Where did they get those (not so) wonderful toys....
The 80s and 90s were a great time for horror fans – sure, not all were classics and some have aged about as well as MC Hammer, but the quality and thought put into each trailer and film poster were immense. Labels such as Medusa and New Line would promise magical characters, grotesque demons and visions into the very gates of hell. Often the budgets wouldn't stretch as far as the illustrators imagination, and indeed if the cover was a drawn one, you could bet the film would be the lowest of low budgets. But the promise – oh the promise – as you picked up a big box VHS rental cover and took it to the counter.
These were the days of strong and bloody franchises – Krueger, Vorhees, Chucky, Trancers, Phantasm, Re-Animator, Hellraiser, the Evil Deads and many more. If it could slice, dice and send you to hell then it would probably stretch it over 3 or 4 varying quality releases. If one film was to be made about demonic toys, then by god about 3 or 4 would be.
Charles 'one man' Band – Producer extraordinaire and owner and creator of Full Moon Entertainment - clearly studied at the school of Corman as releases such as Dollman, Castle Freak and Subspecies (featured on this disc in seemingly restored HD trailers) brought with them the same ethic of giving the public what they wanted and not hanging around that extra half hour when a film could be brought in under 90 minutes and multiple productions shot in the same location. Other film independents such as Lloyd Kaufman's Troma films would try but never really hit the same heights as Band's mash of monsters. Filmmakers such as Stuart Gordon and established genre actors like Lance Henriksen, Tim Thomersen and even Oliver Reed filled up the bloodied ranks, giving each release a curious hook from which to market it. Indeed, Demonic Toys was written by future Blade scribe/director and Christopher Nolan acolyte David S Goyer!
Labels such as Troma and Full Moon were and still are independent, and weren't being released worldwide by the respectable likes of Lionsgate (Saw) or Paramount (Paranormal Activity), so fandom grew from the playground and rental home showings. Before the days of the internet and online marketing – these were promoted on other video tapes so if you weren't a fan of this type of film, you'd probably never know about it as a trail for it wouldn't appear on your copy of Parenthood or Police Academy – and they would be 18 certificates, not aimed at reaching every age group possible. Just look at a film franchise like Die Hard for a good example of how pandering to the largest possible audience weakens each subsequent release going from 18 to 12a certificates. Do these films belong to the mists of time? To long cherished memories of our favourite video rental stores? Well, with the rise of on demand (which Full Moon are now dipping a large monstrous toe into), maybe it's time for a reappraisal....
Demonic Toys stars 90s genre favourite Tracy Scoggins and you know you're in for a treat as soon as the deliciously awful dialogue begins, setting up our warehouse location for the remainder of the film. Scoggins – as undercover (very, very undercover...) cop Judith Gray – watches her partner gunned down and chases after the two criminals, leading the three into a suspiciously quiet toy warehouse. As one of our bad guys bleeds into a conveniently placed crack in the floor, the toys begin to come alive, attacking him and causing..well, if you've seen Hellraiser, then lets just say 'Frank Cotton' and be done with it....
What follows doesn't really matter too much suffice to say we'll meet a runaway teenager and a fast food worker who'll get locked in with Scoggins and help her fend off the demonic toys as they seek to resurrect their hellish master through the soul of recently pregnant Scoggins' baby...A sort of Rosemary's Baby with Dynasty level acting and psychotic toys.
And yes, those toys. Brought wonderfully to life through puppetry, stop motion and animatronics, the matte lines have been cleaned up considerably to present the fx in perhaps their best ever light. Characters such as the foul mouthed Baby Oopsie Daisy, Grizzly Teddy, razor fanged clown Jack Attack and Zombietoid are obviously a product of their time and designed for recognisable use in future franchise instalments, yet aren't quite as iconic in design as their Puppetmaster rivals (who's first film features on the tv set in the security control room early on). The toys actually don't feature all that often - perhaps due to budget constraints - with 'The Kid' and his demonic glowing green eyes (and adult dubbed voice) taking the villainous strain for most of the film. As such, the toys don't have the kind of character that Chucky has in Child's Play and are mainly a device to serve 'The Kid's' plan.
Still, the sight of a baby doll drawing a pentagram around a corpse in yellow Crayola is quite something....
Running a tight 83mins, Demonic Toys is a fun little film that brings the necessary gore, hokey dialogue and characters and knows it's audience enough not to hang around too long after. It's fine late night entertainment, but without a strong central character or idea to bind it together (demonic possession/resurrection? Sigh..).
A little painting by numbers to be remembered, this probably won't make it into many people's horror classics list, but at least 88 Films and Full Moon have presented a respectful transfer. These would be made now as clever clever Eli Roth produced gore fests or straight to on demand with Don Johnson and laughed at as 'ironic'. I'm not sure Full Moon ever took their tongues out of their rotting cheeks, but certainly they took the genre seriously and gave us many memorable crackers that – whilst not worthy of iconic status – are great fun nonetheless.
Well, here's a surprise. A 22 year old cult horror VHS release that looks better than certain recent blu-ray discs, Demonic Toys is presented in a remastered HD 1080p 1.78:1 aspect ratio (which works brilliantly for an old 4:3 VHS release). Whilst it does show the inevitable signs of grain and over sharpening, the colours are vibrant (and corrected from the original release) and it's heartening to see the care and attention spent on remastering the source material rather than a standard minor upgrade to the VHS/DVD releases (pre 4k release Robocop, I'm looking at you...).
DTS-HD MA 5.1 remastered Surround and DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 – Full Moon always provided fantastic soundtracks, and Richard Brand's synth tracks sound great. They've gone to town with two soundtrack options in 5.1 and 2.0 that really and truly wouldn't be expected from such a release – but it's to their credit that they both work well and are even offered in the first place!
Extras are presented in HD too – great to see the trailers included remastered as well (Dollman in particular is a highlight '13 inches with an attitude!' Ha!) The behind the scenes Videozone is fun, if very slight at under 8mins - where is the in-depth look at the toys themselves? Indeed, whilst a vast array of extras wouldn't be expected for Demonic Toys, the effort put into the remastering of the film and what extras there are make you yearn for a few commentary tracks (not least from Full Moon producer extraordinaire Charles Band himself) and some b-roll footage or magazine scans (Fangoria, release posters, toy designs etc) to make the package complete. As it is, you get what you expect, but are definitely left wanting a lot more.