Robert Reborn starts with some good imagery…and lullaby tinkles set a great mood. We have a child at the top of the banister watching the dog, while the parents are you below. The child’s name… Is Robert.
The evil father beats his wife and child, ultimately killing young Robert. And just before we fade into the credits, we get a shot of the doll, staring up into nothingness.
We get the slightest of that stories, with shots of dolls in the toy maker with Memes are subject robbers… Then shift to post World War II footage of soldiers marching in Russia. It’s up nicely and places is firmly in the same series. We shipped your glorious shot of Corky Park, with subtitles telling us it’s the Soviet union in 1951. The czar is dying, with a mere three months left to live.
The toymaker has been living in Russia now for 10 years, still wanted man, still hunted for his knowledge of how to bring life to inanimate objects. But never fear, Robert is still with him to murder any uninvited guests. He makes a living by doing stage shows with his “enchanted dolls”. That’s where a Russian assassin, killing time after murdering a dissident, discovers him.
She follows the toymaker Home and spies on him, confirming her suspicions that the dolls themselves are alive. She remembers the name from history, and suddenly has idea. If he can bring in animate dolls to life, could he perhaps also preserve the life of the czar? She brings this information to her superior who tasks her to look into it.
An informant tells them of the toymaker’s real name – Amos Blackwood, and how he came into the possession special book full of spells and rituals. It’s a real enforcement of the backstory, adding passages in the book that deal with resurrection of the dead and granting eternal life. It’s enough to get them back on the flight to Kaliningrad where the toy maker is hiding. The assassin’s orders I convinced him to come back to Moscow with her, but if he’s not receptive, kill him and take the book. The puppets don’t take kindly to the assassin’s attempt on the toymakers life though, and take her down.
The next wave of assassins find the toymaker’s plane, dolls in the suitcase. The intercept him, but he manages to convince him to let him bring his briefcase. On the plane, the Soviet leader wants to make sure that he makers method for the resurrection will work, and demands a demonstration. but while the toymaker demonstrates his talents, the dolls everything selves from the plane, killing anyone they come in contact with.
Plane to head towards Britain, where they shot down and plunge into the ocean. The body of the toy maker Is recovered along with his puppets and the remains of the book. No damage, not even a scratch. Agent rates from the pages of the book though, Robert begins tomorrow. The puppets are alive, and downstairs, the toymaker is regenerating.
It’s a solid end to the cycle, but depends a great deal on you having seen the other films. It’s not the sort of movie you can just drop into with no context and just kick back and watch. That may be the problem with much of this series – it expects a great deal from its audience, but never sufficiently rewards that devotion.
Robert and the Toymaker marks a new direction for the franchise and is the first of what would ultimately become a trilogy of prequels, focused more on the creator of the Robert doll and the mystic book he derives his power from.
It starts with a parade of black and white stock footage from World War II, and the caption Nazi Germany in 1941. We shift to a dark woods and somebody is fleeing. His pursuers are hot on his trail, with flashlights piercing the darkness and search of him. He finds shelter at a small cabin in the woods, and hides from the Gestapo as the soldier search for him. He promises only to stay a couple of days before moving on to barvaria with his special cargo, a mysterious looking book.
Of course, the Nazis are not fools, and they return in the morning with a cruel master of interrogation. He toys with the family, certain that they have knowledge of the fugitive. Hidden in the attic, the fugitive knocks over a snow globe, revealing his position, the soldier fires right through the ceiling before killing the others. He looks out the window and sees the daughter of the family running away with the book. He fires again, but the distance is too great. She’s wounded, but not dead yet.
I might mention, that at this point we’re 23 minuets and I have seen neither Robert nor any other kind of toy. That’s fine for the World War II buff‘s, But I’m here for a killer doll.
Finally, we dissolve to the shop full of dolls, half made toys and doll parts. The toy maker, in a terribly unconvincing bald cap, answers the door and the daughter of the family, escaped with the book dies at his door, handing off the forbidden tome. In the village outside his door, Nazis search for her. Disturbed, the toy maker turns to the book, and reads from its passages while standing over the Robert doll. “Corpus Levitas Diablo Dominium Mondo Vicium” (latin; “Bodies rise, devil dominion, world change”). He chuckles to himself, amused that he even considered believing in its promises of life from death… And then, the doll rises, and looks at him.
As the Gestapo rampage through the village, book Roberts sneaks out, hiding in a toy shop. The toymaker intervenes just in time to keep Robert from stabbing the shop clerk… and I’ve got to admit, it’s the first time the doll has really creeped me out.
The Toymaker then relates a story about Robert past… He didn’t make Robert, he found him. After reading in the newspaper about a young boy whose father had killed him, toymaker found the doll, redid the face and strengthened the limbs and then named him Robert… After the boy who died. The doll only learned malevolence. And so, the toymaker decide what Robert needs his family, and begins to bring other dolls to life; a clown doll with makeup inspired by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and a girl doll, based largely on the Talky Tina doll featured in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode Living Doll.
In the meantime, the shopkeeper that Robert attacked rats the Toymaker out to the Nazis. Of course, they come to investigate. The toymaker is removed for interrogation, and it’s up to the dolls to come and liberate him.
The prequel direction with its heavy WW2 focus was a dramatic departure from the previous two films, but after two different distributors approached writer/director Andrew Jones about possibly doing a World War 2 film, something clicked in the back of his mind.
“It came from something I read about the real-life Robert the Doll” Jones said in a 2018 interview. “Apparently the doll was originally made by a German toy company, so a World War II backdrop immediately came to mind. Obviously I love the Puppet Master films – I’ve been watching them since I was a kid, and I enjoyed the prequels set in Nazi Germany, so I was happy to take that direction for the Robert series.”
It’s an apt comparison. This entry feels more like a Puppet Master movie then either of the popular killer doll focused films. Perhaps it’s the setting. After all, more and more, the Puppet Master films are increasingly set in World War II, and the juxtaposition of hard plastic, eccentric scientists and Nazis… Well let’s face it, that’s Charles Band’s current formula for Puppet Master in a nutshell!
“There’s a World War II trend going on in the industry right now” states Jones, “so this new direction for Robert made total sense”. It also helped that Jones signed the Toymaker as part of a multi film deal which allowed him more flexibility in the budget. “In industry terms we’re still operating at what would be considered the micro end of the budget spectrum, but that little bit more enable us to be a bit more ambitious with our stories. We could never have attempted a Nazi Germany setting a few years ago! So while nothing has really changed from a business perspective, we do now have the ability to raise our game from the single location, character-based stuff that we were doing in the early days”.
Robert’s two new doll friends in this film are both based on other haunted dolls with Germanic origins. The girl doll, Isabelle is based on an antique doll made in Germany between 1910 and 1920 and named Mandy. It’s said that the doll was possessed by the spirit of a young girl who had been locked in the basement of her home and tragically perished in a fire. The doll passed through several hands before being donated to the Quesnel & District Museum in British Columbia. Her final owner swore that you could hear the doll crying at night.
Otto The Clown doll, is based on the Pulau Ubin doll. In 1914 a man from Pulau Ubin had a recurring dream featuring a little girl who had died while being chased by the Army. In his dream she led him to a specific toy store and pointed at a doll that was put up for display in the store window. The dream kept recurring. Every night, the same little girl, the same toy store, the same doll. He had to find it. One day he sought out the toy store and to his shock he saw the doll that the dead girl kept leading him to in his dreams. He bought the doll and took it to her gravesite. At that moment he felt that the soul of the girl pass in to the doll and finally found peace. To this day locals and tourists alike come from everywhere to see the doll in its shrine, bringing it offerings and gifts hoping that the spirit of the girl will grant them luck and health.
If I have any complaint with the film, it’s that with this entry, the series is no longer about Robert. He’s always flanked by other dolls, but it’s not even that. This movie is about the Toymaker and the book. The dolls are really just windows dressing, an afterthought. Indeed, that renewed focus is reflected in the the original title; simply The Toymaker. When it was released in the US, it was rebranded Robert and the Toymaker to give it better brand recognition and a firmer connection to the rest of the series rather than just being the sidequel it should be considered.
The curse of up Robert starts with someone hopping into car carrying a very familiar suitcase. A crooked cop has been paid to swipe it from the evidence locker. No one‘s gonna miss it anyhow, no one believes the fantastic story about the killer doll. We then cut to a dollmaker‘s room, parts splayed over the benches and shelves of partially made dolls. We get a bit of a prologue voiced over this, and it’s a bit of a foreshadowing of the toymaker that we’ll meet in the later sequels. For now, we shift to a young woman named Emily driving her car on country roads as the credits scroll. Her Destination is a World War II museum where she’s starting work as a cleaning assistant.
The manager gives her a tour, and this is where she meets Robert. He is an exhibit, cased behind glass. . It turns out that the museum was dead before he was put there, but now he’s a huge draw. Creepy things happen almost immediately – a baby doll and a carriage rolling out into the middle of the hall during Emily’s first night, things moving out of the corner of her eye, a handprint on the inside of Roberts class display , things like that. One of the security guys is indifferent, but the other, a hunky young guy named Kevin is wanting to check things out. He finds nothing. He’s a little sweet on our cleaning assistant Emily though.
The other security guard, the fat indifferent one, well Robert doesn’t like him very much. One night during his rounds in the dark, Robert expresses his displeasure. The cleaning managers next to get it, attacked while the hunky security guard makes time with the young cleaning assistant. Scotland yard is not amused. They’re convinced that the museum is just trying to stir up trouble, make the place look like it’s haunted so they can raise ticket prices… and that she is a suspect. Now it’s up to Emily and Kevin to prove that the doll is really the one committing the murders.
We get a nice bit of expositions covering the previous film as they do research… complete with photos of the characters in that first movie. Turns out that ultimately, Jenny, the mother, was convicted of Roberts murders. Good to know what happened in the aftermath of that film actually, a a reason to visit her in the asylum. It’s a nice bit of connective tissue reminiscent of what they did in Hellraiser three with Ashley Lawrence’s cameo. It turns out that the museum owner is a man named Amos Blackwood who she suspects is the brother of the evil housekeeper from the first movie.
Take note of that name by the way, you’ll be hearing it again.
Hunky boyfriend calls up the museum manager and blackmails him into showing up that night… claiming he has copies of the security camera footage. The manager obviously knows something’s up, and agrees to meet them both at 8 o’clock that evening.
Turns out, he’s not Amos Blackwood (He’s not? I wonder if the story got changed midway to accommodate the bookends), but he liked the cursed story and decided to lean into it to Mark at the museum… No matter what the rest. It’s a weird confrontation, and of course he double crosses them. Unfortunately for him, Robert is free and roaming the museum, with menacing POV shots and low angles. Robert looks very happy as he stabs the museum owner in the leg, and it gives our heroes a chance to flee. Museum owner gets off a shot, and hits hunky boyfriend in the leg, slowing them down. The doors are locked, and Robert isn’t satisfied with just one victim. He slashes the throat of the gimp boyfriend, and begins to stalk Emily. It’s up to her now to run and hide and survive until morning (and the cops) comes.
The film is book ended with more shots of the doll makers workshop. We pan past more fake eyeballs and doll parts and slowly reveal the old toy maker. This is Amos Blackwood. This is the man who built Robert… it’s a surprisingly long sequence, running a good six minutes or so and really seems to be there for no other reason then to pad out the film and reach feature length, and perhaps to set up the later films.
The film was mostly shot on location at the 1940s Swansea Bay Museum in Crymlyn Burrows, Swansea, Wales. The Swansea Bay Museum acted as their stand–in for East Martello Museum in Key West, where Robert is actually displayed. Some employees there have claimed to have experienced unusual activity when in the presence of the doll. Others have even claimed Robert attacked them. It’s notable that when they built the display for the movie doll, they included a sign that says “please ask Roberts permission before taking his photo”. This is real. In the Key West museum, visitors are told to ask the doll for permission before snapping a picture. They say anybody who dares to take a picture without the doll’s consent is cursed for all eternity. The actual museum displays numerous letters from people asking Robert to remove the curse he placed on them.
This will be the last we see of Robert in present day, and it’s kind of a shame. The character works well in modern settings as a haunted doll with a history, but from here out, the series would look backwards rather than forwards.
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.