Day 24 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 24. PUPPETS OR DOLLS: Sometimes they play back. When I first started dating my wife, this was a movie that she picked for us to watch. While I scoffed at the time, it’s been in our DVD player more times than I may like to admit. It’s an early film from James Wan, after the first Saw but before The Conjuring and Insidious.
You need to know a few things about this film.
First, it takes place in a fairy tale reality that has nothing to do with our world as you know it.
Second, no one acts like a normal human being.
Third, everything — and I mean everything — is shot in blue filter and overly processed, appearing washed out.
Finally, every single bit of the frame is overly art directed. Everything it too complicated. Everything is too dirty. Everything is too macabre. Nothing ends up being frightening because everything is too much, too much and way too much.
But I have a soft spot in my hard heart for this wacky little movie. It’s never really sure who it wants to be — is it about the dolls doing the killing? Is it the legend of Mary Shaw? Is it a police procedural? And why does the evil woman have such a frightening tongue?
Mary Shaw has an undefined moveset, as it were. Should we be worried about her ability to silence areas and kill people when they scream? Or should we be worried about someone else? or should we be worried about all the killer dolls? There is so much to worry about!
Big shout out to Donnie Wahlberg here, who must have just finished an acting class that said, “You gotta have some kind of object for your character so you can do object and hand work.” He was like, “What if I continually shave my face with an electric razor in every scene?” And everyone on set was real harried that day and said, “Sure, I guess that sounds good.” So basically all I can tell you about his character, Detective Jim Lipton, is that he shaves in every scene. It’s also hilarious to me that the above class I mention, which doesn’t probably exist outside of my brain, was an Actor’s Studio class and he wanted to credit James Lipton with the name of the character as a way of paying back his mentor.
So what can I say good about this movie? The theater set — I refuse to believe a small town that was the happiest town ever would name their theater after France’s Grand Guignol but go with this movie for a bit — is awe inspiring. I love how it looks, as nature has had its way with it, with a giant display case of hundreds upon hundreds of evil dolls. Seriously, if you have an issue with dummies, don’t watch this. It’s like Magic times one hundred and one, minus the talent and story.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. The studio got super involved with this one, to the point that Leigh Whannell (who also wrote most of the Saw and Insidious films, as well as writing and directing the superior Upgrade) was so displeased with the final film that he only writes scripts on spec now, instead of pitching to studios and being paid to write the screenplay.
I say all these things knowing that I’ll end up watching this movie once a year, laughing at some of its worst moments, puzzling over some of its poor FX and trying to decipher why the characters would act the way they do. I’ll also wonder how such a quaint little town has such a sleazy motel in it. And then I’ll watch it all over again.