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Image Entertainment presents
Devil Doll (1963)

"Make him stop. He's calling me....Make him stop."
- Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 11, 2002

Stars: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain
Other Stars: Sandra Dorne, Nora Nicholson, Alan Gifford, Karel Stepenek, Francis de Wolff
Director: Lindsay Shonteff

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, some gore, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:20m:45s
Release Date: September 03, 2002
UPC: 014381120523
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+C B+

DVD Review

Much as is the case with clowns, ventriloquist's dummies have a built-in creepiness. This fact has been well-exploited in such horror films as Dead of Night (1945) and William Goldman's Magic, where dummies take control of their masters and wreak havoc. A somewhat different take is provided by Devil Doll, produced by Richard Gordon, who a few years earlier had done the classic Boris Karloff pictures The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood.

American journalist in London Mark English (William Sylvester) is assigned to do a story on hypnotist/ventriloquist The Great Vorelli (Bryant Haliday). The mesmerist not only can influence people's minds, but he has a most extraordinary dummy, Hugo, that not only talks but appears to be able to move about of his own volition. Mark convinces his girlfriend, heiress Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain) to take part as a volunteer in Vorelli's show. When she does, he maintains a mental control over her that soon has her lapsing into comas and muttering portentous pleas. Meanwhile, Mark is puzzled by the methods used to make Hugo move, since surrepititious examination proves that it's merely a thing of plaster and sawdust. But why does Vorelli keep it in a cage?

The inherent creepiness of the dummy is magnified by the crudity of the title object. Even when inanimate, it has a sinister aspect that will induce shivers, despite its ridiculous shock of hair. Much of its movement is quite subtle, yet even a brief motion of the eyes is highly effective. Hugo's interactions with Vorelli are fraught with a tension that goes far beyond the standard Edgar Bergen banter; the hatred that the dummy and the ventriloquist bear each other is evident in nearly every scene that they share, often bitter to the point of discomfort. The climactic confrontation is edited in a wild, choppy style that invokes a feeling of madness itself.

Bryant Haliday is excellent as Vorelli, combining smarmy sleaziness with the impression of indomitable will. William Sylvester, best known as Dr. Heywood Floyd in 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a serviceable if nondescript hero; one imagines that Marianne might well throw over such a person for a magnetic man such as Vorelli. Romain is plausible enough as the heroine, convincingly giving the impression of being brought under the influence of the mesmerist.

There are some logical flaws, such as how when Vorelli's assistant Magda (Sandra Dorne) turns up murdered, Vorelli doesn't seem to be a suspect even though his alibi is shaky at best. However, the end result is highly effective, creepy and guaranteed to raise some shivers. Despite its low budget, the picture manages to pull the viewer in, with an often disturbing mood. The print used is the UK version, with a moment of fleeting nudity probably not present in the US prints.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer generally looks terrific. The black & white picture has an excellent range of tones and a ton of detail throughout. The weakest point is the houndstooth suit worn by Marianne's doctor; it's an explosion of moiré artifacts. For the most part, the source print is in very nice condition, but every now and then (particularly at reel changes) speckles and scratches will briefly become somewhat heavy. However, this doesn't detract too badly from the lovely presentation here.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono audio has its ups and downs. Some segments are free of hiss, while others are rather noisy and crackly. The music and the crowd sequences all have a cheesy, distorted sound that no doubt is traceable to the original; dialogue and foley effects generally sound just fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by producer Richard Gordon and film historian Tom Weaver
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. publicity artwork and still gallery
Extras Review: Image presents a very nice package in support of the film. Foremost is a commentary by the producer, Richard Gordon, as he is interviewed by Tom Weaver. The latter helps keep the commentary moving along and preventing dead spaces, although it tends to result in a somewhat dry track. That's particularly true when Weaver stops to read off the bio of one or another of the cast. But on the whole it's interesting to hear Gordon discuss the making of the picture and how it took so long for such a low budget film to actually be made. They run out of things to say abruptly with nearly five minutes left to run. Weaver also contributes a lengthy text interview with the author of the short story on which the film was based in the accompanying booklet.

A second full-length version of the picture is presented on the second layer. This is the Continental version, with increased nudity and an additional scene in which Vorelli convinces a woman to disrobe on stage. However, it's at the expense of other material, since this version runs only 15 seconds longer than the UK version. The credit sequence is also in a different, less distinctive typeface.

Wrapping up the package is a decent copy of the US theatrical trailer, accompanied with a lengthy gallery of stills, behind-the-scenes shots and publicity ballyhoo materials, including a variety of bizarre double bills into which this film was stuck. Unfortunately the behind-the-scenes photos are unlabeled, leaving the viewer puzzled as to what he's seeing. On the positive side, the many dozens of stills are all generously windowboxed so nothing is lost to overscan.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A surprisingly effective low-budget chiller, given a nice transfer despite an occasionally dodgy source print. The extras are worthwhile and more than one would have expected for such a feature.


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