‘Can a beautiful woman be enslaved against her will?’
Devil Doll is a 1963 British horror feature film directed by Lindsay Shonteff (Curse of the Voodoo; Night, After Night, After Night) from a screenplay by Ronald Kinnoch, based on a 1951 story by Frederick E. Smith. The movie stars William Sylvester, Bryant Haliday and Yvonne Romain.
Although filmed in 1963 it did not receive a UK release by Gala Films until 1964, in a version censored by the BBFC. As became the practice during the 1960s and early 1970s, alternate scenes were filmed with mild nudity for its ‘Continental’ release.
Hypnotist/magician “The Great Vorelli” (Bryant Haliday) and his dummy Hugo are seen performing in front of a packed audience in London. The spectators observe tension between the ventriloquist and his dummy.
American reporter Mark English (William Sylvester) becomes fascinated with Vorelli while attending the performance. English solicits his girlfriend Marianne Horn (Hammer regular Yvonne Romain) to go with him to another show. From the beginning, the film drops strong hints that the dummy, Hugo, is actually alive and mobile…
“The ventriloquist’s dummy motif is virtually guaranteed to make for compelling scenes as in Dead of Night (1945), but Shonteff and company still manage to botch it up with a surfeit of TV close-ups, crude editing and flatly monotonous acting.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“The whole thing lacks inspiration – in front of and behind the camera. Unappealing leads, bland direction, and an over padded and weary story makes this a dreary watch indeed. The dummy soon loses any air of menace, so one doesn’t even get the thrills and scares one would hope for.” Shaun Anderson, The Celluloid Highway
“The inherent creepiness of the dummy is magnified by the crudity of the title object. Even when inanimate, it has a sinister aspect that will induce shivers, despite its ridiculous shock of hair. Much of its movement is quite subtle, yet even a brief motion of the eyes is highly effective.” Mark Zimmer, Digitally Obsessed
“Devil Doll may not be a work of dazzling brilliance, but it’s got enough going for it to earn my commendation nonetheless. I like the fact that the living dummy isn’t really the monster here, and I think Bryant Haliday’s performance as Vorelli is a minor gem of celluloid villainy. He’s so shamelessly slimy…” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
” …this DVD presentation allows you to compare both the standard and the more racy Continental versions of Devil Doll, presented beautifully in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with Anamorphic enhancement. Consisting of a bit of nudity and nothing more, the film looks as good as it’s ever going to. And the photography is more television-oriented than for cinema as a number of close-ups reveal.” Christopher Dietrich, DVD Drive-In
“Director Lindsay Shonteff adds a sado-sexual element that was quite a bit more upfront than usual for the film’s time. Vorelli is into controlling the minds of women – there is a scene where he hypnotises and seduces Yvonne Romain. The camera pans in closeup up women in tights and lingers more than usual on a near-naked Sandra Dorne just before she is killed.” Richard Scheib, Moria
“For the most part, Shonteff succeeds in creating a disquieting feel to the film and this mood is reinforced on the soundtrack, which features a pulsating rhythm that came about by chance when the producers realised that they did not have the funds available to pay for a musical score and had instead to fall back on that old stand-by, the music library. The uncredited tracks that Shonteff cobbled together at random add considerably to the power and intensity of the film’s shock sequences.” John Hamilton, X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film: 1951 – 1970 (Hemlock Film, 2012)
“The special effects were not very good which was actually pretty smart as the shoddy looking puppet added to the horror of the film and is a case where being frugal with the budget actually paid off. The film is eerie to say the least and while it is a little corny at times, it manages to induce both chills and enjoyment.” The Telltale Mind
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Main cast and characters:
- Bryant Haliday … The Great Vorelli
- William Sylvester … Mark English
- Yvonne Romain … Marianne Horn
- Sandra Dorne … Magda
- Nora Nicholson … Aunt Eva
- Alan Gifford … Bob Garrett
- Karel Stepanek … Doctor Heller
- Francis De Wolff … Doctor Keisling
Frederick E. Smith submitted the story to London Mystery Magazine in 1951, earning £10 for it.
Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!