Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Doll From Hell (1996)

Original title: 生贄

A group of criminals under a female boss traipse through a wooded mountain area in search of a former partner carrying a case full of drugs. Some of their activities are witnessed by one of the twin daughters of a doll-maker living in the area. The only answer to that is obviously death. Unfortunately, the idiot thugs kill the wrong daughter, leaving the doll maker bereft. However, the murdered daughter was doomed to die of what I assume to be consumption anyway, so the doll maker has made a life-sized doll that looks kinda-sorta (or in the words of the film: “exactly”) like her. And wouldn’t you know it, he uses the forbidden soul transference spell that has been part of the family tradition for ages to transfer his dead daughter’s soul into the doll, so that she can live on in it, sacrificing his own life in the process.

There’s a little problem with the doll being mute, creepy, lacking in any sense of ethical behaviour and only kept alive by somehow sucking peoples’ blood through her fingertips, but fortunately, the thugs’ drugs (this rhyme was provided to you by a glass of wine) end up in the doll maker’s house, so there are somewhat proper blood-sucking targets available. The doll’s twin is hiding away there too, swearing bloody vengeance against the thugs and showing a real talent for causing eye trauma.

Shinobu Murata’s little horror film is not one of the truly brilliant gems of Japanese V-Cinema (that is, direct-to-video etc film). Too frayed and vague is its plot in its first third, too much time is needed for the 75 minute film to actually get going, and too broad is the acting by a lot of people whose faces but not names you’ll know when you’ve seen a few of these films.

Saying a film isn’t brilliant is not the same as saying there’s nothing worthwhile about it, though: it is impossible for me to not find at least a small spot in my heart for a film whose second half commits to lighting every single scene in the traditional colours of Mario Bava and Dario Argento: that red, this green, and yonder purple, turning somewhat bland sets (though at least they are full of manikins) a bit dream-like and a bit strange, though it’s a very cheap kind of dream. The doll sister is pretty creepy too, once she finally gets moving, that is, and while the effects certainly aren’t convincing, they are enthusiastic and presented with a degree of conviction.

The script, once the entertaining second half starts, isn’t completely lacking in interest either, and certainly not in ambition. An example: we learn that one of the yakuza (played by Kazuyoshi Ozawa, I think) was a sculptor in his former life, until he murdered another sculptor out of jealousy for his more beautiful art, and only escaped jail because the girl boss convinced her father (who must probably be a major yakuza boss, movie lore tells me) to safe him, leaving the sculptor now turned yakuza (it obviously works like vampirism) as her property and official (fuck) doll. In the end, he’ll confront the doll sister with his own doll-hood, somewhat convincing her that they both should die because they aren’t actual living human beings anymore. While the scene isn’t terribly well written or acted, it certainly leads to a more interesting and less generic finale for the sort of film this is, with shots of the doll slowly wandering into the nearby lake reaching a certain folkloric beauty. Which is then followed by a silly yet decently realized – and very classic – final shock that does of course fit everything else that has been going on not at all.

Still, the second half absolutely makes Doll From Hell a worthwhile watch if you have the patience to slog through its beginning. This certainly isn’t a film only going through the motions, and given that Murata certainly wasn’t expected by anyone to do more than just that, I mark this down as a win.

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