I loved the characters in Dummy (2003), nutso though they were. The story treats them with deserved sympathy though they might all be losers of one kind or another.
The introverted geek who expresses himself through a ventriloquist's dummy is a recognizable if not too overused character type.
Adrien Brody brings considerable originality to the portrayal, not least because this may be the first time the character-type has been used in a film that wasn't horror.
It's the kind of film that if you see it inner city with an audience of urban weirdos, everyone will be laughing hysterically & relating; but if you see it out in the dumbo 'burbs you could be the only one laughing, while everyone else scratches their head in confusion or wants their money back.
I especially loved his girlfriend played by Milla Jovovich, who is the lead for a gothy klezmer punk band.
Devil Doll (1964) is based on a short story of the same name from the pulp magazine London Mystery in 1951. Author Frederick Escreet Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, remains well known for his "633 Squadron" novels of adventure, the first in the series made into a classic war film the same year Devil Doll appeared.
Bryant Haliday is the Svengali-like "Great Vorelli," noted hypnotist-ventriloquist. His truly ugly-ass ventriloquist-dummy Hugo is almost regular enough that at first brush, he might not seem to be intentionally creepy; yet his potential to evoke terror by look alone is a great asset to the successfulness of this low-budget horror tale.
The uncredited physical & vocal performance in the Hugo costume is horrifically achieved by Sadie Corrie, who played an Ewok in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) & can also be spotted as the small member of the cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
After a show, Vorelli looks Hugo in the face & says, "You'll never win. You'll always lose," then locks him in a little iron cage. Showgirl & stage assistant Magda (Sandra Dorne) looks on in nervous disbelief.
Marianne Horne (Yvonne Romain), a reporter's wealthy friend, volunteers to be part of the hypnotism act, while an expert in mesmerism, Dr. Heller (Karel Stepanek), is hired by the reporter's newspaper to secretly assess the act.
Marianne gets hypnotised to believe she's a foremost practitioner of modern dance, an excuse for a little musical interlude highlighting the then-new "Twist."
When Hugo, apparently hypnotised, is given the power to stand & walk on his own to the front of the stage, it's given suspenseful intensity, very horrifying in mood.
Marianne later turns out to have a residual connection to the predatory Vorelli, so that he can control her telepathically.
Creepy though Hugo is, it's soon clear Vorelli is the villain & the dummy houses the soul of Vorelli's victim. Vorelli is a combination of Svengali (1931) & The Great Gabbo (1929), with Mephistopholes beard. Bryant Haliday is superb at portraying this horrible, horrible man.
The doll is controlled by hypnotism, & in their ongoing battle of wills, the cruelly treated puppet apparently has no hope of triumph.
The reporter Mark (William Sylvester) sneaks about to investigate Hugo, whose ability during the act has him stumped. He's dead-set on figuring out how the trick works. And eventually Hugo struggles against Vorelli's control to say: "Help me. Find me. In Berlin. 1948."
Just as our sympathies for Hugo are mounting, he unexpectedly kills Vorelli's stage assistant. But it's not Hugo's fault. Vorelli used his hypnotic power over Hugo to cause him to do it while Vorelli arranged a personal alibi.
Mark soon realizes Marianne is under Vorelli's mental control, though he remains pretty much totally unable to help anyone. In time Marianne falls into a semi-comatose trance which Dr. Heller cannot break.
Vorelli has created a female puppet & is calling Marianne's soul into it, while Mark contacts a fellow reporter (Alan Gifford) in Berlin, who reveals Vorelli was a student of eastern mysticism & dark magic. He also interviews Vorelli's European stage assistant Louisa (Ella Tracey), who tells the story of soul transference of her dance partner Hugo.
It will climax with the damsel in distress saved & Hugo's marvelous revenge, an expected conclusion but very satisfying. This is a fine small film. It has happily undergone decent restoration & is available in full scope black & white transfer to dvd.
The American release is given together with the European release. The latter adds inessential titty action & drops at least one scene important to the plot, so the American version is to be preferred. There is additionally a Mystery Theater 3000 version on dvd, with ongoing comic commentary ripping the film to shreds. Most of the films thus lampooned deserve it, but Devil Doll doesn't, so it's much better to watch the actual film.
Continue to Erich von Stroheim in:
The Great Gabbo (1929)
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl