It’s a shame, because many of the horror elements of this movie are strong and some of the comic-horror is genuinely funny. But the rest of it just feels dated and uncomfortable.
It starts off well enough, on Halloween (of course) in 1976 when two local cops from the hilariously named town of Gooberville are locked in a gun battle with a bunch of marauding dolls in (you guessed it) the old abandoned doll factory. But before too long (less than two minutes, in fact) we’ve had a condom joke, an ‘I had sex with your girlfriend’ joke made to a dying buddy before we meet wide-eyed, jive-talkin’ clichéd African-American character of Darius Grumley (Boo Gay in an afro wig) who has a supernatural book with which he can exert some power over the terrifying dolls, keeping the town safe from them.
Jump to present-day Halloween and we meet our seven heroes - Mark (Justin Herman) and his girlfriend Kay (Nicole Elliot), Blake (Will Allday) and his date for the night, Erika (Jade Warren), lothario in a devil costume, Derek (Eric C Schneider), comic relief Miguel (Marc Penarubia) and Alison (Tracy Collins) who has somehow found Darius’ supernatural book (seems her mother is a Wiccan and had it in the closet). After a round of sex banter, scoring girls out of ten and the odd genital joke, Kay’s ex-boyfriend, a nasty piece of work named Ian (Nasir Vilanueva) turns up and the gang decide to ditch the party and head down to the old doll factory to see if Alison’s spooky book is any good at conjuring up ghosts. Of course, they inadvertently re-animate the sleeping dolls and all hell breaks loose. For a little while we get some gory and funny evil doll action as some of our more expendable heroes meet gruesome and bloody ends, but then the comic-horror that’s been slowly building is undercut by a gear shift to more sex jokes with Erica and Blake and the return of the somewhat older (but still jive-talkin’) Darius Grumley who the surviving heroes enlist to help defeat the dolls.
And it’s these dolls that are the real stars of this production. Hats off to Jeffrey Birney for coming up with a doll design that is simultaneously comic and hideous. And there are hoards of them, which just amplifies the humour they bring, not to mention their stilted way of moving around (reminiscent of the Zuni fetish doll in the best chapter of Dan Curtis’ 1975 made-for-TV horror classic Trilogy of Terror). Plus, they have funny voices and increasingly inventive and gory ways of dispatching their victims. This is where the film is at its best. Somewhere along the way, we discover that the dolls are the creation of the sinister Doll Factory owner, Yegor (played with relish by Breaking Bad alumnus Patrick Sane) who went mad in the 1950’s and killed his whole family. The climax of the film centres around a final face-off with Yegor which, for a time, moves us away from the undergraduate humour of the sex gags and back into some half decent horror tropes.
Given the sensitivities of the post-Weinstein/Trump era, it’s hard to tell whether the sexist and racist humour of this movie would have felt less jarring in 2014 when it was made, but I suspect in any 21st century timeframe those elements, in addition to being unfunny, simply serve to eclipse the potential of the promising comic-horror movie that is hiding in there somewhere.