DEVIL DOLL (1964) Reviews and overview [updated]

 

‘Can a beautiful woman be enslaved against her will?’

Devil Doll is a 1963 British horror feature film directed by Lindsay Shonteff (Curse of the Voodoo; Night, After Night, After Night) from a screenplay written by Ronald Kinnoch, based on a 1951 story by Frederick E. Smith.

The Galaworldfilm Productions-Gordon Films production stars William Sylvester (The Hand of Night; Devils of Darkness; Gorgo), Bryant Haliday (Tower of Evil; The Projected Man; Curse of the Voodoo) and Yvonne Romain (Captain Clegg; Curse of the Werewolf; Circus of Horrors; Corridors of Blood).

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Although filmed in 1963 it did not receive a UK release by Gala Films until September 1964, in a version cut by British censors, the BBFC. As became the practice during the 1960s and early 1970s, three alternate scenes were filmed with topless nudity for its ‘Continental’ release.

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Plot:

Hypnotist/magician “The Great Vorelli” (Bryant Haliday) and his dummy Hugo are seen performing in front of a packed audience in London. The spectators observe tension between the ventriloquist and his dummy.

American reporter Mark English (William Sylvester) becomes fascinated with Vorelli while attending the performance. English solicits his girlfriend Marianne Horn (Hammer Films regular Yvonne Romain) to go with him to another show…

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Reviews:

“This underrated British horror story could be the best-filmed variation on the “dummy with a soul” theme inaugurated by a brief sequence in Alberto Cavalcanti’s classic 1945 anthology Dead of Night and continuing more recently with Magic (1978.) Fine photography by Gerald Gibbs, convincing performances by Bryant Halliday, Sandra Dorne and Yvonne Romain and flawless animation and editing of Hugo’s scenes provide a galvanizing elaboration of the original, somewhat skeletal, concept.” AllMovie

“The ventriloquist‘s dummy motif is virtually guaranteed to make for compelling scenes as in Dead of Night (1945), but Shonteff and company still manage to botch it up with a surfeit of TV close-ups, crude editing and flatly monotonous acting.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

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“The whole thing lacks inspiration – in front of and behind the camera. Unappealing leads, bland direction, and an over padded and weary story make this a dreary watch indeed. The dummy soon loses any air of menace, so one doesn’t even get the thrills and scares one would hope for.” The Celluloid Highway

“Some of the editing choices, like the use of jump cuts, during the pivotal scenes were inspired, and work with the story (and also serve to mask that Hugo is rather ridiculous looking when he’s mobile – it’s obviously a midget in a suit). Frankly, Devil Doll, which often hints at luridness but never quite succumbs, could’ve used a bit more in the base enjoyment department. It’s not sure if it wants to be a sophisticated thriller or an exploitation horror flick.” Classic Horror

“The inherent creepiness of the dummy is magnified by the crudity of the title object. Even when inanimate, it has a sinister aspect that will induce shivers, despite its ridiculous shock of hair. Much of its movement is quite subtle, yet even a brief motion of the eyes is highly effective.”  Digitally Obsessed

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“ …the film’s slender and predictable storyline is artfully embellished with freeze frames, low-slung camera angles, sudden use of negative images and some intriguing sound effects. In such an apparently humdrum context, these simple stylistic flourishes help to create the unsettling, dislocated atmosphere which is unique to this picture. They quickly put the current cinema audience in much the same off-guard position as Vorelli’s gasping theatre audience when the rubberised Hugo gets up and walks to the footlights.”

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Devil Doll may not be a work of dazzling brilliance, but it’s got enough going for it to earn my commendation nonetheless. I like the fact that the living dummy isn’t really the monster here, and I think Bryant Haliday’s performance as Vorelli is a minor gem of celluloid villainy. He’s so shamelessly slimy…” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

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” …this DVD presentation allows you to compare both the standard and the more racy CDevil-Doll-_Curse-of-Simbaontinental versions of Devil Doll, presented beautifully in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Consisting of a bit of nudity and nothing more, the film looks as good as it’s ever going to. And the photography is more television-oriented than for cinema as a number of close-ups reveal.” DVD Drive-In

” …benefits from some extremely moody photography and some clever camerawork; notice how quite a few of the scenes seem to be shot with a low camera angle, giving us a subtle but inadvertent attachment to the only character who would see things from that angle – Hugo the dummy.  the story isn’t quite long enough to fill up its running time…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“The film is aided immensely by a darkly charismatic performance from Bryant Haliday who plays with a cold arrogance that seems to have been closely modelled on Christopher Lee. The opening moments with Haliday forcing a hypnotised subject to believe he is being held at gunpoint by soldiers contains quite a sadistic charge. Best of all are the battles of wills between Haliday and Hugo, which contain some great psychological tension.” Moria

“The special effects were not very good which was actually pretty smart as the shoddy looking puppet added to the horror of the film and is a case where being frugal with the budget actually paid off.  The film is eerie to say the least and while it is a little corny at times, it manages to induce both chills and enjoyment.” The Telltale Mind

“Filmed in crisp black & white, this British sleeper is an excellent pastiche of Psycho, The Twilight Zone and Tourist Trap. Worth seeing. The climax is a keeper.” The Terror Trap

“Unlike other demonic dummy movies such as Dead of Night (1945) and Magic (1978), this time around the pitiful puppet is the victim of his evil master. Although the production is rather cheap and sleazy, there are a number of genuinely creepy moments. Sadly, the overall effect is damaged by a hurried and unsatisfying climax. This is the only film where Bryant Haliday’s weird screen persona really works.” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956 – 1976

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“This slow-paced pic never comes up to its title in the way of shocks, thrills, scares, sex or other dividends for meller regulars […] Sylvester gives an honest, realistic touch to the role of the newspaperman. Halliday, however, burdened with a messy beard and one expression, the hypnotic stare, depends on his resonant voice to make the role credible.” Variety, December 31, 1963

“For the most part, Shonteff succeeds in creating a disquieting feel to the film and this mood is reinforced on the soundtrack, which features a pulsating rhythm that came about by chance when the producers realised that they did not have the funds available to pay for a musical score and had instead to fall back on that old stand-by, the music library. The uncredited tracks that Shonteff cobbled together at random add considerably to the power and intensity of the film’s shock sequences.” John Hamilton, X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film: 1951 – 1970 (Hemlock Film, 2012)

x-cert british independent horror film 1951-1970 john hamilton hemlock film

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Choice dialogue:

Doctor Keisling: “She seems to be in a semi-coma. With overtones of delirium.”

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devil doll UK DVD

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shrieking sixties british horror films

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Main cast and characters:

Bryant Haliday … The Great Vorelli
William Sylvester … Mark English
Yvonne Romain … Marianne Horn
Sandra Dorne … Magda – Eat the Rich; The Playbirds; The House in Marsh Road
Nora Nicholson … Aunt Eva
Alan Gifford … Bob Garrett
Karel Stepanek … Doctor Heller
Francis De Wolff … Doctor Keisling – The Hound of the Baskervilles; Corridors of Blood
Anthony Baird … Soldier (uncredited)
David Charlesworth … Hugo Novik (uncredited)
Lorenza Colville … Mercedes (uncredited)
Sadie Corre … Hugo the Dummy (uncredited)
Trixie Dallas … Miss Penton (uncredited)
Guy Deghy … Hans (uncredited)
Margaret Durnell … Countess (uncredited)
Heidi Erich … Grace (uncredited)
Gerry Judge … Waiter at Party (uncredited)
Ray Landor … Expert Twist Dancer (uncredited)
Pamela Law … Woman with Garrett (uncredited)
Colin McKenzie … Audience Member (uncredited)
Jackie Ramsden … Nurse (uncredited)
Philip Ray … Uncle Walter (uncredited)
Pat Ryan … Party Guest (uncredited)
Ian Selby … Party Guest (uncredited)
John Tatham … Charity Ball Guest (uncredited)
Oliver Tomlin … Audience Member (uncredited)
Ella Tracey … Louisa – Secretary (uncredited)

Filming locations:

London, England (various locations)
Merton Park Studios, South Wimbledon, London (studio)
Piccadilly Circus, Embankment, Trafalgar Square, London, England (opening montage)

Technical details:

81 minutes
Black and white
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono (Westrex Recording)

Fun facts:

Frederick E. Smith submitted the story to London Mystery Magazine in 1951, earning £10 for it. He was unaware it had been adapted as a film until Devil Doll was shown at his local cinema.

More movies involving ventriloquism

Trailer:

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