The Killer of Dolls [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Mondo Macabro
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (20th March 2020).
The Film

Prepare yourself for a film experience unlike any that you have ever witnessed! That sounds like a line of classic Ballyhoo, but in this case it is absolutely true. I, for one, cannot imagine going to the drive in and seeing this far out film for a number of reasons: the disturbing sexual undercurrent of the plot, the gender-questionable identity of the protagonist Paul (David Rocha), the bizarre linking of dolls with surgical practices, and the way that the entire film is presented by the director Miguel Madrid (credited under the Pseudonym Michael Skaife).

The film opens with director Madrid introducing the film; he tells us that the film will help deepen the fractured psyche of a psychotic; he says this while disassembling a female doll. Our story opens with a young man getting thrown out of medical school because he has an inexplicable fear of blood. Yes, I think that that would certainly be a disability that would interfere with a successful medical practice, but nonetheless that is the case. Paul returns home to Montpellier in France (even though this is a Spanish film) where his father, Renť (Salvador Buchila) is the gardener to a large estate that belongs to the countess Olivia (Helga Linť). In his doll strewn room, Paul likes to pretend that he is a fabulous surgeon as he operates on any one of the toys. In between operations Paul has what appears to be a hallucination or possibly a series of flashbacks; either way, his mind is definitely fractured in a major way. These moments are suddenly introduced into the filmís plot and come without any warning, so the viewer has no way of telling what reality is and what is the product of Paulís twisted mind. We see a young boy riding his bicycle in a pleasant area and he sees a couple walking along the sidewalk. He stops and openly ogles at the girl (which is odd because she is hardly attractive) but their creep alarm should be ringing loud and clear. We see Paulís father, a gruff older man that is locking up the park, and he warns the couple that its closing time but they choose to ignore his warning. Next we see someone pushing a bicycle along the path in the garden, but we are not shown who it is. This unknown person takes and puts on a creepy female face mask on (shades of John Carpenter's "Halloween" (1978)), and we are shown a person clad in black stalking the couple while they are busy making out. This masked person is hyper scary looking and I have a pretty good idea who it is. The girl who was wearing glasses earlier is now pretty much blind and helpless. After her boyfriend is rejected for wanting sex, he storms off, leaving the girl alone and at the mercy of doll face. There is a scene where the helpless girl hasnít realized that her boyfriend has bailed on her and she is running her hands on the ground, searching for the glasses. Meanwhile the camera is placed squarely in-between the masked intruderís legs; howís that for subtlety? The masked stranger presents her with the glasses and she shrieks. After a swift chase through the garden, she comes upon the killerís overturned bicycle and he immediately slashes her throat from behind. The police come the next day attracting a large crowd of onlookers. Amongst them is Paul and his mom and dad; at the sight of blood, Paul becomes rubber legged and collapses.

The next scene is of a child riding a bike in the garden and he comes across a strange talking doll; he grabs the doll and violently smashes its head against a rock wall. Paul is watching from his window and in a state of agitation, he throws a large vase through the window. Paul wears an expression of post orgasmic joy afterwards. It is revealed that the youngster is named Robert (Rafael 'Indio' GonzŠlez, Jr.) and that he often comes to the park with his grandfather. Cutting to the next scene, we see Robert setting a paper village on fire and laughing with delight. Paul comes across the scene and dispatches the boy for some water, but not before he sighs looking at the burned remains of a female doll. Okay, the major warning signs are there: an obsession with fires, a strange hobby involving dolls, and a violent attack. Quick cut to the next scene: Paul is in the house, but he is acting like a fool only to anger his mother. Mother (Marina Ferri) comes across as a domineering bitch. No wonder Paul is a problem child. Another abrupt cut and we see Paul hanging out with his new found pal, Robert. I wonder why the adults donít find this friendship a tad odd? Paul is easily a grown man and Robert is but a child; it is clear that Robert looks up to Paul as he talks about being in medical school, but the boy doesnít comprehend that Paul got tossed out of the program. Paul seems to be overly fixated on the heart and when Robert tells him that his hobby is collecting hearts, Paul practically goes into a trance. ďWhat kind of hearts?Ē Paul asks. ďThe kind that grownups carve into trees.Ē responds Robert. ďA collection of heartsĒ murmurs Paul, who is clearly dazed. The director has an unusual style of filmmaking filling the screen with abrupt jump cuts, jagged edits, assorted shots of the doll mask, and other unworldly scenes. I believe that the director is trying to show us the fragmented world view of Paul, clearly a schizoid personality.

The police are investigating a series of unsolved murders where the victimís heart has been removed and the body wrapped in plastic, "Twin Peaks" (1990) anyone? Back at the gardenerís house, Paulís parents have been told by the Countess that they can go on vacation. Uh oh, left alone without parental supervision Paulís sick urges can be fully explored. This reminded me of Roman Polanskiís "Repulsion" (1965) where Catherine Deneuveís character is isolated in her apartment when her sister goes away for a weekend, especially when we see Paulís father skinning a rabbit and Paul recoils in horror at the bloody visage. It is revealed in an odd scene that when Paul was a child, his older sister Catherine (Lupe Rocha) had died and his mother raised him as a girl and forced him to play with her dolls. With the parents away on vacation, the Countess attempts a rather bold seduction of Paul, but he isnít really interested in her. He locks himself in a spare bedroom at her place and locks the door despite her request not to do so. Later that night Paul has a nightmare about murdered girls, but we arenít sure because there also is a scene where Paul crawls out the window in only his underwear. Throughout the film reality is interrupted by scenes that could be considered hallucinations, flashbacks, or memories; there is no clear distinction made as the director just wildly mixes the scenes into a crazy mess.

Interjected into the film is the Countess younger daughter Audrey (Inma de Santis) and Paul seems to be smitten with her. Audrey doesnít seem to find Paulís behavior abhorrent at all and soon the two of them are seen laughing and running together on the beach. Prior to this the couple take a trip to the city to purchase some surgical tools (?) and they also stop off at a local mannequin factory where Paul acts enthralled by a mannequin that resembles Audrey. Did I forget to mention that Paul also has a large collection of butterflies adorning his walls? What is with these strange characters and butterflies? Dead beauty captured under glass forever. This merely hints at the theme of necrophilia that runs throughout the film; a familiar horror trope that goes way back. See Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff chew the scenery in Edgar G. Ulmerís classic film "The Black Cat" (1934) if you dig this type of material.

As people continue turning up dead, the film careens along on its unpredictable course including a ludicrous scene where a lame group of hippy musicians and their two go-go dancing chicks suddenly show up and play a tune that is based on a classical piece of music in an empty outdoor amphitheater in the dark. Yes, you guessed it, both woman are stalked and killed by the doll faced killer. The two surviving dudes are questioned by the police and then turned loose. The apparent lack of authority throughout the film is interesting; the Countess hardly acts like an adult, Paulís parents go away leaving him to succumb to his violent urges, the police are helpless to stop the madman on the loose. Paulís aberrant sexuality is constantly on display; there is hardly a scene where he is partially clothed or withering nude in the shower. His fey manner at times is overwhelming as he struts around the house in his briefs, or even when dressed he is clad in skin tight shirts and pants. The director seems to have been very much taken with his lead actor. Throughout the film there are distinctive Giallo touches; the killer in disguise complete with black leather gloves, the entire broken psyche plot line, and the garish score by Alfonso Santisteban is extremely Giallo like. The film reflects a clear identity issue as it cannot decide what it wants to depict: be it explicit horror, a gothic tale of mixed identity or a psychological thriller. What we ultimately end up with surely makes it a film that stands out as an unusual product for Spanish cinema in the mid 70ís.

The film basically ends with Paul short circuiting his emotional system; his hallucinations involving his sister come more frequently, he eventually cannot tell reality from his fragmented state of being, as he compulsively kills more and more. The climax has Paul confronted by the burning spectre of the mannequin that resembled Audrey with the arrival of his parents. His long dead sister invades his brain completely and Paul is left standing a grief racked survivor while the police finally arrive to make an arrest. The catchy soundtrack blasts from the speakers and the credits roll leaving this critic bedazzled and confused.

Video

Presented in widescreen 1.78:1 HD 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. First we are given an onscreen warning that the film was restored from the best available materials but the negative wasnít well cared for and that there may be instances of damage to the sound and picture throughout. That being said I was nevertheless impressed by the filmís quality and I did not detect any such damage to this film. This film was shot in ďGevacolorĒ resulting in a highly color saturated product usually associated with the Indian film industry. At times the film is marred with some spotting and there is the odd jump cut which implies that there may have been some missing footage. Overall the film quality is very good overall.

Audio

A single Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono soundtrack is included. The mono soundtrack is consistent and performs fairly well. Dialogue is clear and the Spanish language is acceptable. The soundtrack by Alfonso Santisteban is certainly unique. Optional subtitles are included in English only.

Extras

Here is the real meat of this Blu-ray as Mondo Macabro really goes the extra mile to make this film stand out.

Not one, but two audio commentary tracks are included:

The first audio commentary track features Diabolique Magazine editor Kat Ellinger, worthy of checking if you want some cool details about the film including some insights into the genre.

The second audio commentary track features film historians Robert Monell and Rod Barnett. Both offer some great trivia on the film and it's collaborators.

"The Doll Killer Speaks" is an interview with actor David Rocha (24:33, in Spanish with English subtitles).

A video essay by film historian Dr. Antonio Lazaro-Reboll in two parts:

- "Part 1": A brief overview of Spanish Horror (27:43).
- "Part 2": His thoughts on "The Killer of Dolls" (21:10).

"Coming Attractions" from Mondo Macabro (11:11), this is a trailer reel of film in the Mondo Macabro catalog.

Packaging

Comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case with disturbing doll face mask artwork.

Overall

Simply for being so daring and throwing all cautions to the wind, this film gets a top rating. I must give the director props for bringing such a twisted vision to fulfillment.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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