Directed by: Yong-Ki Jeong
Mark has recently covered ‘Dollman vs. Demonic Toys’ on the site; so continuing along a similar theme, here is a South Korean film about dolls, the most creepy of all Children’s toys. Seriously, I remember as a kid wandering through Kerrisons en route to the Airfix model section and those bloody Cabbage Patch dolls would scare the beejeezus out of me down as I hurried down this narrow shadowy aisle, they seemed to peer blankly through the window of their clear plastic boxes. A chubby face full of evil intentions. Like former dead eyed Russian MMA phenom Fedor Emelianenko pre-fight, they tended to stare right through you.
‘The Doll Master’ is one of those films which contain many familiar horror tropes. The film begins with a scene from the distant past when a tragic event occurred, one of those events that will likely leave haunt a place for decades to come. In this case, a doll maker’s wife was found dead. The doll maker was accused of murder, got beaten to death by an angry mob and buried on the edge of a forest. The doll he made in his wife’s image sat mournfully by the doll maker’s grave (a comment on that to come later). Then there’s a creepy old building, an ideal setting for a horror movie, a doll museum with dangerous and mysterious inhabitants, and finally a group of fresh faced mostly good looking victims… I mean young folk (the handsome macho guy, the weird and pervy guy, the Scream Queen, the bimbo and the odd one) who are invited to stay at the museum with no objections whatsoever. Who wouldn’t want to stay for a few nights at a doll museum without knowing the reasons why they were invited?
‘The Doll Master’ is proof that even in the clever, innovative world of South Korean cinema there exists directors who rely on other people’s tired ideas and oft repeated scares in order to make a below average horror movie. Actually below average is maybe too kind, ‘The Doll Master’ runs like a bad American horror movie, one of those post-‘Scream’ flicks like ‘House of Wax’, only decidedly less jumpy and without Paris Hilton getting gruesomely killed. The film is also badly paced, ponderous in fact, half the film drifts by before any scares occur.
What else did I hate about it?
I think the problem with dolls is that though as I’ve already said they have a creepy aura about them, in that the more lifelike they are, the more frightening they appear, making them scary on film relies either in ‘Child’s Play’ levels of absurdity or as a contrast to that careful suspenseful subtlety. ‘The Doll Master’ gets it horrendously wrong. It is one thing to have an actress playing a doll come to life, in the case of the living doll Mina. It is quite the other to suggest that with the other decidedly unlife-like dolls are capable of killing, just by a stiff arm moving slowly, or eyes moving shiftily from left to right like an arthritic ‘Action Man’. In the opening scene it is particularly painful to watch the director trying to create emotion by placing the apparently grieving but ultimately still and lifeless doll next to the doll maker’s graveside.
The story is ridiculous. Hae-mi doesn’t recognize that the young girl in a red dress who lurks around the house is a doll with a soul from her childhood. But then again why would she, given that there is only a passing resemblance. Yeong-ha seems mentally disturbed, yet the other guests see her more as nothing more than a teeny bit eccentric. They don’t find it odd that a young woman in her late teens / early twenties would carry a doll around with her. Unless she is a goth teen circa Marilyn Manson fandom era then why would this be even remotely socially accepted? Why? Why? So many god damn Why’s? The biggest Why? Being – Why are the guests there in the first place? The reason is shoehorned in towards the end that all the guests are descendants of men who killed the original doll maker. Gosh, it must’ve took a hell of a lot of researching Korean family trees to make that happen, and most of all Why? Who had a stake in their demise? What was the point of this vengeful act? Again, why?