Saturday, November 14, 2009

'Blood Dolls' is hilariously perverse

Blood Dolls (1999)
Starring: Debra Mayer, Jack Maturin, William Paul Burns, William Draper and Phil Fondacaro
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When an alliance of shady business people threaten to bankrupt reclusive billionaire Virgil Travis (Maturin), Travis sets about gaining bloody revenge upon them, using his trusty clown-makeup-wearing assassin and ordained minister Mr. Mascaro (Burns) and a trio of living killer dolls, the Blood Dolls of the title.

"Blood Dolls" is perhaps one of the most unusual movies that has issued forth from the mind of Charles Band. it is also possibly one of the purest manifestations of his creativity as he handled the producing, scripting, and directing of the film. The end result is perhaps the best movie to bear his name in the past ten years, and justifiable one of his personal favorites among all the movies he's been involved in.

There are some movies that a reviewer can ruin if he says too much about what happens in it; "Blood Dolls is one of those movies. Part of what makes it such an interesting experience is the strange and bizarre characters that populate it and revealing the secrets they hide or the fates they suffer as the film unfolds will rob it of much of its impact... as the main joy of watching this movie is its bizarreness. (In fact, even watching the preview reveals some things about the movie that viewers should come to cold.)

I will say this: If you liked the overall tone of "Head of the Family," you're going to get a kick out of "Blood Dolls." The same is true if you're a fan of the writings of the late Steve Gerber.

This film features an unusual mix of genres being spoofed (in this case, erotic thrillers, John Grisham-type dramas, and Band's own tiny terror films) and social satire that gives it a completely unique feel. It also has a (for a Full Moon/Charles Band movie) unusual, Gerber-esque theme running through it--that everyone wears masks and no-one is who they seem.

From the semi-protagonist Virgil Travis--there really aren't any traditional "good guys" in this film (who wears a mask to hide a most unusual deformity) to his most trusted henchman, Mr. Mascaro--(who feels that his real face is the clown make-up he wears unless he's "in disguise") to Travis's main adversaries, Mr. and Mrs. Yulin (who wear the most elaborate masks of all) to Travis' Blood Dolls, none of the main characters in this film are quite who or what they seem. (And, just to take the masks and deceptive appearances a step further, Mr. Mascaro plants evidence to convince the world that a man who is described as the "most heterosexual of all of us" was killed during a homosexual rendezvous, forcing a deception/mask upon someone else.) This running theme adds a very interesting dimension to the film.

Please don't assume that this is an "intellectual" horror film or comedy just because it's got an interesting subtext. It is not. The primary reason to watch the movie is to watch a billionaire freak so rich and crazy that he's got a goth-rock band trapped in a room that provides his life with a oh-demand soundtrack; to watch his midget major domo demand they perform properly ("Play #6! Louder! Louder!") and apply electrical shocks to them when they don't; and to watch Mr. Mascaro and the Blood Dolls execute Travis plan of revenge... unless they get outsmarted by the equally mysterious and strange Mr. & Mrs. Yulin. The bit with the masks is just the frosting on this very strange cake, like the social satire and deeper messages were added value to the monster stories Steve Gerber wrote for "Man-Thing" and "Tales of the Zombie".

Also, don't assume that the presense of Charles Band's trademark tiny terrors makes this an inferior copy of "Puppet Master" or "Dolls". You might be prone to think that way if you've seen "Doll Graveyard", but you'd be wrong. The dolls of the title play a relatively minor role in the film, their presence being little more than an excuse for Band to create and market tie-in merchandise (which he did, in the form of a Pimp Doll. I'm even prone to think the film might have been better if Band had stayed clear of his usual impulse and simply made Mr. Mascaro the lone assassin in the film and given him a range of unusual weapons. This film is more about characters than the vast majority of Band's movies, and the dolls detract more than they add.

(The girlband and their songs is another manifestation of Band's dreams of tie-in products; he had intended to create a record label and he was going to release a CD, but they fell through However, they fit seamlessly and hilariously into the film. The Blood Dolls, while amusing, do not.)

No one will ever mistake "Blood Dolls" for "Citizen Kane", but it one of Charles Band's best solo efforts to date. It's a film that you can feel comfortable about adding to the line-up of any Bad Movie Night, and it is bound to surprise and amaze those in attendance. (Oh... and anyone fanatical about political correctness is bound to turn purple with rage at the sight of the Blood Dolls, so that's another reason to get a copy of the film.)

Watch the preview for "Blood Dolls",
courtesy of Full Moon and YouTube...