Sunday, 8 June 2008

Devil Doll (1964)

Devil Doll is an almost forgotten 1964 British horror movie, one of that intriguing sub-genre of horror movies dealing with ventriloquists and ventriloquists’ dummies. The classic of this sub-genre is of course the memorable sequence in the 1945 omnibus film Dead of Night, with Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist. Devil Doll adds its own unique twist to the sub-genre.

The Great Vorelli has a spectacularly successful stage act involving both ventriloquism and hypnotism. His dummy, Hugo, seems much more human than any dummy has a right to be, even appearing to walk around on his own during the act. He also seems to be engaged in a battle of wills with Vorelli. This is of course all part of the act – or is it? The Great Vorelli uses his exceptional hypnotic powers for other purposes besides show business – seducing beautiful women being one of those purposes. When Vorelli starts to take an interest in an attractive heiress, Marianne Horn, his aim is not merely to seduce her, but to get his hands on her money as well. Her boyfriend is a nosy reporter, already suspicious of Vorelli, and becoming steadily more suspicious as Marianne falls under the hypnotist’s spell. His suspicions lead him to Berlin where he uncovers the bizarre story behind the relationship between Vorelli and his dummy.

Devil Doll is rather slow-paced even for 1964, there’s no action and little overt horror. Given that it’s also in black-and-white it’s probably not surprising that it’s been overshadowed by the more sensational and more colourful films being made at that time by studios such as Hammer. In fact Devil Doll in its own unassuming way is quite a good horror film. Bryant Haliday is creepily charismatic as Vorelli, William Sylvester is solid as the inquisitive reporter boyfriend, and Yvonne Romain is delightful as Marianne. The effects are very simple but those involving the dummy work extremely well, but this is a movie that relies mostly on a slow build-up of tension and psychological horror as the truth behind the Great Vorelli is slowly revealed. Made on a very low budget, but with great care and considerable skill, this movie delivers the goods.

The Region 4 DVD includes two versions of the movie, one of them being the “racier” continental version including a striptease sequence that was probably quite hot stuff in 1964. It also includes an entertaining commentary track with film historian Tom Weaver talking to producer Richard Gordon. If you’re a fan of ventriloquism horror then Devil Doll is an absolute must-see, and even if you’re not it’s still most definitely worth a look.

No comments: