Creepy doll horror
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Doll Master (2004)
2nd Jun 05
A bunch of people are invited to a Doll Master's house to be models for a new line of dolls. They don't come back.
Like all good ghost stories, Doll Master starts with a tall tale, which goes a little something like this. Boy loves girl, boy makes life-size doll version of girl, doll becomes overcome with jealousy and kills girl, boy is blamed, boy is stoned to death for the crime, doll sits by the guy’s grave forever. The end.
Of course, that’s not the end at all, only the beginning – and so begins another creepy ghost story from the Far East. Is it just me, or are creepy ghost stories from the Far East two-a-penny these days? Admittedly classics like Ringu (you can’t mention Eastern ghost story horror without mentioning that film, so let’s get that out of the way early on), The Eye, Ju-on and to some extent Phone are landmarks in modern horror cinema, but how long can the quality stay that high? It reminds me a little of the Slasher boom of the early 80s – Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Burning and a few others were knock-out classics, but for every good Slasher hitting the rental shelves, there were a fair few total stinkers (Slumber party massacre 2, anyone?) Is the same about to happen to Asian cinema? Has the 80s machete wielding, hockey masked killer stereotype been replaced by the white faced , long black haired Sadako impersonator?
Well, the story of Doll Master picks up a good few years after the ghost story montage intro, with a group of unsuspecting strangers turning up at a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere (stop me I you’ve heard it). They’ve been gathered as models for a reclusive doll maker, known only as Mrs Im, who wants to use them as models for a new line of dolls, apparently. Very early on they’re gathered into a room by Mrs Im’s associate, the guy who invited them in the first place, and asked to introduce themselves to each other (already making the character’s easier to associate with than those in Aliens Vs. Predator). The collection of individuals is suitably diverse; we have Hae-Mi, the central character, who I think was a writer, and a good looking fella she gave a lift to along the way, who claims he’s a model. Then we have Sun-Young, a sexy young female teenage model (no – she keeps her top on – this is Asian cinema) and a photographer who is constantly trying (and failing) to get into her pants. Lastly we have the slightly mad Young-Ha, who has a creepily lifelike foot tall doll called Damien, which she constantly cuddles like a baby.
After introductions they’re shown to their rooms, where we get a hint of things to come. Each room, you see, has a big lifelike doll in it which has somehow been incorporated into the furniture – either by holding a lamp, sink, mirror or something like that. Yes, the dolls look creepy and, yes, they all have ridiculously long black hair. Are alarm bells ringing with you yet?
They should be. From here on in, things take a turn for the mediocre, as nothing much happens for a good three quarters of an hour. There’s a guy that looks like Oldboy in the basement, chained against the wall, and he doesn’t make much sense but you just know he’s going to get involved in a big way later on. There’s also the creepy Mina, a strange girl in a red dress, who turns up from time to time to look dough-eyed at Hae-Mi, sometimes also sporting hands covered in blood. Creepy, eh?
Okay, you may have mentioned how many times I’ve used the word creepy. Well, yes, I guess I am taking the piss a bit, but in many ways so is this film. There’s nothing wrong with the sets, nothing at all, and all the cinematography is comfortably assured and everything, it’s just that for a lot of the film, not much happens. The suspense is minimal, or forced depending on your point of view, and you might just find that the impending dread the flick tries to generate in the approach to the inevitable, killer doll-fuelled finale (come on, with a name like Doll Master, that’s giving nothing away), actually comes across merely as impending boredom. I mean, we know the body count is going to be no more than half a dozen, so you will end up spending a long stretch looking at your watch wishing they’d just get on with it.
But, when the inevitable slaughter arrives, is it worth it? Well, I’d have to say, I suppose so. There’s a decent bit of tension built up around one of the cast going to the toilet, and another highly predictable car death scene (don’t try to drive away from a creepy doll master’s house without looking in the back seat first, obviously), and a good hanging, but that’s about it. The protracted ending, as the plot is unravelled before our very eyes, is about as slow going as the first half of the movie, and the startling revelation at the end isn’t really all that startling. But I guess it’s not all bad; as much as I’ve teased you about the clichéd, long-haired dolls, they are scary (in a clichéd long-haired doll kind of way) and Mina does provide some chills by sneaking into frame a lot, and the occasional photograph, when you know she shouldn’t be there, but at the end of the day the pay off is just not worth the wait.
If you find oriental doll’s scary, have nothing better to do, and can hack the long, dull first half of the movie, then you might like Doll Master. The trouble is I don’t think dolls have the same impact in the West as they do in the East. Conversations about inanimate objects having souls (with all cast members nodding in unequivocal agreement) might cut it in Eastern cinemas, but over here I think we’ll have quite a few people scratching the heads, and with good reason. Let’s just say I doubt that Tom Cruise’s production company will be buying the remake rights for this one in a hurry, not if they’ve got any sense anyway.
Versions There region 2 DVD is uncut, has some nice special features and is generally the best version available. God bless Optimum Releasing