Remember the good old days when playing with your toys was the greatest part of the day? When it was you, your favorite doll or action figure and your imagination. The way that you appreciated your toys so much that you were saddened when one of them was broken and was thrown out. Toys were loyal to kids; they possessed special kind of magic that made them bond with us to the very end. It sounds like Toy Story but I am actually talking about Stuart Gordon’s daunting story called Dolls, made 8 years before Toy Story came along. Even though it’s scares are a little cheap, the story is very whimsical and offers something that I haven’t seen in a horror movie before. There is a rather harmonious, magical undertone to this film and proposes something for all us horror fans to muse over.
At its core, Dolls is about a girl who has been really oppressed by her unloving father and her hateful stepmother (it already sounds like a fairy tale). While spending the night in a mansion during a storm, a very nice but creepy old man gives her a hand-made doll to play with… seeing as how a little girl should always have a doll to play with. This is the foundation in which the fairy tale of Dolls is based on. This part of the story is rather beautiful because it’s almost Gordon’s ode to childhood imagination and the innocents of being a little again. The young girl, Judy, has such a vivid imagination that the toys in the mansion begin defending her. In fact, the old man that gives her a doll tells her that imagination is the key to becoming a wise person. He defends Judy against her parents and even goes as far as to be a sort of father figure for her.
Gordon preserves her innocents and I am sure that many of us can identify with her. I’m sure that most of us, especially the creative types, were made fun of for having an overactive imagination and Gordon runs with this experience. The dolls/toys act as Judy’s imagination, stepping out of her mind and defending themselves to those who don’t believe. Considering that toys are usually the medium in which we channel our thoughts, it would make sense that they would be the ones to attack. There is a gruesome scene where Judy sees one of the guests get maimed by the dolls and she just stands there, grossed out, clutching her doll. Her face is filled with childhood ignorance and misunderstanding; as if she is too young to know what just happened.
However, the one person whom I’m sure we can all identify is a middle-aged motorist that also ends up spending the night in the mansion. He is a very lovable but sometimes clumsy man whose father told him about the toys and how they come to life when we sleep. It reminded me of a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. His father said that they also eat special kinds of toy cookies so even if you left food out, they wouldn’t eat it. I’m sure we can all relate when our parents told us stories like these to keep our imaginations flowing. Ralph is much like Judy because he is a child at heart but he told the old toymaker that he stopped believing in the magic. When asked why he said, “he grew old.” I can vouch for him because I too, as I grew older, lost my sense of imagination but as the old man stated from the film: “we’re never to old to have an imagination” let alone believe in the magic that bound us to our toys.
Here is where I believe that the film is challenging us viewers. Perhaps when we were kids we had some of the craziest stories and playtime activities because of what we created in our heads. I remember as a kid I always thought the song Rhapsody in Blue was actually Rap City and Blues. I was always under the impression that the Jeepers Creepers poster was showing a football and not stitched up body. I use to draw, paint, build legos and play ‘save the world’ with my action figures. I would create vast settings out of Legos and Playmobiles and make my action figures do crazy stunts. I wish I could go back in time and still do those things or even now but I can’t because I don’t have the imagination for it. The old man in Dolls was right, when we get older we loose touch with our creative sides but maybe we can change that if we allow ourselves to let our minds free.
I think that is what Gordon wanted us to take from his movie. That our toys, be it action figures or dolls, were our best play friends. They were always there for us when we were sad or bored or when it was rainy. If there was some bit of magic in them I am sure they would find their way back to us. In fact, I still remember my favorite toy that I had. It was a Dr. Allan Grant action figure from the ‘electronic’ Jurassic Park Command Compound playset. That toy was the best toy I ever had. Just think about it, our favorite toys were really there for us… making them our best friends.