Devil Doll suffers from a paper thin narrative that offers further evidence to suggest that films featuring inanimate objects are better suited to the short story format of the portmanteau film or The Twilight Zone. The central premise which involves a ventriloquist’s dummy with a life of its own, only works because of the inherent uncanny nature of such a proposition. Any familiarity the object may have possessed is soon shattered when we see its eyes moving of their own accord, or when it turns its head and stares blankly into the camera. It is somewhat surprising that cinematic history has not been littered with a multitude of variations on this theme because the concept is intrinsically terrifying. The few examples there are such as Dead of Night (1945), Magic (1978), Dolls (1987), Child’s Play and sequels (1988, 1990, 1991, 1998, 2004, 2010) and Puppermaster and sequels (1989, 1991, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2003) suffer from the diminishing returns of franchising and a dilution of the primal power of the uncanny - this early example then, appearing in 1964 should have had the potential to be very good. The failure as with most low budget horror films is in the writing - here we are presented with hopelessly one dimensional characters who are only mildly intriguing. When an object made of wood becomes the most emotionally involved and deepest character in the film you’re in trouble.
The manner in which Vorelli manipulates and controls the human soul is a blank spot the screenplay quickly washes its hands of. The key difference is that Hugo is not a demonic doll, and nor is he the villain - instead he is an imprisoned soul seeking vengeance against the man who put him there. Although this is intriguing and different it reduces much of the tension from the film. I enjoyed it a lot more when I believed the doll was evil. Instead of showing us the highs and lows of a tortured artist waging war against the demons (both within and in the doll) on this occasion the artist is a scum bag out for himself. This is a major weakness, in part, because Halliday gives such a dour and feeble performance.