Release Date: September, 1964
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Ronald Kinnoch, Frederick E. Smith
Cast: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain
Associated Film Distributing Corp., 81 Minutes
Devil Doll is a bad movie.
However, it is still entertaining and kind of unintentionally hysterical in certain parts. Those parts make the film endearing and overall, the picture is pretty cool.
It isn’t well made and the acting is not great. The direction did nothing to steer this ship in a good direction from a quality standpoint but for whatever reason, the picture resonates for gluttons of cheese, such as myself, due to its strange hokiness.
The title character, the “devil doll” Hugo, is a cool monster. Sure, he’s not a traditional beast but he is certainly a prototype of the infinitely more famous Chucky from the Child’s Play film series.
Hugo is a ventriloquist dummy but he is possessed by evil. He talks and walks around during stage shows, even when the ventriloquist “The Great Vorelli” is across the room. This impresses audiences but is also baffling, as no one understands how it is possible.
The scenes where Hugo stalks his prey are played by a person in a costume made to look like the dummy. It’s a bizarre and unsettling sight but also cheesily magnificent.
A notable thing about this film is that it stars some people who would go on to do some great things.
“The Great Vorelli” is played by Bryant Haliday, who would go on to establish Janus Films, a distribution company that introduced several films now considered masterpieces and classics. Also, they are closely related to the Criterion Collection.
The film also stars William Sylvester and Alan Gifford, who would both appear four years later in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sylvester was the original Dr. Heywood Floyd (later the star of 2010: The Year We Make Contact where he was then played by Roy Scheider).
The best version of this film to watch is the riffed version that appeared as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bryant Haliday would also be featured in another MST3K episode when they riffed another one of his movies, The Projected Man.