Film Review: The Devil's Dolls

A cursed batch of tiny dolls trigger murder and mayhem in in Padraig Reynolds' (Rites of Spring) one-gimmick shocker.
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Colorful Guatemalan worry dolls are little folkloric totems hitched to some basic mind-over-matter psychology: You just focus on what's troubling you and imagine your fears, worries and discontents absorbed into their little wire-and-string forms. Harmless enough, unless your tiny worry doll happens to have belonged to Mississippi serial murderer Henry Leonard Bale (Matty Ferraro), who poured part of his evil soul into it...which is not a spoiler, since we're introduced to Bale and his dollies in the film's opening sequence, right before he's killed by cops Matt (co-writer Christopher Wiehl) and Darcy (Kym Jackson).

Voodoo woman Della (Tina Lifford), who raised Bale from childhood and apparently taught him some nasty magic, demands that they hand over the box of dolls they confiscated from his backwoods cabin, but it goes into the official evidence box where it belongs. Needless to say, no good comes of that: The dolls eventually accidentally fall into the hands of Matt's eight-year-old daughter, Chloe (Kennedy Brice), who loves making jewelry. Matt's ex-wife, Amy (Samantha Smith), who owns a small-town shop called "Chloe's Collectables" and encourages her daughter's creativity, includes Chloe's doll necklaces in her inventory and all hell busts loose. Not only does Chloe start having seizures and acting out in alarming ways—by killing Buddy, the family dog, for example—but customers who bought the jewelry go on a grotesque murder spree.

Handsomely photographed and dripping with humid atmosphere, The Devil's Dolls—originally (and more subtly) titled Worry Dolls, is nonetheless a slasher movie dressed up with some voodoo trappings: a scary conjure woman, a soul-shifting serial psycho, some ordinary objects—just itty, bitty knickknacks—imbued with malevolent spiritual resonance. But the movie's meat, if you will, is the creative hacking and slicing of human flesh, a series of gory killings aimed squarely at horror fans who like their shivers with a generous side of the red stuff.

That's not to say that the movie has nothing else on its mind: It's a pretty good PSA about the consequences of insanely bad parenting. Heavy-handed, yes, but nothing if not visceral.

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