a cringe out of me?  Do you want to show something that makes me want to cover my eyes or look away even though I watched countless horror movies?  It’s an easy solution.  Just show the cutting, slicing, crushing, or any other mangling of eyes, tongue, or Achilles tendon.  Night of the Dolls opens with a woman being tortured/operated upon (depending on how you want to look at it) and having her tongue cut out of her mouth.  There, the film makers have managed to get my attention.  Now, it is their task to hold that attention.  In this task, director Daniel Murphy and his cast and crew succeed fantastically!

“It's been 20 years since the Sheriff's Department made the gruesome discovery in the basement of the Brookhurst Sanitarium. Unspeakable crimes of freakish experiments performed on female patients at the hands of the sick and demented monster, Dr. Graves. Kari, the lead singer of the all-girl punk band The Lolita Dolls has been obsessed with the story about his victims since childhood. After receiving a mysterious e-mail, Kari befriends a 'Fan' online who invites the Band to the Sanitarium to film a video for a song off of their new CD, Fallen Angels. With the help of a van and their friends Lenny and Steve, the Girls set out on a punk rock road trip of a lifetime, only to discover that the legacy of terror hidden behind the walls of the Brookhurst Sanitarium is far from over.”  (IMDB)

The opening scene is brilliantly brutal beyond the tongue scene without going into the realm of torture porn.  It gives us a very solid example of the debauchery that has been taking place at the asylum.  All of the flashback scenes are shot in black and white, adding a real ambiance to the film.  From the first cuts on the initial victim, we can see that make-up and special effects artist, Harry McCane, is very talented and will be providing a lot to look at throughout the movie.  The effects are not the only promise of things to come from the very start of the film.  The shot of the little girl sitting at the top of the stairs wearing a mask is simple, yet extremely chilling.

Further backstory is given in a very natural manner.  It is the twenty year anniversary of the discovery at the asylum.  A news report gives all of the relevant background that the viewer could possibly want without the need for awkward, forced conversation between characters that often takes place in movies that are not as well written.  From there, we flash between the scenes driving the main characters towards their impending doom, further backstory shots from the asylum, and watching Detective Baily pursue the facts behind the cold case.  Detective Baily’s investigation may be one of the few issues I have with the film.  His motivations to solve this case that has been closed for twenty years to the extent that he apparently just drops everything and puts his entire concentration into investigating this particular case was not clear to me as I was watching. 

One of my favorite aspects of this movie was the characters.  Writer, Tom Comisar, creates some very realistic and entertaining dialogue.  The casting choices were good and each of the actors and actresses really seemed to give a great effort.  For me, bad characters are an easy way to pull me out of the story being told in a movie and good characters and acting are a major hook.  These characters are done very well.  There are only really three major pieces of information we learn about the girls as we are introduced to the characters.  These character insights are that they are all in a band together, that they are an extremely close group of friends, and that they all enjoy partying.  Despite the lack of further individual characterization, each of the actresses makes the role her own and they never feel like simply carbon copy characters.  I particularly enjoy the performance of Linda Schrader, who plays one of the rockers, Lydia.  The girls are supported by a group of talented actors and actresses. 

The two “roadies,” Steve and Lenny, provide a good dose of comic relief without going into slapstick, especially Eric Reaume, who played Lenny with perfect timing on his comedic relief.  The other two standout performances for me, despite not having a lot of screen time, was that of Dustin Lawson as Dr. Graves and Paisley Blackburn as Ingrid.  Lawson’s stoic expression while cutting into his victims is truly frightening.  Blackburn is creepy with her torn mask and unsettling giggle, leaving you wanting to check the corners everywhere you go after watching.  While they are the biggest part, the characters and actors are only a piece of what made this film so good.

Director Daniel Murphy definitely knows how to take all of the separate pieces of film making and bring them together into an effective whole.  The setting of the asylum is fantastic.  It sets the atmosphere from the moment the characters enter.  The movie was very well lit and the camera work was done professionally, avoiding very common errors in independent, low budget films.  There are a few moments where it seems a little slow paced getting the girls to the asylum, but tedium is avoided by breaking into this part of the plot with flashback scenes and scenes of Detective Baily’s investigation.  As far as the style goes, there is great use of the black and white in the flashbacks.  I only wish that Murphy had stuck to the use of black and white exclusively in the flashback scenes and not utilized this during some of the music video shooting scenes as well, which I felt took a little away from the effect.  Perhaps using different lighting or color schemes could have added the music video look without taking from the unique filming style during the flashbacks.

Overall, this film did not fail to please at all.  The scenes of violence were done without overkill, yet utilizing some impressive makeup and special effects to provide a great balance.  The acting was solid and the characters were mostly well-written.  The premise may not be the most original idea seen recently, but the execution of the idea is excellent.  Overall, I highly enjoyed this film and look forward to see what the cast and crew come up with next!

So, what’s the Rage score?  Here it is:

Acting – 4/5
 Story - 4/5
 Effects - 4/5
Camera Work/Production Skill - 5/5
Overall Entertainment Value – 4.5/5 
Total Score – 4.3/5 – Check it out for yourself and see if you can survive the Night of the Dolls!

Currently, the filmmakers responsible for bringing you Night of the Dolls is working on getting their online store up and running.  However, you can follow them on Facebook and there are links from there that allow you to purchase the DVD or soundtrack.

Cincinnati area fans, you are in for an extra treat!  On July 21, Legacy Arcade will be holding a screening from 6 PM to 10 PM with the cast and crew of Night of the Dolls.  Admission is only $10 and includes four hours of gaming and horror fun!!  Details and advance ticket sales are available at:

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