The Baby Doll Murders 1993
Directed by: Paul Leder
Starring: Jeff Kober, John Saxon, Melanie Smith
Review by Luisjo González
I’ve read reports that suggest Baby Doll Murders was actually a re-imaging of Burt Topper’s The Strangler from 1964, which itself was loosely based on the case of the ‘Boston stranglings’. Mimi Leder’s father Paul updated the murder mystery aspect to keep his movie in check with the craze that had swept the world throughout the eighties – the slasher genre. Although this is not a teenie-kill movie in the more typical Friday the 13th mould, Leder utilizes many of the genre’s underlining clichés that allow it to fit quite comfortably amongst the other cycle entries. For example, the killer wears a mask and stalks through point of view camera shots just like his slasher granddaddy Michael Myers. He also has that trademark knack for catching female victims when they’re just about to expose the parts of the body that your mama warned would make you go blind. Well rules will be rules…and I guess clichés will be clichés too…
The film boasts an intriguing and fairly macabre premise, which involves a maniac slaughtering women and leaving a Baby Doll beside their mutilated corpses. From the off we are thrown in at the deep end as we learn that there has already been four of these gruesome murders. We then get to meet the detectives and central characters that all play a part in the case. Louis Benz (Jeff Kober) is a stereotypical movie-cop that is always at boiling point and spends the majority of the movie chasing ex-con Les Parker (Tom Hodges) even though he nearly loses his job because of it. His partner Larry Brown (Bobby DiCicco) is thankfully a little more laid back, but still seems desperate to stop these prolific slaughters. The Police secretary Peggy Davies (Melanie Smith) – who is also Benz’s squeeze – also feels the effect of the murders when they begin to cause a strain on her relationship with Louis. After many more women have been methodically slaughtered, the Detectives finally uncover a clue that puts the lives of people close to them at risk. Will Benz be able to solve the case before the killer strikes closer to home…?
If it weren’t for the brazen amount of gratuitous nudity that can be found throughout Baby Doll Murders, I would have sworn that it was a TV movie. The extreme amount of forbidden flesh on display though certainly put the ki-bosh on that suggestion. Each of the many victims makes sure to flash her heaving bosoms before/as she is slaughtered, which makes me wonder why no ladies in the area ever bothered wearing a bra? Female underwear sales must have been virtually non-existent in Los Angeles circa 1992. It’s also worth noting that this bogeyman is the first that I’ve seen to wear trendy Nike trainers whilst on massacre duties. Well, who says that homicidal maniacs can’t have style?
The film scurries along at an acceptable pace and there’s a big enough body count to keep things moving. It’s a shame that Leder felt the need to chuck in needless padding like the unnecessary false confession, which only added cluster to an otherwise engaging premise. In any slasher-thriller the most important aspect is the mystery, but the screenplay doesn’t really give us enough suspects to keep the guessing game flowing. I have always wondered why screenwriters feels that it’s necessary to give away obvious clues, which only makes the conclusion less intriguing. Audiences aren’t as stupid as some filmmakers like to think we are. With that said though the final plot twist is worth the wait and turns out to be convincing and fairly controversial too. Obviously if you’ve seen enough of my reviews, you’ll know I am an evolutionary biologist by degree, so the motive is something that I am passionate about. Without trying to give it away, I am on the killer’s side here 100%.
The performances are mixed from the interesting ensemble of B-movie titans. It’s always good to see John Saxon as a supporting character, but Jeff Kober delivers a colourless portrayal in the lead. Melanie Smith attempts to add weight to the case that’s she’s not just eye candy, whilst the beautiful Julie McCullough – former playboy playmate – earns points by mysteriously avoiding the contagious urge to rip off her bra. Hot chica by the way… I would! By far the best performance of the cast came from the unknown Mark Dana, who did a really good job of playing the deaf husband of a deceased victim. He really gave a touching portrayal. Unfortunately, despite the odd credibly shot set-piece, Leder fails to add suspense to the kill scenes and it’s a real shame when you consider the fact that he’s an experienced director. He was behind proto-slasher, I Dismember Mama, so was no stranger to crazed killers and I expected more.
Baby Doll Murders does just enough to warrant a viewing from fans of the slasher genre. I really liked the creepy Baby Doll gimmick and some of the cheesy killings. If you don’t go expecting too much then you’ll probably just about be satisfied. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but if you’ve seen everything else in the video shop then give it a go.
Final Girl √√√