1/19/07

818 Devil Doll

(1964, Horror, b&w)

You are only a dummy, Hugo.

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

An evil ventriloquist uses his possessed dummy and hypnotic powers on a young heiress.

Summary:

An inexplicable hit at parties.Intrepid newspaper reporter Mark English (2001’s William Sylvester) has been assigned to discover the secrets of professional sideshow entertainer The Great Vorelli (The Projected Man’s Bryant Haliday). To this end, his girlfriend Maryanne accepts Vorelli’s request for an audience volunteer. Vorelli hypnotizes her into thinking she’s a professional dancer, and then continues an odd, disturbing act in which his ventriloquist’s dummy, Hugo, spews invective while Vorelli drinks wine. (During this scene, a woman walks on stage to move a microphone stand. She seems to be missing the rear lower half of her bikini briefs. Somehow this looks more obscene than if she had been wearing no briefs at all.) Hugo walks to the footlights and bows.

Mark has to know what makes the dummy work, so he persuades Maryanne to invite Vorelli to perform at her wealthy aunt’s charity ball. Vorelli and Hugo clash over the subject of ham during the act, and the dummy pulls a knife. Vorelli’s hypnotic powers quickly subdue him. Afterwards, Mark breaks into Vorelli’s room to inspect Hugo. The dummy has been locked in a cage, but he can find nothing to explain its ability to walk and speak. Vorelli hypnotizes Maryanne further during Mark’s absence. After the ball, he calls her to his room for some hypnotic hanky panky, while Hugo slips off to Mark’s room to beg him for help. He tells Mark to look up Vorelli’s activities in Berlin in 1948.

The next day, Maryanne falls into a coma. After the dummy’s midnight visit, Mark suspects Vorelli of hypnotizing her, and flies to Berlin to investigate. In Germany, he interviews a lumpy old woman who used to be Vorelli’s assistant. She describes how Vorelli killed her partner, Hugo, and transferred his soul into a dummy. Now he is a slave to Vorelli’s will.

When Mark gets home, he finds Maryanne awake and well. She breaks up with him, declaring she’s fallen in love with Vorelli. They are to be married in Spain next month. Naturally, Mark goes out and gets drunk. Meanwhile, Vorelli is preparing another dummy: a female creature that looks vaguely like his hypnotized bride-to-be. Maryanne will die shortly after marrying him, he explains to Hugo, and then he’ll inherit her money while Hugo will get a little wooden companion. Vorelli foolishly leaves the cage unlocked while he answers the door. By the time he turns around, Hugo has destroyed the Maryanne doll. They wrestle for several minutes. A musical sting sounds while the scene freezes. The dummy is shoved back into his cage. When Mark bursts in a few minutes later, Hugo tells him that the tables have been turned. He has taken over Vorelli’s body, while Vorelli is now trapped in the body of the dummy.

Introduction:

A fun toy for all ages.  Cost: your immortal soul.Tom and Crow declare it to be “Friday at the dorm,” which means beer, wine coolers, and stereo speakers in the dorm window. But, given a limited budget, Tom has to forgo the alcohol and stereo in favor a single window, which he has placed upon the desk.

Host Segment One:

While Tom prepares to return the window, Flavia and Callipygeas throw a “Welcome Gods” party down in Roman times. Thoroughly bored, Pearl tries to liven up the festivities by declaring it a toga party. The Romans think this odd (everyone’s already wearing togas) but Brain Guy whips up pants for everyone, and the party swings into high gear. Up on the Satellite of Love, Crow takes Tom’s dorm party fantasy to the extreme by thrashing around in a drunken rage. “Debbie!” he cries, and punches in the window. Mike takes him aside to explain that he’s not drunk, doesn’t live in a dorm, and doesn’t even know anyone named Debbie.

Host Segment Two:

Crow has invited Pitch the Devil (from episode 521) to show him his line of bargain-priced, collectible Devil Dolls. Mike is appalled and casts Pitch out of the Satellite of Love. He answers Crow’s indignation by saying, “I just saved your immortal soul!” “I could have saved a lot more on my doll budget,” Crow replies.

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow set up an English pub, complete with bowler hats, large front teeth, and stout ale. They invite Mike over for a pint, but the ale is so stout, it will only come out of the tap at approximately one inch per minute. Quoth Crow, “You want a slice of my beer while we wait?”

Host Segment Four:

Pitch returns to teach Crow how to transfer Tom’s soul into a body that seems to be made from construction paper. Mike arrives to cast Pitch out again. Mike and Crow argue about Crow’s lapse into Satanism. Meanwhile, Tom transfers his soul into a toaster strudel.

Host Segment Five:

Mike has fallen asleep, so naturally Crow has donned a Vorelli-esque beard, dressed Mike as Hugo, and built cage around him. Mike wakes to hear Crow whispering about his ugliness and inability to digest luncheon meats. Tom shows up as a toaster strudel with shapely female legs and half-nude female buttocks. Down in Roman times, Pearl and Brain Guy attend the Coliseum, where a hairy individual known as the Mad Goth kills a number of lions. “Bobo!” they cry.

Stinger:

Hugo lurches across a room.

Thoughts:

SLEEEEEEEEEEEEP!Who knew hedonism could be so depressing? I suppose it usually is, eventually, but you’d think the participants would at least get some fun out of it while it lasted. Not Vorelli. He takes no apparent pleasure in performance. He glowers at his victims, er, audience volunteers while he hypnotizes them into thinking they’re about to be executed by militant Asians. He grumbles while he taunts his dummy with ham at the buffet. (Why does everyone applaud? Cruelty? Catharsis? An Emperor’s New Clothes-ish fear of public ridicule?) Even his personal vices don’t seem to excite him. He summons his hypnotized beauties to sexual servitude as if it was an onerous chore. If this movie were a children’s cartoon, he’d be a sinister Eeyore, accompanied at all times by a little black rain cloud, with tiny booms of thunder and miniature flashes of lightning striking around his ears.

The host segments are a rather odd mix. The Roman times segments advance the story, but are otherwise bland. The window party starts off amusing and then gets really funny when Crow starts his drunken rant. The Pitch segments seem a little superficial to me, but I’m glad they didn’t delve too deeply into Satanism. The penultimate sequence with Mike as Hugo, Crow as Vorelli, and Tom as the toaster strudel/butt lady is hilariously bizarre.

The film segments have some good lines. When the audience applauds wildly during Vorelli’s depressing act, Crow says, “If this man could juggle, he would rule England.” When Hugo slips out of his cage to attack Vorelli, Crow says, “I bet beanie babies don’t get this kind of power.” Tom sums up Vorelli’s character perfectly when he says, “He’s really just a darker version of those dentists who put people under, then grope them.” Ultimately, even the best comments sink into the dreary darkness of the film. It’s not an episode I feel comfortable recommending.