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Mondo Macabro presents
Living Doll (1990)

"Howie, she's dead. Nothing you can do will bring her back."
- Jess (Gary Martin)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 11, 2005

Stars: Mark Jax, Katie Orgill, Gary Martin
Other Stars: Freddie Earlle, Eartha Kitt
Director: Peter Litten, George Dugdale

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, gore, sexual humor, nudity, disturbing imagery, necrophilia)
Run Time: 01h:35m:09s
Release Date: July 26, 2005
UPC: 843276011895
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BAB+ B+

DVD Review

Necrophilia isn't your standard issue subject matter for a comedy, or even a horror film, for that matter. Only a handful of pictures, like Jrg Buttgereit's Nekromantik, have dared to go there at all. This surprising entry from schlock producer Dick Randall (in fact one of his last films) takes the theme and runs with it, making for a memorable and often darkly funny tale of obsession and desperate thwarted love.

Medical student Howard Adams (Mark Jax) works in the Metropolitan Hospital morgue in New York City, along with his wiseacre friend Jess (Gary Martin). Howie has a thing for attractive blonde Christine (Katie Orgill), who runs the flower shop at the hospital, but she doesn't know he's alive. One morning Howie is shocked to find that Christine is one of the new bodies in the morgue, having been killed in an accident by her jerkish boyfriend Steve (Marcel Grant). Howie decides that the best thing for all concerned is if he robs Christine's grave and takes her home, convinced that she's just cataleptic. Things go from bad to worse as she begins to decay, while in Howard's mind she is telling him she wants revenge on Steve.

It's a completely insane story, and the lurid effects work on Christine's decaying corpse help magnify the insanity. Orgill doesn't do the best job of playing dead, often visibly breathing though there are some efforts to disguise it with modestly strobing lights. While the thematic material is certainly only for those with demented tastes, it's pulled off exceedingly well. The humor is unforced and flows naturally from the horrific aspects of the film, such as the men in moon suits brought in to investigate the smell in Howard's apartment. The aspect of Howard seeing Christine as she was instead of how she is (which screenwriter Paul Hart-Wilden acknowledges in the extras was a significant improvement over his version) keeps our sympathies with Howard, even when he's completely off the deep end. The weird obsessiveness is underlined by the theme song, Cliff Richard's twisted tune of manic love of the same name, performed by Martin.

The casting makes this picture work, as Jax turns in a terrific performance as an obsessive who is at least clinging to outward signs of functioning in society. His interactions with his boss Ed (Freddie Earlle), the live Christine, and Steve all ring very true, although Jess seems to be a little too accommodating of his friend and going a bit too far to keep him out of trouble. One wild casting coup was bringing Eartha Kitt into the production, and she's very memorable as Howard's harridan of a landlady. She gives a snarling delivery to every line that is pretty frightening in and of itself.

Definitely not everyone's cup of tea, this was originally released direct to video. But despite its offbeat subject matter, it's head and shoulders in quality above your usual DTV material. Production values are excellent, the effects are convincing for the most part (most notably a particularly gruesome autopsy sequence that is very cringe-inducing) and the acting more than carries the weight that the film asks of it. Those with strong stomachs who enjoy dark and morbid comedies will find a lot to like here.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Although this was released direct to video, the widescreen framing seems to be perfect. I suspect this may have been slated for a theatrical release but the subject matter could have put off distributors. On this Mondo Macabro release, there is absolutely no trace of edge enhancement, ringing or artifacting to be seen. Color is vivid (though stylized) and black levels are rich. The transfer is taken from the original negative, and thus features tons of detail and texture. The only defects of any note were two quick but noticeable splices.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original 1.0 mono sounds fine, if a little shrill at times. In quieter moments a little crackle can be heard on the soundtrack, but considering the low-budget origins of the picture this sounds much better than acceptable. The convincing nature of the soundtrack is confirmed by the fact my dog was fooled by the sound effects into thinking someone was at the door more than once.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Short film Horrorshow
Extras Review: Since the first volume in the Dick Randall Collection from Mondo Macabro included a full documentary on the producer, this second volume covers some slightly different ground. One has to respect the studio for not taking the cheap and easy way out and just rehashing that effort. First are a set of onscreen production notes and a trailer. A documentary and a featurette, both titled Dawn of the Doll cover the feature presentation in some depth. The longer of the two (18m:10s) is an interview with the original writer, who discusses influences such as Ed Gein and a 1930s case that mirrors the basic storyline here. Star Mark Jax also discusses his fondness for the picture and his recollections of the production in an 8m:41s featurette. A lengthy (51m:58s) promotional piece for another Randall horror, Don't Open Till Christmas, provides a substantial look behind the scenes of a Randall production, and he's there wheeling and dealing in the flesh. Writer David MacGillivray reads from his diary relevant excerpts dealing with his work with Randall on a sexy cable TV pilot, mostly relating his problems in getting paid. Substantial still galleries with promotional art are worth going through. Finally, there's an amateur but nonetheless disturbing short film, Horrorshow, by Hart-Wilden. It's a pretty comprehensive package (and in some respects feels a little like reaching for material). It's certainly fully packed.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Though there's deep and enduring love, this probably doesn't rate as a good date movie. But it is a surprisingly entertaining and somewhat loopy look at a forbidden topic. The transfer is excellent, and the extras are voluminous.


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