[Review] Little Willy (Portland Horror Film Festival): Driving an Actor Mad is Mere Child’s Play for a Horrific Doll

Andrew Bowser wrote, directed, and stars in the creepy, fun horror short Little Willy (2019), and he does an ace job with all three tasks. A modern spin on the plot chestnut of a ventriloquist doll driving its owner isnane— á la Magic (1978) or Devil Doll (1964) — with an obvious nod to the original Child’s Play franchise, Little Willy is set in the world of horror conventions.

Bowser portrays Adam Castle, a former child star best known for toplining the first two installments of the 1980s horror movie franchise Little Willy. Not having worked in film for ages because of the baggage that often goes along with being a child star, he works the convention circuit, sporadically selling signed photos but more often being implored by non-buying attendees to say a certain line from the films that made him famous. He’s alcoholic and at the end of his rope, which makes him easy pickings for needling and haranguing from the titular doll from the franchise, with which Adam travels. Fellow convention guests Adrienne Barbeau and Zach Galligan, playing themselves, try to good naturedly give Adam advice on how to possibly improve his life and career, but the psychological grip that Little Willy has on Adam is a diabolically strong one.

A prolific filmmaker and actor, Bowser obviously knows well how both horror cinema and comedy work. A darkly humorous edge runs throughout Little Willy, and it is just heavy enough that the short avoids turning into a full-blown horror comedy. 

Bowser also gives a super performance as the deeply troubled Castle, and his facial expressions wonderfully convey his character’s cautious optimism, professional frustrations, and much more, especially when the proceedings get considerably darker. Barbeau and Galligan are terrific in their supporting roles, and the rest of the cast members acquit themselves well, too.

Little Willy is a superbly crafted horror short that delivers plenty of enjoyment. It is excellent as a stand-alone short, but it holds a great deal of promise as the seed for a possible future feature-length treatment, too.  

Little Willy screened as part of Portland Horror Film Festival’s virtual edition on June 10. The virtual festival continues from June 17–21. For more information including ticket information and schedule, visit https://portlandhorrorfilmfestival.com/

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.