Looking at the cover of Robert, you can see they’re trying to strike a balance between the imagery of the Anabelle films and the newer Child’s Play remake. The film starts with a warning that the film what you’re about to see is based on the tragic real life events with a family after estranged all called Robert entered their lives. Blah blah blah, etc. etc., whatever the truth may be, Robert the doll has gained a legendary and fearsome reputation. Really? Because I’ve never heard of this little sucker until I started finding these DVDs littering the dollar tree shelves.
We get a prologue with Agatha, a Lynn Shaye look-alike warning a couple that they are being hunted, not by a house, but by a doll. We fast forward three years where Agatha is now the nanny for a different family. She keeps Robert locked in suitcase, just in case. That’s probably not a good thing because she’s about to get fired by Jenny, a bored housewife with some mental problems and having a midlife crisis. On our way out, she stops to see Gene, the boy she’s been taking care of and gives him Robert… telling him that now that she’ll be gone, he needs a new friend!
The parents don’t make much of it, though they do question the young boy… “Since when do you play with dolls?”
“He’s different,” Gene says. “He talks to me.”
Spooky things start to happen. Footsteps in the middle of the night, as well as a child’s play gag of tiny footprints through sugar. We get a glimpse of something moving, and I’m amused to spot a child’s drawing of Robert pinned to the fridge. We get some stalking POV shots, low to the ground, and a defaced painting. Jenny is already paranoid, and erupts in anger when her son tells her it’s Robert causing the mischief.
The next morning, a maid arrives, and there’s none too impressed by Robert. He creeps her out and she shakes her head and bewilderment
“This is messed up.”
This displeases Robert, and an upset Robert is no good for an unsuspecting maid.
With our first body in the bag about halfway through the film, Robert starts to feel his oats, writing DIE on the bedroom mirror in the mother’s lipstick. She is horrified as she stares down the hall into her son’s room – Robert is sitting on the rocking chair with the lipstick still in his hand.
Jenny asks her son if she can stash Robert away in the attic but Gene warns her that this would be a bad idea- Robert will get mad. Indeed, that night it seems like even Gene is beginning to show some fear of Robert. The couple head out on a date and leave him in the care of a sitter, but when it comes time for bed, Gene requests that the light be left on. Those fears may be justified because the babysitters the next one to get it.
We enter the third act with the mother hysterical and furious at her disbelieving husband. She’s had enough, taking the doll away and screaming at it, demanding it talk to her the way he talks to her son. Her husband thinks she’s crazy, but she doesn’t care… and locks Robert in the outdoor shed.
The next day she’s off to track down Agatha, to try find out where Robert came from. The problem is, Agatha’s dead… and while she explores her house and correspondence to try and dig up some answers, her family has been left home alone… with Robert.
The ending is a bit of a shocker.
Robert is a nice, low budget Child’s Play rip off (Ironically, the real Robert doll was the inspiration for Chucky). It takes place mostly in one location, in one house, with good reason. The movie was shot in just eight days, with their child star only available for three of them. Robert himself gets enough screen time to satisfy, and when he’s not on screen, people are talking about him. It makes his character pervasive. This is essential to the story being told, because according to director Andrew Jones, in many ways, Robert is a stand in for mental illness.
“The lead character Jenny has schizo affective disorder, some of the symptoms of that involve hearing voices and seeing hallucinations. Her husband Paul is worried about her state of mind and also about whether or not the illness has been genetically passed onto their son Gene,” Jones told StudyParanormal in a 2015 interview. “The whole film is essentially Robert serving the same function as the mental illness, causing distrust and tension between the characters simply by his presence in their home.”
Even in this first installment, the film deviates significantly from the events it’s based on.
“The real life story of Robert doesn’t really work for a narrative film because it had no natural ending. It would have been tough to build a film towards a definitive resolution sticking entirely to the true story.” laments Jones. “There isn’t a great deal of back story out there for Robert’s origin, nor is there any great detail about the Otto family. So I had to embellish on the characters’ personal stories and also give Robert some additional back story to add more drama.”
In the actual history, a young man named Robert Eugene Otto was first given the doll back in 1906, when he was a mere six years old. It was gifted by an angry Bahamian servant who supposedly had an interest in black magic. It’s been said that the gift was the servant’s revenge for being poorly treated by the family. Young master Otto decided to give the doll his first name, Robert and suddenly decided that he would no loger go by the name “Robert” himself, but rather requested that everyone refer to him instead by his middle name, Gene. Gene would go on to become a well know artist and author in Key west, but would keep Robert by his side for the rest of his life, right up to his death in 1974. It is rumored that Gene’s wife, Anne, was driven insane by her husband’s lifelong devotion to the doll.
The film was shot on location in Saundersfoot and Swansea in Wales, UK, as opposed to the actual location, a mansion at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets in Key West, Florida, now known as the Artist House. In 1978 the Artist House was converted into a Hotel. As for the doll itself, The real life Robert the Doll now resides at the East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, though the doll is annually loaned out to the Old Post Office and Customhouse in Key West during the Halloween season.
The doll itself is not a well-articulated puppet, but that seems more a function of budget than anything else. Still, the use of low angles and partial shots – an arm or a leg sticking in the frame really helps to sell the character. They do well with what they have. It’s average straight to video fair, but worth the dollar that I paid for it. I’m interested in seeing the next sequel.
Posting the best strips from the series, in order from the beginning.
Every Wednesday and Friday