Starring Jared Kusnitz, Gabrielle Lynn, Kristyn Green, Anna Alicia Brock, Brian Lloyd, Scott Seymour, Ken Lyle, Hannah Marks
Directed by Charles Band
Expectations: Moderate. The puppets look interesting, but this is from the same year as the horrid Gingerdead Man.
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
Doll Graveyard has perhaps one of my favorite and most fucked up setups in all of the Full Moon catalog. It’s also pretty implausible in the way that it turns into a horror movie, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s fun. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: fun overrides nearly everything in a low-budget movie. There are cases where the negative aspects are too overwhelming, but in Doll Graveyard the fun wins out easily. You can actively feel the point in the movie where the battle between good sense and fun collides, but thankfully Charles Band knew to keep this one short and sweet, so we’re in and out in about 71 minutes (12 of which are opening and closing credits).
So what’s that setup I started telling you about? Well, Doll Graveyard opens with a little girl playing with some exaggerated stereotype dolls in the entryway to her house. She’s got the full set: Ooga Booga, the African tribesman complete with a bone through his nose; a german soldier I took to calling “The Kaiser”; a shriveled-face, haunted looking samurai; and a porcelain baby doll. The girl breaks a vase and her father comes down the stairs, immediately verbally abusing her for playing in an area she’s been forbidden to play in. He takes her into the backyard and makes her bury her dolls. But here’s the kicker: the girl slips and falls into the hole she’s dug, hitting her head on the way down, and the father coldly looks at crumpled body and fills in the hole!
From here the film moves into safe, traditional horror territory, becoming something of a derivative hybrid of the Puppet Master series and every “horny teenagers in a house” horror movie there ever was. The dark strength of the initial premise was more than enough to keep the film rolling through the roadblocks of convention for me, though. And really, without the tried and true conventions, what kind of horror movies would we have? It’s not about pointing out that a film follows a formula, it’s about knowing that formula and having fun with it, and Doll Graveyard definitely has fun with it. It does start to wear out its welcome towards the end, but overall it’s a lot of fun.
2005 was definitely not the glory days for Full Moon, so it’s impressive how handsomely produced and well-acted Doll Graveyard is. Hell, even some of their more recent films (I’m looking at you Killer Eye: Halloween Haunt) don’t look as good as this! In 1999 Full Moon produced 18 films, but by 2004 that number was down to a single film. Doll Graveyard was part of the 2005 rebuilding of the Full Moon brand, and while it apparently wasn’t successful enough to warrant a sequel, it was probably successful enough to help the company stay afloat to release their next film, The Gingerdead Man, which was very, very successful for them. One year later, saw the release of the original Evil Bong (again, very successful), thus ushering in a new era of Full Moon entertainment!
I was really surprised by the acting in Doll Graveyard; it was a million times better than I expected it to be. I’m shocked to find out that Gabrielle Lynn (who played the lead female) hasn’t worked before or since. She was good! In fact, everyone was good! Their characters definitely aren’t the most likable — OK, they aren’t likable at all — but their acting felt natural and was a definite cut above a lot of other modern Full Moon releases. I actually believed that Brian Lloyd was a complete douche-bag asshole, but I’m sure he’s really a nice guy!
The FX are also pretty great. The puppeteering was better than I had expected it to be, and might even be better than the last two Puppet Master films! It’s definitely not the Dave Allen, stop-motion heyday or anything, but for 2005 the puppets are really well-constructed and move rather fluidly. They also added some CG eye blinks to the dolls, which look excellent and go a long way to making the idea of living dolls believable. I’d like to imagine George Lucas relaxing with this film and then getting the “brilliant” idea to go back and add CG blinking eyes to the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi for the latest Blu-ray release. I don’t really know any better, so I’m just going to assume that’s what happened.
Doll Graveyard isn’t a genre great, or even a second-tier favorite, but it is fun for people inclined to enjoy low-budget stuff like this. The puppets are uniquely designed, and while Charles Band has definitely mined the “dolls coming to life and murdering people” genre to death, I still love the Puppet Master movies enough to also enjoy this knock-off. For modern era Full Moon films, this is definitely one of the highlights.
Next week on Full Moon Tuesday, I’ll be reviewing the latest Moonbeam film to hit a Redbox near you, The Tiny Kingdom (originally known as The Secret Kingdom)!