Everything you are about to see is based on actual people and events.
I’m going to start tonight’s review with a confession. Thank to a combination of overdue deadlines, my own laziness and work social commitments, I kinda screwed up my timetable for this weekend. While I have to bite the bullet and just go ahead and bump my planned film further down the list, it does give me an interesting chance to reflect on a review I did last year.
Back then, I decided to throw in a review of the wonderful Lore podcast, namely, the one episode that genuinely had my skin crawling – Unboxed. Through Aaron Mahnke’s unique delivery, I heard the story of Robert The Doll for the first time in real detail – and it was horrifying. You can read the review over here, if you’re interested.
The interesting thing is that this is not where the story ends. Lore has been such a success, that the podcast has been picked up as a television series by Amazon – and, luckily for me, it was released just yesterday. Details were quite vague, so I didn’t really know what to expect as I looked it up on Amazon Prime, but it looks as if the series will take some of the best episodes of the podcast and remake and revamp them into immersive, live action reconstructions.
And, would you believe it, episode six just happens to be Unboxed – the very story I reviewed last time around. Bracing myself, I hit play and sat back to enjoy the ride.
Now, I’m not going to pore over the details of the story a second time around. Instead, I will look at the way the show is produced and how the shift from audio to video affects the story being told. So, without further waffle, let’s jump into it.
So What Happens?
The podcast, generally speaking, follows a simple formula. Opening on a related, but much less detailed story, presenter and writer Aaron Mahnke will retell a chilling tale that establishes the theme of the episode, before moving on to the main topic. This will be told as a story, with small details added along while a bed of gentle piano music tinkers away in the background. Aaron will save the final twist until the end, before providing a short epilogue that relates the tale with the influence the tale has had on modern popular culture. A tale of New England Vampires may, for example, have ended up on the desk of Bram Stoker before he set about writing Dracula – thereby establishing an entire genre of work we still understand today.
Thankfully for fans of the podcast, the episode Unboxed of the television series hasn’t strayed far from the source. Narrating over some beautifully constructed artwork, Aaron tells the story of an island somewhere south of Mexico City. Now named Isla de las Munecas, or ‘Island Of The Dolls,’ the location has become a tourist destination. But the fact is, the origin of this name is of a man named Don Julián Santana Barrera who moved there after abandoning his wife and child. Discovering the body of a drowned girl, Don Julián recovered a doll from the same water.
Later, he claimed he was haunted by the spirit of the dead girl. Believing it to be a curse for his past crime, he collected the doll and treated it as if it were his own child. Hoping to appease the girl’s spirit, he collected more and more dolls, hanging them around the island for the girl’s spirit to play with. As he grew older, his desperation to find more dolls led him to drown in the very same river where he found the young girl – leaving behind over 1,500 dolls as his legacy.
From here, we are treated to a selection of stock footage and archive material of dolls being played with. As the sinister music begins to swell, Aaron’s narration goes on to describe the ‘uncanny valley,’ over increasingly chilling shots of dolls. Many of us are afraid of dolls, and with a narration like this, it’s really no wonder.
This takes us to the main topic of the episode – the story of Robert Gene Otto and his new best friend, a frighteningly life size doll, who he names after himself – Robert. As I discussed before, the pair quickly become best of friends. However, as time goes on, Gene’s mother begins to feel disturbed by Robert The Doll’s presence. She hears adult voices in rooms where only it and Gene are in, and when objects around the house are broken, Gene only has one thing to say – “Robert did it.”
Directed by Michael Satrazemis, the live action sequence stars Kristin Bauer van Straten as Minnie Otto, Joe Knezevich as Thomas Otto, with Gene Otto played by JT Corbitt as a child, then Michael Patrick Lane as an adult. Later, Haley Finnegan is introduced as Anne Otto, the haunted and threatened wife of Gene in his later years.
Interspersed with back story, related history and light narration, the show does well to tell the story of Robert The Doll in a concise and entertaining way. It is, naturally, quite creepy, although the format does present problems of its own. The most obvious is that, while the show does its best, the story feels mercilessly cut down. Much of what I loved about the podcast is simply missing here.
Instead, the television show focuses on the bits and pieces that are easy to film – the bits that lend itself to cinematic interpretation. In the case of this story, as anyone who has ever watched the Chucky series will likely agree, it just all feels a little played out already. At one point, Anne Otto finds herself trapped in a cupboard with the pitter patter of tiny, doll feet running around outside and all I was thinking about was Brad Dourif shouting at her – but maybe that’s just me.
I did, however, really love the sections of back story and additional content. It helped expand the story beyond what was necessary, but having watched a handful of other episodes, Lore walks on a fine line between focussed storytelling and just a mess of different styles and information overload. This episode does it well though, and I found myself hooked within minutes.
In Conclusion, Then.
Lore is a horror fan’s dream. Whether it is a podcast or not, the dedication to detail and understanding of human nature is what makes Lore a must watch. I hope the series is able to attract more of an audience because, genuinely, everyone should be talking about Aaron Mahnke and his commitment to folklore.
It is a must watch, and it’s all on Amazon Prime right now. Check it out, you might just learn some new ghost stories to tell!
Yours, A P Tyler