Devil Doll (1964)

“They’re not applauding you — they’re applauding me! Yes, me, Hugo — the dummy!”

Devil Doll Poster

Synopsis:
A journalist (William Sylvester) hoping to learn the secret of a mysterious ventriloquist (Bryant Haliday) whose dummy is strangely mobile enlists the help of his beautiful, wealthy girlfriend (Yvonne Romain), unknowingly putting her life at risk.

Genres:

Review:
Fans of the “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” sequence in the classic British horror anthology Dead of Night (1945) may be curious to check out this unofficial homage, in which the title dummy is also named Hugo — though the tables of diabolical control in this case have been shifted from puppet to master. The pacing is overall too slow, and several moments (i.e., Romain being hypnotized into dancing onstage) are downright silly — but director Lindsay Shonteff and DP Gerald Gibbs do an adequate job evoking tension and menace within their low budget, and one remains curious until the end about Hugo’s secret (which involves a twist finale). The actors are decent for what essentially amounts to an exploitation flick — especially Haliday, whose creepy performance is reminiscent of Christopher Lee (surely intentional); meanwhile, fans of The Last of Sheila (1973) may enjoy seeing “Sheila” herself (sexy Romain) in a more substantial role.

Note: Other Peary-listed titles in the ventriloquism sub-genre include the terribly boring Erich von Stroheim vehicle The Great Gabbo (1929), and the disappointing Danny Kaye Cold War spoof Knock on Wood (1954).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Reasonably effective low-budget direction and cinematography
    Devil Doll Direction
    Devil Doll Cinematography
  • A surprisingly strong sense of menace
    Devil Doll Haliday
    Devil Doll Menace2
    Devil Doll Menace

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as a cult curiosity. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

One Response to “Devil Doll (1964)”

  1. Not a must.

    I saw this at age 9 during its release. I liked it then, but what does a 9-year-old know?

    It is definitely slow. And the showbiz angle is odd: Haliday and his dummy do nothing but talk to each other like Liz and Dick in ‘…Virginia Woolf?’ (This is entertainment for the general public in the film?! Don’t they suspect that such an act is supposed to be…funny?)

    Its worth as a cult item really is minor. The novelty twist isn’t worth the wait. If you’re going to watch this at all, by all means watch the MST3K version. It’s among the show’s best and at least you’ll be amused.

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