Plot: What’s it about?
The Great Vorelli (Bryant Haliday) is a magician with skills in the realms of hypnotism and ventriloquism, perhaps even the best in his field. He is able to keep his audiences in total suspense, as their eyes never leave him performing, thanks to not only his amazing presence, but his mastery over the hypnotic arts. He is able to hypnotize anyone he encounters, from the easiest audience members to brash skeptics, with complete ease. Then again, the audience most remembers not his stage show or hypnotism act, but instead his ventriloquist session, in which he puts on the greatest show they’ve ever witnessed. The doll involved is named Hugo and he is unlike any other ventriloquist’s partner, as he can walk across the stage by himself, talk to anyone he pleases, and do all kinds of activities, all while Vorelli watches from a distance. But when Vorelli plans to seduce a wealthy women using his hypnotic powers, he instructs Hugo to murder his current lover, who suspects him of cheating. Hugo does so, but only because he was misled, so when Vorelli orders him to kill again, Hugo decides to take matters into his own hands…
I think most people will remember this film from its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is a real shame. I admit this movie does make good fodder for such barbs, but it is not as bad as most of the MST3K pictures, not by any means. The main reason it was shown was because of the presence of a living doll and most of the jokes centered on that, as opposed to commenting on poor production values or the like. I’ve always found Devil Doll to be a pretty creepy movie and while the writing is a shade thin at times, I think the premise is good and it all holds up well, all the way to the twist of a finale. As far as B movies go, Devil Doll is a solid one all around the bend, although some will find the doll itself to be humorous, which I think is part of the allure here, no two ways about it. The camera is put into unique angles the visuals are played with to mask the lack of budget surplus, which works out well. Image’s disc houses the original U.K. cut of the movie and the “racier” continental version, which has additional sexual material, so it makes a nice bargain to snag both editions here. The rest of the disc is just as solid, which leaves me to give Devil Doll a high recommendation, if you dare to see it, that is.
In a movie titled Devil Doll, you simply assume the doll will be the main focus of the story and of course, that’s the case here. I mean, we sit down to watch these kinds of movies to watch a demonic puppet raise a ruckus, right? While the film does give us ample screen time of Hugo’s hijinks, the human cast isn’t bad either and in truth, winds up handing in some solid efforts, given the nature of the material involved. Bryant Haliday plays Hugo’s master, The Great Vorelli and he very much looks the part, with his creepy facial hair and eerie eyes. But he is also able to pull off the character’s persona, as he seems mysterious and aloof throughout, both of which are elements crucial to his role’s success. Then again, don’t expect too much from Haliday here, as he does have to play second fiddle to a supernatural ventriloquist’s doll, after all. Other films with Haliday include Curse of the Voodoo, Tower of Evil, and The Projected Man. The cast also includes William Sylvester (Heaven Can Wait, 2001: A Space Odyssey), Yvonne Romain (Circus of Horrors, The Swinger), and Sandra Dorne (The Playbirds, Helter Skelter).
Video: How does it look?
Devil Doll is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I was quite pleased with the visual effort here, especially in terms of the materials used, as a print in very good condition kicks off the visuals. I saw some minor nicks and such, but no serious grain or debris, which is a surprise, but a most welcome one, of course. The image is also quite sharp, so detail is fine and softness never becomes a problem in the least. I found contrast to be in top form also, so the black & visuals shine, thanks to refined black levels throughout. I have to give some kudos to Image on this one, as this is a superb visual presentation, given the material.
Audio: How does it sound?
A mono option is presented here and while unremarkable, it remains clean and free from serious problems, which is good enough, if you ask me. The materials haven’t been worn much by the tolls of time, so hiss, distortion, and the like aren’t an issue, though some minor instances of age related wear are evident. The sound effects come through well, while dialogue is crystal clear and never muffled in the least. I wouldn’t say this is a great audio treatment, but considering the material, I think it is a more than solid one.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An audio commentary with producer Richard Gordon starts us off, a session which is moderated in a sense by film historian Tom Weaver, who keeps Gordon on track and opens up new channels of discussion. The track proves to be very informative, as we learn a lot about how the film was made, as well as various behind the scenes anecdotes, some of which offer insight, while others are more humorous. This disc also includes a selection of publicity & production photos, poster & promotion artwork, and the film’s original U.S. trailer.