On their way to take a vacation trip, the Bower family becomes stranded on a remote countryside road, just when a thunderstorm suddenly forms. Anything but loving, David Bower (Ian Williams) is an angry and verbally abusive father who has recently remarried Rosemary (Carolyn Gordon), a wealthy and frigid woman. Having divorced his first wife it's apparent that David remarried for money, which is why he cows to her constant bitching, if you'll pardon my French. But it's David's daughter Judy (Carry Loraine, 'Poltergeist II'), perhaps a little overimaginative but nonetheless a sweet girl, that takes the brunt of their distemperment. Really, when stuck in such a miserable position, imagination is all a kid has. And daydreaming that a giant teddy bear mauls and maims the incompetent parents, though dark but still humorous, is as close as Judy can get to venting without getting into trouble.
Spotting a large estate nearby, the family take refuge by entering inside via a basement doorway but are promptly discovered by the owners, the elderly Hartwicke couple. Sympathetic to their plight, they take the family in for the night. Gabriel Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe, 'Puppet Master' 3-5 & 7), a doll maker, explains that the storms always seem to take travelers by surprise around here, as Hilary (Hilary Mason, 'Don't Look Now') agrees and serves the guests some warm soup. Not long after, three strangers appear, barging in without so much as a knock: Isabel (Bunty Bailey) and Enid (Cassie Stuart), a pair of punk rock hitchhickers, and Ralph (Stephen Lee), a nice but somewhat dim guy.
Waking Judy's parents and Enid, afraid that perhaps Gabriel is responsible, Ralph and Judy try to warn them. However, this backfires and they accuse Ralph of murdering the hitchhiker girl. Nothing is done to Ralph, but the guests shut themselves up to keep away from him. Intending to keep Judy with them for safe measure, she runs away from her father. When he's unable to find her, David tries to force her out of hiding by threatening to harm the Mr. Punch doll. David tries to make good on his threat, but finds he cannot tear Mr. Punch apart or really hurt the doll. And while his attention is focused elsewhere, David finds after that Mr. Punch has vanished.
Ralph goes to Gabriel, who explains that it was simply spilt paint that they found in the hallway and gently laughs off the fairies story that Judy came to him with. Elsewhere, just across the hall from one another, the dolls start to move against Rosemary and Enid. Rosemary, however, is assaulted en masse and in an attempt to escape somehow misjudges her jump and goes flying through a window, presumably falling to her death. How she ever managed to do something so stupid, I'll never know.
While most of the dolls attack with makeshift weapons, this doll makes use of its fangs.
Meanwhile, having returned unsuccessful in retrieving Judy, David has showered and gets into bed. Beneath the covers lies the still form of Rosemary, whom David simply assumes is sleeping. Unnoticeable to him, a red spot where Rosemary's head rests slowly bleeds into the sheets. But it's only after David makes an advance on his second wife that he uncovers her broken and bloodied head. After the initial shock wears off, David can only assume that Ralph is responsible. Breaking apart a bedroom chair, he runs out yelling like a maniac with a makeshift chair leg club.
In the basement, where they exit the storage room, Ralph and Judy are startled by her raving father, who accuses Ralph of murdering Rosemary and attacks. Unable to reason with him, Ralph defends himself as best he can but rather poorly. Knocking Ralph unconscious to the floor, David is interrupted by Judy. Completely uninhibited, he pushes his daughter forcefully aside. Ready to deliver the death blow to Ralph, he is saved in time by the Mr. Punch doll. Whilst occupied by Mr. Punch's intervention, the dolls drag Ralph and Judy away to safety elsewhere.
Tearing apart the shelves with a nearby sledgehammer, David gets the upper hand and crushes Mr. Punch's head with an exclamation, "F**k you, Clownie!". It is then that Mr. and Mrs. Hartwicke appear, where it's revealed that the elderly couple are in fact practitioners of witchcraft. Demanding his daughter back, who he exclaims will go straight into a juvenile home, is rebuked by Gabriel, "Being a parent is a privilege, David, not a right." As Gabriel continues to talk, David's form cracks and contorts gradually into that of the Mr. Punch doll.
The next morning, Ralph and Judy awake comfortably with little recollection of the night's events. The Hartwickes give a reasonable series of explanations, including the absence of the hitchhikers and Judy's parents. Reading a note "written" by David, it apologizes on his behalf for being such a poor father and that Rosemary and himself have gone away to another country, where they will change their names and never be heard from again, conveniently. Included with the letter is a plane ticket to fly Judy back to Boston to her mother, as well as money for Ralph to purchase one and instructions to see Judy back home. But after finishing the note, the Hartwickes offer their home to the two, having "grown quite fond" of them. Judy politely declines, much to Ralph's relief, but assures them that she'll come visit next summer. Just after Judy and Ralph leave, another car driving along gets stuck nearby the doll makers' manor.
Much to my pleasure, 'Dolls' exceeded my initial expectations. The stop-motion animation and puppetry used with the dolls was quite well done, and some of the dolls were legitimately creepy in of themselves. Having grown up with a sister and shared a room with her and her small collection of dolls, I know firsthand how unnerving they can be. Despite being hokey at times, it made the film more endearing than a hinderance. Much better than 'Puppet Master' and on par with, if not perhaps above, 'Child's Play' I give it four out of five Mr. Punch dolls.