Blood Dolls (1999)

Starring Jack Maturin, Debra Mayer, William Paul Burns, Warren Draper, Nicholas Worth, Jodie Fisher, Phil Fondacaro, Naomi McClure

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Moderate, it sounds fun and it has Phil Fondacaro.

Where do I start with this fucking movie? Blood Dolls goes the trashy route and does its best to shock and awe the viewer into liking it. It’s truly a movie that will only appeal to the most demented group of people in the audience, which realistically is probably a large subset of the people who even give a shit about Full Moon movies. I unfortunately am not so keen on this particular brand of demented film, the “demented for the sake of being demented” variety. So far I’ve seen four Full Moon films from 1999, and with the exception of Mysterious Museum, they’ve all been of a similar poor quality which makes me wonder if this was the turning point year for their quality films. I do have to give Blood Dolls a lot of credit for trying, as the story is a bit more thought out than your general Charles Band affair, it has nice widescreen cinematography and it does feature actors you may know, such as Phil Fondacaro or that bald guy from Darkman (Nicholas Worth).

The story is fairly simple but a synopsis won’t do justice to the absurd nature of the goings-on. Basically there’s an eccentric millionaire Travis that has lost his fortune to a trio of conniving bastards who banded together and fucked him over. Being the eccentric, evil genius type though, he refuses to lie down and take it, instead creating a machine to transform people into subservient killer dolls. Why? Because this is a Charles Band movie and Band really has a hard-on for small things killing people. Also at his command is a butler/henchman dude that perpetually wears clown makeup (played by William Paul Burns, genuinely the best actor in the film), an eyepatch-sportin’ midget played by Phil Fondacaro and a girl rock band in a cage in the back of his office.

So with all these fucking ridiculous, gonzo elements at his disposal, you’d expect Band to craft an interesting, wacky film. Instead, I’m left cold and uninterested, actively wishing the film was about an hour shorter. The film definitely has its great points, such as Travis’s interesting situation involving wearing a mask around anyone new in order to protect his identity. It is later revealed that he wears the mask for another, hilarious reason that I won’t spoil here. The puppets are also fairly well designed and show a lot of promise. These strong points make Blood Dolls all the more frustrating though, because virtually everything else in the film is a disappointment.

I’m a huge Phil Fondacaro fan. What I’ve seen of his work is excellent and the guy shows serious acting chops. If Blood Dolls was my first time seeing him though, I’d never know it because he pretty much does nothing in the entire movie other than yell a song number at the caged girl band and hit them with a cattle prod. He just stands in the background the rest of the time, waiting for Travis to yell a number at him so he can then relay the number to the band. What a flagrant waste of talent. This is the kind of insidious shit that really gets under my skin, because Band must know that by putting Fondacaro in the film he’s going to get all the fanboys wet with excitement, and it’s such a disrespect to the fans and Fondacaro himself to have him be sidelined like this.

In terms of FX, the film is also a disappointment. Most of the kills are done off-camera so that the budget doesn’t get spent on FX artists, foam latex and fake blood. Boo. There are filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock that will purposefully cut away from the kills to increase the suspense or the tension of the film, but Band is no Hitchcock. There is quite a bit of puppet work in the film though, but let’s just say the days of Dave Allen’s high-quality, smooth puppeteering seen in the first few Puppet Master films are long gone. The puppet’s arms move like they need a good dose of WD40, jerking up and down with an “It’s good enough” attitude instead of the natural, smooth movement you’d expect to see. Is it that hard to build puppet joints that move with ease? At least the puppets look pretty good, which is a real saving grace for a lot of the shitty puppet movement scenes.

What I did really enjoy was the film’s playful score by Ricardo Bizzetti. It evokes a real 80s Richard Band feel and I love it. All the more surprising is that Blood Dolls is Bizzetti’s first screen credit of only two films! His music is perfectly suited for this type of low-budget film and I’m surprised he doesn’t have more credits to his name. The girl rock songs on the other hand were pretty annoying. The main offender was “Kill, Pussy, Kill” which has great music that perfectly complements the tense infiltration scene it scores, but the relentless chorus of “Kill, Pussy, Kill” is just childish and stupid. As my girlfriend noted, it’s like they were just adding keywords over the images in order to fire more of the demented viewer’s synapses. “Hehehehe, they said pussy!” Please.

Overall, Blood Dolls is trashy as fuck and really not worth your time. Unless you enjoy this type of playfully demented trash film, in which case you probably don’t need a critical review of the film to recommend films like this to you.

Next week, I need a change of pace so I’m going back to the well of Empire’s 80s comedies with the rare film, The Princess Academy!

6 comments to Blood Dolls (1999)

  • he he…. you said pussy.

    I get it, though. this film is crap-trash-ular, and yet people continue to spend money making more like it. I shake my head sometimes. I really do.

  • Dan

    Good read Will but I think…predictably…I’ll give this one a miss.

  • Peter

    Hi Will. I’ve enjoyed reading some of your Full Moon reviews.
    I disagree with this one though.
    For me, this is one of Full Moon’s standout films. And in general a standout film that almost has no comparison in its quirky differences.
    I thought it fulfilled being an interesting, wacky film. With the horror almost bordering on the hilarious, which coloured all the demented parts for me, there should be no limit to the dementednes, and therefore fun!
    For my taste, the worst film for this offense you feel was Neighborhood Watch (2005)
    aka “Deadly End,” which I found as as nasty, dry, and unappealing as a dog biscuit – come out the other end.

    I thought Phil Fondacaro was chosen to play the quintessential dwarf slave – almost a puppet himself – and fit this one big freak show well. Yes, bad taste, but funny taste too.
    From the first appearance of the wonderfully-named Mr. Mascaro, wearing clown make-up opening the door to normal people in suits, the tone was set for this bizarre movie.
    Thankfully, even the preview did not give away Virgil’s secret. That was a refreshing change.

    I’m actually glad there is no blood and gore for once, elevating this to more of an art movie! Haha. It really is like a David Lynch movie, but with a plot and structure, and without the infuriation and boredom I feel with his.
    And I think budget may have played a part, so is a fine trade-off.
    Also glad the stop-motion could be ommitted, nice as it is in Pupper Master, because there is no chance of reality being taken away. I saw it as an upgrade, thought it was really a downgrade.
    Don’t forget real living puppets are always jerky! They are souls trapped in restricting toy wooden bodies. That pretty Asian one had a haunting origin, as Virgil Travis did but in a different way.

    And maybe best of all is the ending! Right to the end they kept it off-beat. Off-beat is a good description, and I think this film rises to the top of all off-beat films I can think of, except maybe Eraserhead (1977) by Mr. Lynch.
    I just thought, I wonder why Mr. Band has done Voodoo Dolls!

    I think some IMDB reviews are spot on, and better dedine this movie than me, but have thoughtless rotten spoilers of course.

    • Hi Peter, thanks for reading and chiming in on this film! I really didn’t like this one, but I have noticed since seeing it how much other Full Moon fans like it. This seems to be one of their more popular late-period films. They even came out with a shirt for it not too long ago.

      Wow, it is kinda like a David Lynch movie! In a way more trashy, low-budget way, of course. It’s also a good observation that real puppets have jerky movements. I like your rationale for that a lot. It makes sense and it explains away some of the budgetary issues with the puppets! I’m sure Charles Band would approve as well.

      I should probably give this one a re-watch at some point. The more Full Moon movies I see, the more I like them and I feel like if I saw this again I might not be so hard on it. It just really rubbed me the wrong way at the time. I think B-Movies are interesting in that they are able to work in much broader and controversial areas of story, but this also makes them likeable to a smaller amount of people. Certain things resonate with certain people and this one just didn’t do it for me. I can’t say that you’re wrong, though, because everything you say is true. It is a unique, weird, demented movie that does everything it can to be demented and weird. In that it definitely succeeds.

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