Devil Doll (1964 United Kingdom)

devildollyvonneromaindanceDevil Doll, concerns a killer ventriloquist’s (yes, really) dummy. Why can’t ventriloquist’s ever be humanitarians trying to save the world? Anyway, this is most famously associated with the final segment of Dead Of Night. Dummies have also popped up in films such as Magic (reviewed on this here blog). Such films either concern the descent into madness of the ventriloquist or the demonically possessed doll. Why? Because dummies are creepy.

Devil Doll centres around ‘The Great Vorelli’, a stage hypnotist and ventriloquist, ‘aided’ by his dummy, Hugo. A sceptical American journalist, Mark English (played by a Yank – irony? don’t worry there is a cacophony of ‘accents’ in the film), sets out to expose Vorelli as a charlatan. English just happens to be dating one of the richest women in England (yeah right), Marianne. She is played by the stunning Yvonne Romain. She of the sultry olive skin and big brown Maltese eyes. Anyway, this English guy is hardly a premiere journalist, just a chain-smoking hack. He gets lumbered with the Vorelli story. But he has no journalistic or moral qualms about exploiting Marianne in trying to expose Vorelli. Even in the front seat of his car! His designs backfire when Vorelli takes an interest in the girl. No surprise there.

The scenes of hypnosis (I actually enjoy the dance sequence that others have cringed over) and ventriloquism are atmospheric and hint at the sinister psychological prowess of Vorelli. The moment when Hugo first walks is surprising. Is the doll mechanical, a human in disguise, or of the supernatural? The remainder of the film is competent but never gets into gear. There are numerous downsides: the dummy has ears like those of Prince Charles, Vorelli sports a tacky fake beard. While Halliday does a great magician/slime-ball act, there is an aura of seediness and dreariness over all the proceedings that is compounded by smeared lighting and photography. After 80 minutes I felt like I’d been in a red light flea pit. Then there’s the muffled, garbled sound design. But the lowest point is the flashback sequence.

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Some *spoilers* now just so I can say you were warned. When Vorelli first unveils the dummy to his two assistants, a woman and the original Hugo, the woman exclaims that it “looks just like Hugo”. It does not, not in the slightest. The dummy looks more like anyone other than Hugo. Also note the bad makeup used in the flashback to make Vorelli and the woman appear years younger. The ending is sudden and has a neat twist (which I won’t mention). What is remarkable is that the supposed hero, English, has no involvement in Vorelli’s comeuppance, he is down the pub instead. Therefore the film reaches its climax before you expect it to. Vorelli’s downfall is his own libido (great minds and all that jazz).

When the dummy destroys the ‘Marianne’ doll (another cunning likeness), I assume Vorelli is weakened. All the mental energy and commitment he put into the new doll is destroyed creating a backlash. This allows the Hugo dummy to gain the upper hand, no thanks to the intrepid Mike English. To summarize: Devil Doll has some good moments and ideas but is irredeemably flawed. You never care about the characters, especially English, and there is no sense of direction, of the journalist’s investigations leading inexorably to the horrid truth. But its still acceptable entertainment because, wait for it, the budget was a whopping $25,000! Or pounds. Whatever. Factoring in for inflation, that’s still lower than Bill Cosby’s morals.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review, that Prince Charles ears comment had me in stitches! This ventriloquist’s dummy looks scary as hell…I’ll have to check this one out! 😈

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cheers. 🙂

    Like

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