Monday, March 21, 2011

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

A single mom brings home a doll for her lonely child’s birthday, only to then watch the babysitter and a few strangers die in suspicious accidents. Sound familiar?

Sometimes a cash-in on a popular horror franchise takes a few years. Such is the case for 1996’s Pinocchio’s Revenge, a Child’s Play wannabe with a surprising amount of mid-90s heart.
Quick Plot: Divorcee Jennifer is under a little stress, partially from being a public defender of death row inmates and more so from being mom to a bright, annoying, and possibly psychotic little girl named Zoe. Bitter about her father’s absence, Zoe raises the eyebrows of her child psychologist and gets into schoolyard brawls with some of the other second graders. The kid needs a friend.

Conveniently enough, Mom is just closing out a depressing appeal case where she unsuccessfully defended a man accused of murdering his son. Though he admitted his crime, Jennifer always suspected he was innocent and the only bit of evidence she has to go on is the titular wooden doll found with the deceased’s body. Through an assortment of chess moves, Pinocchio ends up home in bed with Zoe as her new brother/best friend that seems to cause an awful lot of accidents.

I will tell no lies here: I’ve been wanting to watch Pinocchio’s Revenge for a good 10+ years, ever since its VHS cover piqued my interest in the waning days of my rental habit. Now on Instant Watch, I’m one step closer to having completed everything I needed to in life and hence, one step closer to having my brains bashed in by a wooden marionette.

But on a lighter note, how’s the movie? Ridiculous, a tad slow, and somewhere in between, magnificent.
Directed by cult dude Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons, Witchboard), Pinocchio’s Revenge seemed to have based itself on an IMDB bit of trivia on the Child’s Play page, a note that claimed writer Don Mancini’s original intention was to tease out the mystery of whether it was Chucky or his boy keeper Andy that was actually responsible for the killings. In Pinocchio’s Revenge, we’re never quite sure of the same question. It’s a good hour into the film before we hear the little fella speak, and some of the action afterwards still points towards Zoe’s own instability. 
For a straight to VHS killer doll film, it’s actually somewhat impressive. Granted Pinnochio himself ain’t no Talking Tina. Sure, his design is mildly unsettling (and his E.T.  waddle adorable), but Tenney seems to prefer fancy camera tricks to solid doll action, constantly following dramatic shots like closeups of sharp knives with CLOSEUPS OF BUTTER KNIVES SLICING BANANAS! Or a heavily music cued shot of a dead cricket (Pinocchio’s slaughtered conscience) immediately underscored by A SLOW MOTION SHOT OF A GLASS OF ORANGE JUICE SMASHING INTO PIECES! 

You get the point. There’s some genuine ambition at making a ‘psychological thriller’ out of what essentially boils down to a good old fashioned killer doll movie, which is interesting, if occasionally dull. Considering Pinocchio’s Revenge is already combating a low budget and mid-90s fashion crisis, the actual scares don’t really hold up (although I’ll concede the fact that the 6-year-old doll-o-phobe I once was would probably have been incredibly creeped out had this debuted during my youth). But still...look at this guy:

High Points
You have to admire the restraint of a movie called Pinocchio’s Revenge that refuses to give us any actual evil doll action until more than an hour into its running time
Though Brittany Alyse Smith is a tad annoying as Zoe, lead actress Rosalind Allen does manage to create a genuine person as the harried single mom

Low Points
There might be something neat in ending on a mystery, but having sat through Pinocchio’s Revenge, it also feels like we deserve to know exactly WHAT happened
Lessons Learned
Episcopalian=Catholic lite, and believing in evil is one of its job requirements
Always read up on whatever hospital you’re admitted to. It’d be a shame if you end up in one where no nurses ever stop by to check your life support system’s status

If your child is possibly demonstrating homicidal tendencies, it might be a good idea to warn the friendly Italian au pair when leaving the kid in her care

The Winning Line
"Spoon me!"
Hey, we all enjoy that, but not when our partners are so darn aggressive about it
Granted this is a film made for the type of viewer that I am, but I thoroughly enjoyed Pinoochio’s Revenge as a much smarter little horror film that it had any right to be. Coming off an age of Rumplestilstskin and Dolly Dearest, this easily could have gone the tiny killer route but for whatever reason, Pinocchio’s Revenge decided to try something new. You probably won’t be frightened and hey, there are definitely more entertaining evil little things films out there, but for a 90 minute surprise, you might be satisfied. 
If nothing else, it’s funner than A.I.! 


  1. This has been a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine for a long time, and I'm glad to see I'm not alone in its defense. I think lots of viewers are discouraged by the silly title--and there's no getting around it, that title is INCREDIBLY silly--but underneath it all there's a smart, well-made, and extremely entertaining thriller that's much more than just a CHILD'S PLAY rip-off.

    I loved the ambiguity between whether the killings and chaos were the work of the doll or the girl, and fwiw I totally bought the child actress as a possible psycho. Then again, ALL children are pretty much psychotic/sociopathic/amoral until they learn better, which is part of the reason I find supernatural/killer kid movies so frightening. If you've ever had to take a toy out of a toddler's hands to get him to wash up or go to bed, and seen the fire-flashing murder in his eyes as a result, you know that those little bastards are capable of any evil imaginable--if only they had the power, planning, and motor skills to manage it. :P

    I also loved the subtext of the Mom's defense of the child-murderer, and how that played against her growing sense of being overwhelmed by the psychological problems (or are they?) her own daughter evinces. As if it's not overwhelming enough being a single parent of a NORMAL kid! I half expected that thread to be pulled out more, having her at least face the idea that maybe the child murderer was somewhat justified in the face of greater evil, and then having to consider that terrible choice herself...but I guess even Tenney didn't want to go quite THAT dark.

    And in a movie whose main pairing is killer doll/cute kid, I admit I was shocked to find both a naked Italian au pair AND a headboard-thumping scene of Mom-sex! Not that I'm complaining. And having the little girl lying awake in her room, staring blanking at the ceiling while clutching the doll as she listens to her mother's cries of passion...well, that's messed up, in the best possible way. Possessed doll or not, that's going in the therapist's notes for sure. ;)

    Anyway, three thumbs from me. Love this flick. Great review!

  2. Definitely a way smarter film than it had any right to be. I do agree that I kind of wish it went a little further in being truly disturbing regarding a sort of bad seed, but I guess the killer dollness needed to remain in one form or other. The little girl irked me a tad, but her tightly curled hair and the intense enemeyship she had with her classmates was on its way to Rhoda Penmark.

    I think any movie that features an au pair requires her to disrobe. I mean, what else does anyone remember from Xtro? And the Mom sex made me giggle. Love the slo-mo quick cuts of it. Ahhh, the '90s.

  3. Am I the only one that noticed that the Au Pair was dressed in a "Good Guy" outfit? How did that not get a shout out here?

  4. Damn! I was clearly hypnotized by the power of Pinocchio's piercing blue eyes to notice how perfect that wardrobe choice was. Good catch!

  5. Pinocchio has hastily been added to my "Must-watch" list..I have a voracious appetite for marionette horror.

  6. And as much as this is far less a killer doll film than you'd expect based on its title, there is a pretty tense 'cut my strings!' moment that I think you'll dig.

  7. A good killer doll film to be sure. It had enough creep to keep me interested till the end. Love your shout out for the line "spoon me."

    Around the same time as this (as I recall) there was the last sequel of one those killer santa films. I can't remember the title but what I do remember is it didn't really have a killer santa but a killer toy maker. There is a scene in there that is both horribly funny, disturbing and definitely killer doll territory. Do you know what the film is?

    Lazarus lupin
    art and review

  8. I do indeed! It was Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker. Here's my review!

    Probably the best in terms of quality of the SNDN series. Has nothing to do with parts 1-3, though a character from 4 does appear. I enjoy that one quite a bit.

  9. Being that we are quite like minded when it comes to this type of film, you know the second I saw Pinocchio's Revenge on instant, I added it at a break neck speed. However, I must not have checked out the info (because, does one really need to for a killer Pinnochio film?) because I had no idea that Kevin Tenney directed it. I'm a huge fan of both Night of the Demons and especially Witchboard, so it's a big plus knowing that he was behind Pinocchio's Revenge.

    Either way, it sounds like I might really enjoy this, and knowing that it's not high in doll death action will bode well before going into it, too.

  10. Witchboard has been on my list forever but I've never gotten around to it (yet). One of these days...

    And definitely give PR a watch. It's way more disciplined than its premise and title suggests, but Pinocchio himself is still kind of adorable.