The Great Vorelli (Bryant Haliday) is a hypnotist and a ventriloquist. His act includes a dummy named Hugo. Mark English (William Sylvester) is an American reporter in Britain. He is assigned to write about the hypnotist. To research the Great Vorelli Mark contacts an expert on mesmerism, Doctor Heller (Karel Stepanek). Heller informs Mark that he will attend Vorelli’s performance and discuss with him his opinion the next day. Mark had planned to also send someone to volunteer as a subject during the performance but she backed out at the last minute. Needing a victim to throw Vorelli’s way Mark calls on his girlfriend Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain). He takes Marianne to see Vorelli’s act.
In his act Vorelli brings on stage a dummy. During the intense performance Vorelli commands the dummy to walk to the front of the stage and address the audience. It does but there appears to be palpable tension between Vorelli and the dummy Hugo. Mark is fascinated with the act only because he believes there is a trick to it.
When he asks for volunteers from the audience Mark convinces Marianne to go on stage. Vorelli becomes fascinated in Marianne. Marianne happens to be one of the richest women in Britain. Vorelli is aware of this. Vorelli hatches a plan to marry Marianne and get her millions.
Marianne’s adorable Aunt Eva (Nora Nicholson) is hosting a charity ball. Mark convinces Marianne to invite Vorelli to perform at it. Vorelli is more than willing since he plans on hypnotizing Marianne to fall in love with him. While Vorelli is milling around with the guests at the charity event Mark goes upstairs and inspects the dummy but finds it is just that. A dummy.
Mark and Vorelli are both spending the night at Aunt Eva’s estate. That night while Mark is in his room the dummy comes to him and asks him for help. He tells Mark to “find me in Berlin 1948”. Totally rattled Mark contacts someone he knows in Berlin, Bob Garrett (Alan Gifford). Mark learns that Vorelli trained to be a doctor. Instead of going into practice he studied the mysteries of the East. He learned everything he could about Eastern magic. Vorelli believed you could separate the man from the soul. Mark also talks to Vorelli’s former assistant Mercedes (Lorenza Colville). She tells Mark that Vorelli took the soul of her partner Hugo Novik (David Charlesworth) and put it into the dummy. Mark is beginning to believe her.
While Mark has been investigating Vorelli he has been seducing Marianne. Vorelli has purchased another dummy. This one looks very much like Marianne.
“Devil Doll” was released in 1964 and was directed by Lindsay Shonteff. It is a rather obscure British horror film. I loved this movie. It plays very much like a Twilight Zone episode. Right down to the ending. I don’t know how this film got overlooked. Perhaps people assumed it was a rehash of “The Great Gabbo” 1929 or “Dead of Night” 1945 anthology. Don’t do that. You need to look at this film as its own horror story. After all you don’t look at all alien movies the same.
Bryant Haliday is absolutely horrific as the part Svengali, part witch doctor Vorelli. The entire film is very unsettling. Vorelli is a vicious and sadistic person. Everything he does is to inflict pain and to exert power over others. Hugo the dummy is already mostly powerless but Vorelli delights in humiliating the stupid thing. You can’t help but feel sympathy for the inanimate ugly little doll even before you find out that a human soul is trapped inside it. When it asks Mark for help it crosses over from being a creepy doll to being a trapped person.
Some may find the film slow. Be patient. The tension of the film builds slowly. Some may find the film’s ending a little too out there, but we are in the Twilight Zone so it’s actually…normal.
The dwarf who portrays Hugo the Dummy was performed by a woman, Sadie Corre.