The Dollhouse Family (2020)
Written by M.R. Carey
Art by Peter Gross & Vince Locke
Hill House Comics hasn’t really lived up to the hype. Other than The Low Low Woods, I haven’t found any of them very enjoyable or all that horrific, really. The Dollhouse Family is one of the most frustrating entries into the DC imprint because it has so many seeds of potential greatness but then gets lost in the plot and ends with a horrible whimper. I would say The Dollhouse Family is the least satisfying Hill House Comics read for me so far, made even more irritating by the fact that it has that previously mentioned potential.
The Dollhouse Family follows two points in time: One is the contemporary experiences of a young woman faced with her family’s curse and the other in the past detailing how that curse came about in the first place. Alice is a young girl in 1979, England, whose family has just received a dollhouse. The artifact was left to them in the estate of a great aunt Alice’s mother didn’t even know existed. Alice is witness to her father’s physical abuse of her mother and mentally retreats into the dollhouse. Things suddenly change when the figurines within start talking and teach Alice a song that will shrink her down and allow her to join their household temporarily.
Meanwhile, we follow Joseph Kent, Alice’s ancestor in the early 19th century, as he stumbles across a cave while doing his job as a surveyor. Inside the cave, Joseph discovers two beings: an angel and the other a demon, but which is which isn’t clear at first. As we follow the aftermath of Joseph’s encounter, we jump to Alice’s life as a child and into an adult, becoming a mother herself as the curse of the Dollhouse Family seems to follow her where ever she goes and now threatens her child.
There are some fragments here that I really like. The ambiguous nature of the creatures Joseph discovers in the cave, and their relationship is interesting. We get into some enjoyably freaky body horror as a result. I really disliked the exposition that spells everything out in the final issue and thought it was too detailed when the story would have been better off leaving some questions unanswered. The Dollhouse Family isn’t all that frightening, in my opinion, but it is the dollhouse itself that is unsettling. There’s a scene in the 1820s where one of Joseph Kent’s maids discovers the house in the basement, and it is a really fantastic horror moment.
I do like Joe Hill’s description of The Dollhouse Family as “The Indian in the Cupboard if the cupboard was a door to Hell,” and that sounds like a fantastic horror short story. However, the problem lies in writer M.R. Carey who I personally find to be one of the most boring comics writers I’ve ever come across. I have tried reading both his Lucifer and The Unwritten series and found them to be excruciatingly dull.
He might be better served to work on plotting and allow another writer to handle dialogue because I don’t Carey is good at sustaining a story across multiple issues. His writing plods along, stretching out a story that could be knocked out in 3 to 4 issues to 6. The ending is also a copout, in my opinion, because it kind of resolves things but also doesn’t. It seems Carey wants to have his horror cake but not deliver on what makes a good horror story. The ending we get only serves to tease a potential sequel that really annoyed me. My expectation with Hill House Comics was stand-alone horror stories done as comic book mini-series, but this seems like a pitch from Carey for an ongoing or series of minis. If you have the faintest of curiosity about Hill House Comics, I would recommend passing over this one unless you are a real big M.R. Carey fan.