Actually, my favorite new masked killer doesn’t really play with dolls, which makes me wish the Playing with Dolls franchise went by a different name. However, the title could be metaphorical, so who am I to tell a writer/director what to name his movie?
I became hooked on this series by inadvertently watching the second film first. Playing With Dolls: Bloodlust was available on Amazon Prime and made no mention of being a sequel, so I dived in. I had no problem following it, because it works completely as a standalone slasher…until it becomes hard to follow right before ending up demanding a sequel (we’ll get to that).
It was when I was looking to see if another film is in the works that I learned of the first Playing with Dolls and immediately had to hunt it down.
PLAYING WITH DOLLS (aka: Cinderella – Playing with Dolls) (2015)
Watching the first film after seeing the second, a few things jumped out at me. For starters, they are sort of the same movie with just alterations in the details. This film feels like a warm up to the sequel—there are hints of the style director Rene Perez lays on thick in Bloodlust, which is what got me hooked, so I’m glad I saw it first. I also get the sense that Perez planned this as a series from the start, because while the plot fills in some backstory missing from the sequel, it’s just as open-ended, leaving us with more questions than answers.
Veteran horror actor Richard Tyson (Big Bad Wolf, Flight of the Living Dead, The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond, Hayride, Hayride 2, Ghost of Goodnight Lane) is still as hot as he was as the bully back in the 1983 teen classic Three O’Clock High. Here, he plays a psycho who gets off on watching people being slaughtered, so he breaks a serial killer out of prison to do the dirty work while he watches.
Tyson has land around a remote vacation home cordoned off and guarded by (sexy) militant guys who are oblivious to what is going on inside the perimeter. Tyson lets the serial killer run free in the woods wielding a sharp weapon and wearing a gruesome mask (step aside Voorhees), and then lures down-on-their-luck victims to the house with various promises of fortunes. Essentially, he creates a slasher scenario with one difference…he has cameras set up all over the place so he can watch the action as it unfolds.
After an intro scene that has the killer doing something awful to a female victim tied to a tree, the movie focuses on a young woman who has no money and is being evicted. Just in time, she is offered a job caring for an old man in a house in the middle of nowhere. When she arrives, it turns out the old man is away on business, so she has the whole place to herself.
Playing with Dolls plays out more like a home invasion film than a slasher, because there really are no victims. The main girl revels in living in luxury (she even gets a dance montage), unaware that the masked killer is roaming the halls of the lodge-like house, hiding in shadows watching her, and fighting the urge to kill her as per Tyson’s instructions.
Director Rene Perez creates fantastic atmosphere and delivers a few instances of perfect jump scares that become much more prevalent in the sequel, but this film is more about sustained suspense than action. There’s no body count for a majority of the film because there’s only one victim, but the setup is so intriguing that you get sucked in, wondering what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. Even the main girl seems ridiculously oblivious to the fact that she’s not alone despite some odd situations occurring, like a slaughtered animal turning up on her doorstep and dolls just appearing around the house out of nowhere.
The action does suddenly amp up near the end, when a cute detective arrives, warning the main girl of the killer on the loose. Tyson’s military men are sent in to dispose of the meddling detective, and all hell breaks loose. With Tyson distracted, the killer ceases the opportunity to pursue the main girl, giving us the chase scene we’ve been waiting for…and an ending that leaves us wanting more….
PLAYING WITH DOLLS: BLOODLUST (2016)
Bloodlust is where it’s at. Perez intensifies the entire experience with this awesome sequel, which opens with a grindhouse look and feel, and the killer demonstrating just how fantastically gory this one is going to be. He has a whole new weapon this time around, and it does some brutal damage.
This time, Richard Tyson has four people believing they are heading into the woods to appear on a live reality show in which they have to survive a slasher scenario. Awesome.
Our contestants include a desperate single mom, a hot daddy struggling to pay child support to his ex, a totally gay dude wearing a pink sweater around his neck who is actually not gay because he’s hot for the final contestant, a bubbly, busty woman.
The film unfolds at a quick pace, and you begin to wish there had been at least one or two more contestants, because this is such a kick ass slasher you want it to last.
The jump scares are out of control (I nearly pissed myself a few times), the gore is horrific, we get to see the killer’s gnarly shrine of body parts out in the woods, and things unfold in ways you wouldn’t exactly expect. There’s even a moment with what appears to be a zombie woman tied to a tree…or is that just a really fucked up previous victim? It’s never explained.
More militant guards appear on the scene for the final act, which is where the movie starts to falter as a standalone film. And when the surviving characters begin the last battle with the killer…the credits role! I’m not kidding.
Bloodlust just stops mid-final scene. Talk about a cliffhanger! Sure, it could totally turn viewers off, but Perez brought me the kind of gore, jump scares, slasher setup, and freaky killer I can’t get enough of, so I can’t wait to see what the next film has in store for us.
There better fucking be another film. If Perez can find the time to make a film like The Burning Dead – about zombies that shoot from a volcano, he should find time to continue the story of his masterpiece. I’m devastated to report that as of this writing, neither Playing with Dolls film is available on DVD or Blu-ray in the U.S.
Addendum. Now that the third film is out, here’s my blog about it.