By Lois Kennedy
Shudder, the serious horror fan’s version of Netflix, is now offering original content. First up is ‘Primal Scene,’ a documentary focusing on childhood brushes with the horror genre and its lasting repercussions in adulthood. It was created by Rodney Ascher, director of ‘The Shining’ documentary ‘Room 237.’
Three offscreen narrators discuss their traumatizing experiences as children regarding “lifelike human effigies” like dolls, dummies, and mannequins. For example, one of them had a burgeoning career in ventriloquism until he saw the trailer for 1978’s ‘Magic’ (which is definitely in my top list of scary-ass trailers). The anecdotes are organized into chapters with title cards, along with actors reenacting their stories, and padded by archive footage.
There was little information available about the format (I’m actually not 100% sure if this is a series or a one-time documentary), and I was a bit confused coming in by all the narrators, who are not introduced in any way. I assumed the fellow talking was Rodney Ascher; I didn’t know who the storytellers were or even that there were more than one until I noticed they were played by different child actors.
In addition, I felt that the scope of the documentary was too narrow for such a broad topic. Footage from as far back as the ’60s showed evil dolls, dummies, etc., a trend which continues to the present, but the narrative focused mostly on ‘Magic’ and the ’70s. It also bounced around to the history of ventriloquism and touched briefly on social media and its dehumanizing effects, all of which are interesting, but 27 minutes are not enough to cover all of it thoroughly, so the result feels choppy and even rushed.
Gripes aside, I did enjoy it and will definitely come back for more, if there is more. I’m always glad to see serious discourse on horror movies, and the writers had profound things to say about why dolls are so scary. It explores in depth how the horror genre can be a double-edged sword, both attractive and repugnant at the same time, particularly in childhood. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for a quick but smart commentary on dolls and other objects that are “sort of human, but not very much.”