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Devil Doll

Devil Doll
Image Entertainment
1964 / B&W / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 81 min. / Street Date September 3, 2002 / $24.99
Starring Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain, Karel Stepanek, Francis de Wolff
Cinematography Gerald Gibbs
Production Designer Stan Shield
Film Editor Ernest Bullingham
Written by Lance Z. Hargreaves, George Barclay from a story by Frederick E. Smith
Produced by Richard Gordon, Kenneth Rive, Lindsay Shonteff
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

At first glance Devil Doll would seem to be a ripoff of the classic Michael Redgrave episode in the omnibus film Dead of Night (1946). The ventriloquist's dummy is named Hugo, but besides that likeness, this horror film goes its own way. It's one of Richard Gordon's better productions - no classic, but with its fair share of effective scenes.


American reporter Mark English (William Sylvester) attempts to get an exposé on how magician/hypnotist The Great Vorelli (Bryant Haliday) manages his stage illusions, but is foiled when Vorelli sets his attention on English's girlfriend Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain). Vorelli's dummy Hugo seems to have a mind of its own, and the ability to walk ... and for reasons that Mark can't get anyone to believe, even after Vorelli puts Marianne in a coma-like trance.

The Great Vorelli is sort of an all-purpose theatrical man of mystery, and Bryant Haliday certainly makes the serious, sinister side of the character work. The mad magician is perpetually intense, but lacks in detail - even Hannibal Lecter had a sense of humor. Vorelli's haughty, cold manner is the same whether he's flattering a hostess or hypnotizing Yvonne Romain into having sex with him. His stage show combines impossible hypnotism with impossible ventriloquism - Hugo walks, talks and otherwise is so obviously a midget, that we have to take it on faith that the audience is accepting it all as magic or something. As a villain, Vorelli is kind of a cross between The Shadow and Svengali ... using skills learned from an 'Eastern' cult to transfer souls.

But Vorelli's talent we see mostly here is his letchery, telling a hypnotized audience volunteer to perform a striptease on stage (a really obnoxious scene unique to the racy 'continental' version), and of course taking lewd advantage of Ms. Romain. As a scene, the striptease doesn't work, because any theater audience, not only an English one, would be outraged by the idea of the volunteer being so abused.

The story engine is the reporter's search for Vorelli's secret, which involves some research help from another reporter in Germany (cueing more nudity for the sexy cut). A connection to the magician's past uncovers the mysterious disappearance of one of Vorelli's old show partners. But mostly of the action is William Sylvester (an American transplant to England, notable in 2001 and Gorgo) talking on phones and fretting about Yvonne, in between Vorelli's performances. Hammer favorite Romain, from Curse of the Werewolf and Circus of Horrors, does well enough with a slight part. She performs a nice twist dance session under hypnosis that shows her able to smile and otherwise loosen up a bit, but is rather ignored at the conclusion while the film concentrates on its big 'twist' finale. Familiar faces Karel Stepanek and Francis de Wolff play doctors with opposing opinions about the reality of Vorelli's illusions.

Hugo the doll is a close double, design-wise, for the Hugo of Dead of Night. In this case, it's the hypnotist dominating the doll, instead of the other way around, but other strange bits mirror the Cavalcanti-directed older show, such as the face of a dummy being ground under the heel of an attacker.

Richard Gordon's production is thin but adequate, and Lindsay Shonteff's television-style blocking of the actors keeps scenes from becoming too flat or static. Clever angles and lighting disguise the fact that Vorelli's full house performances never show more than a dozen or so dress extras. Odd transitions to negative are used to indicate some kind of mysterious power behind Vorelli's commanding eyes. They don't suggest anything pre-psychedelic, as some reviewers have put forth, but signal that Vorelli is indeed employing some kind of supernatural powers.

Image Entertainment's DVD of Devil Doll is a horror fan's perfect treat. There are two complete versions of the film, and the although the scenes in the Continental version aren't as well-integrated as those in the earlier Image disc The Flesh and the Fiends, enthusiasts will be impressed by the completeness of the package. A very informative commentary puts producer Richard Gordon opposite our favorite interviewer Tom Weaver, and the interesting details come at a snappy pace. Actor Bryant Haliday, for instance, was one of the founders of Janus Films. We also find out that Yvonne Romain later married composer Leslie Bricusse. The IMDB lists Sidney J. Furie as an uncredited director, which Gordon corroborates rather backhandedly - acknowledging that Furie was there 'behind the scenes', but claiming that the film was still Shonteff's. Mr. Weaver also provides liner notes, and galleries of stills and an American trailer round out the package. Interestingly, the English titles are plain block letters, replaced card-for-card with designed graphic lettering for the American version. Mr. Gordon released the film independently with Joe Solomon in the United States in order to retain rights, and did a good job of it: I remember it playing in my backwater city with a solid campaign.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Devil Doll rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Two Versions, trailer, still and ad art gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 6, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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