UK Release Date – TBC
What’s in a joke? There’s a lot to be said for a classic setup and punchline but then again I also have a soft spot for weird and random left field nonsense. That being said when a film opens with a town sheriff reaching for revolver cartridges and instead finds a used condom in his pocket, I really didn’t know what to think. This I’m afraid is one of those kind of comedies, where most of the intended humour is derived from oddball actors, juvenile dialogue and sexual references. It’s also a story about supernatural powers bringing dolls to life. Are the dolls sex toys? Well, no. Unfortunately that might be too clever for this script. It’s funny, but usually not ha-ha funny.
The story begins on Halloween night 1976, as the police try to stop unseen forces running amok in the eponymous factory. Right away there’s something off about this, and it’s not just because of the scratched film effects being overlaid onto a bland and over-lit digital movie. Maybe it’s the way that the chaos was caused by a home made Necronomicon, with the word ‘Spells’ painted on the front. I’m all for independent film makers taking inspiration from low budget classics, and I’m always going to give everyone a fair shot in case they’re the next Sami Raimi. But this misses the mark by a considerable margin I’m afraid.
Instead of building up the atmosphere and hinting at what threats lie ahead it goes straight for the sex jokes, which is par for the course. Lurid green lighting aside it really doesn’t have a lot of spookiness. Things don’t improve as the story jumps forward to a costume party in the present day. In fact they get worse as we’re treated to dialogue intended to emulate the way drunk teenagers talk. The cast, including those intended as the protagonists, are not an endearing bunch. They just talk about who is screwing who, and how to stop one of their clique making out with an ugly girl. Maybe it’s so that we enjoy their deaths later on? Which is at least a highlight of the film if I’m totally honest.
The gang discuss the same ancient spell book, apparently found in a closet in their house. Why? Who knows. It’s never clear why it’s not still owned by the man who stopped this the first time around, or how one girl’s ‘Wiccan’ knowledge helps her read it. It’s a film that relies on the absurd for most of its internal logic, which at times is a positive but in some instances just feels sloppy. It’s often just a farcical soap opera in between all of the splatter effect sequences, and as the teenagers hold hands and draw a pentagram on the floor it’s obvious what will happen next. Which luckily is nice and gruesome.
The guys behind the special effects really love a good old half-head decapitation, which happens multiple times. Despite their tiny size the killer dolls that are re-animated have a lot of strength, tripping full size adults or holding them down and also using all kinds of weapons. The animation and expressiveness of the puppets is frankly quite poor, but there’s just enough gore to carry most of the kills. The deaths are mostly creative too, with various severed body parts standing out amongst the carnage. Tonally it’s all just as abrasive when the dolls make random quips in various cutesy voices, and some scenes where they smoke pot or talk to drunken house wives feel like part of another movie.
If this was all much darker they’d be a better fit for the typical comedy based sequel movies like this often have. But it’s stupid and it’s bloody, so there’s something to like here at least. The human element on the other hand is a total flatline even when they try and give the characters some motivation. Melvin (Andy Palmer) is the computer nerd whose knowledge of sword and sorcery clichés (kind of) helps later, while Darius (Gay Boo) is the old recluse forced to help read the ancient rites one last time. At least I think that’s the idea. Darius is supposed to have been dressing as Santa for Halloween and accidentally glued on a fake beard he can’t remove. But it feels like the dialogue was added at the last minute when someone saw the old man hair wasn’t good enough, and they still used it.
In the end the central romance between Kay (Nicole Elliott) and Mark (Justin Herman) is about as convincing as this appliance, which is what kills the movie. Well on top of all the bad jokes. As a diminutive monster movie there are obligatory nods to Gremlins, but with an oven instead of a microwave which spoils the effect. If you have to wonder if the cooker was pre-heated during the fracas, the narrative isn’t doing its job. A sudden turn towards the end as the puppet master arrives might have made this all more compelling, but even with a Russian accent it’s just more of the same crass dialogue. It’s just not fun despite constantly going for that outrageously lewd tone, and when comedy doesn’t land it just becomes exhausting.