Devil Doll (film)

Devil Doll (1964) is a British horror film about an evil ventriloquist, "The Great Vorelli", and his dummy Hugo, directed by Lindsay Shonteff. It stars William Sylvester and Yvonne Romain.

Devil Doll
Theatrical release poster.
Directed byLindsay Shonteff
Produced by
Written by
Distributed byAssociated Film Distributing Corp.
Release date
Running time
81 min.
Country United Kingdom
Budgetest. $60-75,000[1]


Hypnotist/magician "The Great Vorelli" (Bryant Haliday) and his dummy Hugo perform before a packed audience in London. The audience observes tension between the ventriloquist and his dummy. American reporter Mark English (William Sylvester) becomes fascinated with Vorelli, and solicits his girlfriend Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain) to go with him to another show. From the beginning, the film drops strong hints that Hugo is actually alive and mobile.

At the following show, Vorelli asks a member of his audience onto the stage. When no one volunteers, English encourages Marianne to go up. Vorelli succeeds in hypnotizing her and making her dance the Twist with an uncredited Ray Landor, an "expert in modern dance". Marianne is left partially hypnotized by Vorelli, who recognizes her as a wealthy heiress. English, wanting to do a story on Vorelli and his unique powers, gets Marianne to invite Vorelli to her aunt's charity ball. Vorelli has already decided to go to the ball, having read about it in the newspaper and seeing it as an opportunity to seduce Marianne.

The night of the ball, Vorelli stays at the mansion of Marianne's aunt, where he seduces her after using his power to subdue her will. In the meantime, Hugo miraculously appears in English's room and asks him for help. Hugo repeats "1948" and "Berlin" before disappearing. The next day, English begins an investigation into Vorelli's past. Meanwhile, Marianne falls into a semi-coma that the doctors cannot alleviate. In one lucid moment, she tells English that, "He keeps calling me" and, "Make him stop".

Through a colleague, English discovers that Vorelli had once been a disgraced medical doctor who dabbled in Eastern magic. The colleague traces Vorelli to Berlin and guides English to a former female assistant of Vorelli's who lives there. She tells English that another assistant, "Hugo", had worked for Vorelli in 1947, and would be hypnotized into a state where he could not feel pain as part of their act. The female assistant says that she would catch the two in strange conferences. One night, Vorelli killed Hugo on stage and simultaneously transferred his soul into the dummy. Vorelli was cleared in the death, and no one believed the female assistant's story.

Vorelli's current assistant, who is also his lover, becomes jealous of his relationship with Marianne. Vorelli either manipulates or taunts Hugo into murdering his lover/assistant when Vorelli is visiting with stage crew elsewhere. Vorelli then hires a new, younger assistant whom he also puts under his physical and sexual control. During English's trip to Berlin, Vorelli visits the still-hypnotized Marianne in her home and tells her to announce that she is going to marry him. Vorelli confides to Hugo that he plans to marry Marianne in Spain and transfer her spirit into a companion doll for Hugo before letting her body die.

Hugo escapes from his cage, smashes the face of the female doll intended for Marianne, and attacks Vorelli. Vorelli seemingly succeeds in wrestling the irate Hugo back into his cage just as English enters the room. "Vorelli" speaks in Hugo's voice and tells English that Hugo has now transferred his soul into Vorelli's body and vice versa. From Hugo's former body, Vorelli begs for help from English, who does not respond as the film ends.


Frederick E. Smith wrote the original story for London Mystery Magazine in 1951, earning £10 for it. He said that one of the conditions of cashing his cheque was that he had surrendered any rights of resale of the story.[2]

The script was originally written in 1957. In 1959, film producer Richard Gordon announced in an interview that he obtained the film rights to the story.[3] The budget came from Gordon Films, Galaworld and the NFFC.[4]

Sidney J. Furie was originally scheduled to direct but was offered a more prestigious film, so he recommended his fellow Canadian Lindsay Shonteff. Richard Gordon later said Furie advised Shonteff throughout the making of the film.[5] Shonteff had to re-edit the film to avoid an X rating from the British Board of Film Censors.

Gordon later said the cost of the film was £20,000 plus $20,000 for expenses and salaries of American personnel, including Gordon and Bryant Halliday, making an estimated total of $60–75,000.[1]

It was distributed in the United States by Joe Solomon.[6]


Blockbuster Entertainment gave the film four stars.[7] Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film three stars in his review, summarizing it as an "Obscure, underrated mystery features an eerily effective Haliday as a hypnotist-ventriloquist trying to transfer Romain's soul into that of a dummy, as he had already done with his onetime assistant. An exquisitely tailored, sharply edited sleeper."[8] Morgan Zabroff for Famous Monsters of Filmland declared the film "One of the most brilliant films to come from England in 1964", as well as one of the most underrated films of its genre.[9]

Variety was negative towards the film, calling it "slow-paced" and its "gimmick" being done better in 1929's The Great Gabbo and 1945's Dead of Night. William Sylvester's acting was praised by the magazine, while saying that Bryant Halliday's role was dependent on his voice.[10] Reviewing the film for its fiftieth anniversary, Steve Biodrowski for Cinefantastique called the film a rip-off of Dead of Night.[11]

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Devil Doll was featured in an October 1997 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The episode was released on DVD by Shout! Factory on 9 November 2010.

See also



  1. Tom Weaver, The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon, Bear Manor Media 2011 p 102-114
  2. Smith, Frederick E. Devil Doll DVD notes
  3. Windchill, Walter (April 1959). "The Shape of Things to Come". Famous Monsters of Filmland. No. 3. pp. 12–14.
  4. John Hamilton, The British Independent Horror Film 1951-70 Hemlock Books 2013 p 136-142
  5. Weaver, Tom Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Movies: The Mutant Melding of Two Classic Interviews 1999 McFarland & Co
  6. Everitt, David (December 1982). "Richard Gordon". Fangoria. No. 24. pp. 34–37, 63.
  7. Blockbuster Entertainment 1996, p. 272.
  8. Maltin 2009, p. 348.
  9. Zabroff, Morgan (June 1980). "Manikins of Menace". Famous Monsters of Filmland. No. 164. pp. 19–25.
  10. Variety Staff (31 December 1963). "Devil Doll". Variety. Archived from the original on 9 March 2019.
  11. Biodrowski, Steve (26 July 2014). "Devil Doll – 50th anniversary review". Cinefantastique. Archived from the original on 3 August 2014.


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