Nobody can accuse Steven Smith of taking it easy. With 46 credits as a producer and 28 each as writer and director, he’s cranking films out like he was running an assembly line. Actually, more than one critic has called his company, Greenway Entertainment, just that. An assembly line churning out endless cheap horror and soccer hooligan films. I found his film Doll Cemetery interesting if not totally successful. Would the unrelated Doll House be better?
Emma (Jennifer Leahey) steps into a changing room to try something on and is assailed by a rush of images of violence and death. Including herself taking a knife to the gut. At the same time, a psychic, Layla (Toyah Willcox, Jubilee, The Quatermass Conclusion) is in town giving readings. This ends badly when her spirit guide is replaced by something more sinister. This has some kind of physical effect on Emma.
Ava (Saffia Larter-Green) is a new resident at the halfway home for children where Emma works. She’s 11 and like Emma, is unable to speak. Her only possession is a doll she never lets go of. She gets teased a lot. At least until people start vanishing and reappearing as dolls in the dollhouse that seems to have appeared in Ava’s room.
It takes twenty minutes before Ava even shows up. Given that Doll House runs just under an hour and a half that makes for a slow start. What we get are scenes like the one in which Emma is followed by a large, sinister-looking woman as she walks back to the home. The camera cuts back and forth between the two women for nearly five minutes. There isn’t even a good payoff to it all, just the introduction of Heather (Louisa Warren, Scarecrow’s Revenge, Unhinged) a paranormal investigator.
Creepy kids, evil dolls, voices in the attic, we’ve seen it all before. Even the psychiatrist played by Mark Wingett (Dark Ditties Presents The Witching Hour, Breaking Glass) is a cliché. An overly familiar story can still be entertaining if told well enough, or with enough energy to keep the viewer caught up in it. But Doll House just plods along with way too much padding between poorly staged killings. Right down to the expected final scene.
I suppose films like Doll House, I Am Hooligan, Haunted, etc must be profitable or he wouldn’t make so many of them. But if he wants to actually make entertaining ones he needs to make half as many. With bigger budgets, better production values and most importantly, better scripts.
Doll House is available in the UK from 101 Films.