If you’re mak­ing a hor­ror film today, you’ve got to dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self from your com­peti­tors in a glut­ted field.  An easy way to do this is by being ambi­tious with your sub­gen­res and com­bin­ing dif­fer­ent ele­ments to cre­ate your own unique hybrid under the hor­ror ban­ner. The Devil’s Dolls is a recent exam­ple of such a film, mix­ing devdolls-bluslash­er movie ele­ments with pos­ses­sion hor­ror and a chaser of voodoo.  It also reveals that jug­gling that many ele­ments in a sin­gle sto­ry can be a chal­lenge.

The Devil’s Dolls begins with cop Matt (co-writer Christopher Wiehl) tak­ing down Henry (Matty Ferraro), a seri­al killer, before he can kill his lat­est vic­tim.  Unfortunately, Henry’s evil lives on a series of “wor­ry dolls” he cre­at­ed using the teach­ings of Della (Tina Lifford), a voodoo prac­ti­tion­er.  These dolls acci­den­tal­ly fall into the hands of Chloe (Kennedy Brice), Matt’s daugh­ter, who uses them as charms in neck­laces and bracelets.  Unfortunately, the­se dolls mag­ni­fy the fears of those wear­ing them and dri­ve them to homi­ci­dal mad­ness.  Matt and his part­ner Darcy (Kym Jackson) have to stop this evil as the vic­tims pile up and Chloe’s life hangs in the bal­ance.

As the above syn­op­sis sug­gests, The Devil’s Dolls has a busy, almost nov­el­is­tic plot for a movie that is a mere 85 min­utes with cred­its.  The results often feel both over­plot­ted and under-real­ized, with a series of stock char­ac­ter­i­za­tions that get spread thin due to the demands of the plot and a lack of time to devel­op both the char­ac­ters and the hor­ror con­cepts in inter­est­ing ways.

There’s also some note­wor­thy plot holes that the sto­ry tries to breeze past, like how a vet­er­an cop could be so care­less with evi­dence from a mur­der scene that it ends up in his daughter’s hands and how the whole setup with the seri­al killer becomes point­less once we real­ize the dolls are caus­ing the hor­ror and not his malev­o­lent spir­it.

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On the plus side, direc­tor Padraig Reynolds gives this indie effort a pro­fes­sion­al visu­al gloss, keeps the plot rolling steadi­ly for­ward and isn’t afraid to get rough (and bloody) when his sto­ry calls for it.  Unfortunately, his han­dling of the cast is mere­ly so-so, with a num­ber of sce­nes where char­ac­ters curi­ous­ly under-react to shock­ing sights, and his efforts can’t coun­ter­act how jum­bled the sto­ry­line gets in its final half-hour.

The end result has some inter­est­ing styl­is­tic flour­ish­es but ulti­mate­ly has too much going on and not enough time to devel­op it into any­thing above a mud­dled if busy hor­ror pot­boil­er.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recent­ly released this IFC Midnight title to blu-ray.  The pho­tog­ra­phy looks appro­pri­ate­ly col­or­ful and detailed here and the 5.1 loss­less stereo mix is nice­ly lay­ered for those with mul­ti-speak­er capa­bil­i­ty.

A few extras are also includ­ed.  The biggest is a com­men­tary track with Reynolds and Wiehl, who offer plen­ti­ful details on the cast and the chal­lenges of the shoot in a loose, ami­able man­ner.  The pack­age is round­ed out by sto­ry­boards for a trio of sce­nes, an ani­mat­ed image gallery that shows off the “wor­ry dolls” and a trail­er.