Stuart Gordon's Dolls from Scream Factory (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

For my money, Dolls is the best of Stuart Gordon's non-Lovecraftian adaptations, and maybe even better than one or two of those. It already received a pretty nice DVD from MGM, with an excellent OAR transfer and two strong audio commentaries. But still, a special edition with no video extras (i.e. any documentaries, deleted scenes, interviews) feels a little incomplete. So I was happy to see Scream Factory filling that gap when it came time for their blu-ray upgrade.
This film has more of an almost family-friendly, children's' story feel to it, even though it's still a pretty gruesome story. It's a dark and stormy night when a little girl, her father and wicked stepmother (played to the hilt by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) wind up having to spend the night with a creepy old couple who live in an old, isolated mansion with no telephone. The house is full of Victorian-style porcelain dolls because the old man is a toymaker living in seclusion. A cheerful salesman (Stephen Lee, who you probably remember from Gordon's Pit & the Pendulum) soon also arrives with two colorful punk rock hitchhikers, and they wind up stirring the dolls, who are actually little killer monsters who have a really negative reaction to rude behavior.
Dolls has an interesting production history I didn't realize until watching the extras. Apparently, as they were about to begin filming From Beyond, Charles Band gave him the script to Dolls and asked him to shoot it on the same sets first. So that's why it's not written by Gordon's usual guy, Dennis Paoli (though Brian Yuzna is still on board as a producer). And even though he shot it first, it didn't come out until after From Beyond, because the film took so long in post-production, adding insert shots and especially David Allen's awesome stop-motion imagery of living dolls. Everything here is just about having fun with the horror genre, often with a very classic, early Hollywood feel. The fantasy sequence at the beginning with the killer teddy bear is worth the price of admission alone, one of my favorite horror moments as a kid that still plays just as well watching it again today.

Scream Factory's blu looks great, but they really didn't have to do much beyond taking MGM's already top notch transfer from their original DVD and putting it on blu. Amusingly, MGM's original DVD was also a two-sided flipper disc, with a fullscreen version on the other side, so we can look at that, too.
Scream Factory blu on top; MGM DVD on bottom.
Scream Factory's 16x9 blu is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, just like MGM's DVD was. It's clearly the same transfer, with identical framing, colors, etc. Scream's blu obviously benefits from the upgrade to high definition though, of course, making everything clearer, smoother and more attractive, which helps especially in a film like this, with a heightened, stylized look. There is some weird ghosting going on during the stop motion scenes, but it's ONLY during the stop motion scenes, so it's probably just how the effects were originally put together, because they felt the stop motion would look more fluid that way. Anyway, it does the same thing on both releases, so we're stuck with it either way.
Scream Factory blu on top; MGM DVD (widescreen side) in middle; MGM DVD (fullscreen side) on bottom.
The full screen version is one of those semi-open matte deals, like we just saw with Star 80. It gives us a little more information vertically, along the bottom. But it cuts off chunks of the sides, too. I suppose they're trying their best to make it look good for 4.3 TVs by splitting the difference; but it winds up being less interesting than a standard open matte, as it doesn't even give us so much more picture for curiosity's sake. It's just a bland compromise, so I really don't mind seeing it go for the blu.
Scream Factory ported over both commentaries from MGM's old DVD. The first is a really informative one by Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Ed Naha. And the second one is a more upbeat cast commentary by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stephen Lee, Ian Patrick Williams and Carrie Lorraine, who played the little girl. The latter might've benefited from a moderator, as it often gets stuck when the actors can't think of anything to say; but they do have a lot of interesting anecdotes and insights when they start gathering momentum. Scream Factory also retained the other bits and bobs, too, including the trailer, a photo gallery and storyboard comparison.

But the highlight is that they've also created a new 30 minute retrospective documentary called Toys of Terror: The Making of Dolls, featuring interviews with Stuart Gordon, Charles Band, Brian Yuzna, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Ian Patrick Williams, effects artists Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale, and John Vulich. It really does add a lot of depth to the release, and while it IS sometimes a little redundant, repeating facts and stories that we already heard in the commentaries, it's kind of fun to hear how Gordon's story of inspiration has changed over the years. In the commentary, he and his wife talk about how he was looking at a collection of very old dolls late at night in a museum and thought to himself, wouldn't it be scary if he'd gotten locked inside? In the documentary, he flat out says he was locked inside and had to spend the night in the museum with the dolls. Maybe someday when 400k media comes out, we'll get to hear him talk in a new interview about how the dolls in the museum really came to life and he had to fight his way out!  ;-)
Scream Factory's blu also features a bonus trailer for Phantom of the Paradise. And MGM's DVD also had a bonus commercial for their horror line of DVDs and opened with one of those annoying "YOU WOULDN'T STEAL A HANDBAG" [silly, how else do they think I pay for all their DVDs?] anti-piracy commercials, so it's nice to be rid of that. But on the other hand, the DVD had optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish, while Scream just has the English. But the blu has both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS audio, while the DVD just has standard Dolby stereo. Scream's blu also has reversible artwork and a slipcover with their typical comic book-style cover, which I don't think suit these movies.

All told, it's just a solid, all-around upgrade. It's not some fancy restoration, since we didn't need one here. It's simply the basic boost from SD to HD, plus a nice, new documentary to sweeten the deal. It's a very good release for a very good movie. If you're not too rigid about upgrading all your blus to DVD, this one might be close enough, since it's the same transfer. But for techies, it's an essential upgrade; and for serious Dolls fans, that doc may be difficult to resist.

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