Curse of the Doll People-attachment0

Curse of the Doll People

Movie Information

In Brief: When a voodoo idol is stolen from its Haitian home, a voodoo priest sends animated dolls to revenge himself on those responsible. Amusing and yet creepy South of the Border horror from the richest period for such movies. Murderous dolls, a voodoo priest, gangsters and a zombie delivery boy all in one package.
Score:

Genre: Horror
Director: Benito Alazraki (Santo Contra Los Zombies)
Starring: Elvira Quintana, Ramón Gay, Roberto G. Rivera, Quintín Bulnes, Luis Aragón
Rated: NR

When the Thursday Horror Picture Show came into being about two-and-a-half years ago, I doubt it would have occurred to anyone that one of the most popular items on the cinematic menu would turn out to be Mexican horror pictures from the 1950s and 60s. But they have. Oh, sure, they look a lot better today than when most of us north of the border first saw them in badly dubbed and incomprehensible cut prints on TV. Even so, the films are strong on atmosphere, light on logic and heavy on the inherent cheesiness in the obviously limited budgets, but all of that combines to produce a strangely lovable and delightfully handmade experience. With that in mind, we have Benito Alazraki’s Curse of the Doll People (1961). The film is ostensibly from an original screenplay by Alfredo Salazar (brother of Mexican horror star and producer Abel Salazar), but the truth is that it’s an uncredited (and presumably royalty-free) adaptation of Abraham Merritt’s 1932 novel Burn, Witch, Burn, which was officially filmed by Tod Browning as The Devil-Doll in 1936. (The 1962 British film Burn, Witch, Burn is an American retitling of Night of the Eagle, an adaptation of Fritz Leiber’s 1943 horror novel Conjure Wife and has nothing to do with the Merritt book. Confusing, isn’t it?) The interesting thing is that Salazar’s screenplay is actually far closer to Merritt’s peculiar mix of gangsters, witchcraft and a modern hospital than the official version — with a couple of notable differences.

Salazar’s screenplay drags in a Haitian voodoo priest (the fact that the Haitian priest is white seems to bother no one) and a curse involving a stone idol. But the biggest alteration is that the dolls are about the size of a ventriloquist’s dummy — making them something like homicidal Charlie McCarthys or predecessors to Don Mancini’s Chucky. This was almost certainly a budgetary concern. It’s after all a lot easier to dress up a few midgets than it is to indulge in the effects work necessary to create 12-inch-high living dolls. The fact is, however, that these awkwardly moving, expressionless dolls with sightless eyes are creepy as hell — even when some of their antics are pretty risible. (Even funnier is when someone describes one of these dimunitive monstrosities as “beautiful,” or suggests they would be suitable for a child.) As usual with these movies, it’s a kind of mixed bag. The dolls are definitely unnerving and, to a lesseer extent, so is the zombie who delivers them (he lives in an Egyptian sarcophagus, but that is another matter). But, hey, it’s a lot of fun — and what other film offers you a voodoo priest whose lair includes a disco ball?

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Curse of the Doll People Thursday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

8 thoughts on “Curse of the Doll People

  1. DrSerizawa

    I don’t know, Ken. I’ve felt horror every time I’ve seen a Disco ball ever since my wife dragged me to SATURDAY NIGHT HORROR…… er,I mean FEVER. I find disco balls extremely creepy and horrifying. Worse than polyester leisure suits and white guys sporting afros.

    I’ve yet to sample cheesey Mexican horror except for a brief attempt at an Aztec Mummy movie back in the 60′s. Any other recommendations? Remember that it was a Mexican company that created the beloved GIANT CLAW prop, IIRC.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Well, of course, the disco ball predates disco music by some time — like back to the 1920s and were in discotheques long before there was a specific music. Then again, I have to admit that the music bothers me less after much of what has come in its wake. (NB: I do not own any such music.)

    I would definite not start venturing into Mexican horror with this as a starting point. There are better films — El Vampiro, The Black Pit of Dr. M, The Man and the Monster come to mind. But bear in mind, they’re all kind of low-rent and frequently silly and often don’t make much sense. That, of course, is part of the appeal. (Think of them like those Monogram Bs with Lugosi in the 1940s.) Be wary, though, because the best company that was putting them out — Casa Negra — seems to have gone out of business. Just be sure what you’re watching isn’t dubbed or cut. The people who put out this copy of Doll People do okay, but they’re not in the same league as Casa Negra. I intend on picking up their Mummy three-fer pack. I need to take another look at those.

  3. DrSerizawa

    I doubt that they’ll be more incoherent than some of those “great” Italian flicks by Bava and Argento. Not to mention the low end schlock like “Zombie Lake”.

  4. Orbit DVD

    Ken, Synapse for awhile re-released the Casanegra titles, but that might not be anymore. I have Brainiac put aside for you btw.

    The best Mexican horror of all time is NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES which combined female wrestling with over the top HG Lewis type gore. Awesome!

    • DrSerizawa

      Female wrestling and HGL gore? Sounds like one of the greatest movies ever made. Add in a stampede of monkeys and it would be the greatest movie ever made.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Actually, you get it with CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE. Let’s say you were more whelmed than I over this one.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Add in a stampede of monkeys and it would be the greatest movie ever made.

    Alas, no. The title is somewhat misleading.

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