American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Ambitious horror movies always seem to be waging a subtle war between good and bad taste, and in the best ones, bad taste wins. Let's face it: At some elementary level, horror is about bad taste - about unspeakable affronts to the notion of a well-ordered society. Let a horror movie grow too elegant and it will sit there on the screen, a boring decoration. One of the greatest of all horror films, Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel," even took the destruction of good taste as its subject; it was about elegant dinner guests who gradually turned into animals.
But I stray from the subject, which is Stuart Gordon's new film, "Dolls." Gordon's first two movies were glorious exercises in bad taste, wretched excess and blood-soaked horrors. "Re-Animator" had scenes in which heads went in search of their bodies. His second film, "From Beyond," featured a disgusting manifestation from another dimension, which consumed its victims while spewing slime with cheerful abandon.
Now comes "Dolls," which is more elegant, civilized, artistic and clever than the first two movies, but less fun. It begins with great promise. A little girl is being taken on vacation by her father and her stepmother, who hate her. A fierce storm blows up, and the three take refuge in a mysterious roadside mansion inhabited by an old dollmaker and his wife.
So far, so good. And there is even a certain chill when some of the dolls can be seen moving. Gordon begins with glimpses, out of the corner of the eye, of the little living things. The girl insists she has seen the dolls move. The adults tell her to shut up. Another stranded tourist believes her story but is branded as a child molester.