Reviewed By: Billy
We here at Tower Farm firmly believe that it’s hard to go wrong with a killer doll movie. Really, when you think about it, it’s not fair. Filmmakers working on a doll movie have a huge advantage; they’re starting off with such a ridiculous premise that really it’s no holds barred when it comes to everything that follows. Dan Mancini knew this; that’s why the Child’s Play series got so much better with Bride and Seed of Chucky. Stuart Gordon’s Dolls is a sublime wonder, and people still fondly remember Karen Black being terrorized in Trilogy of Terror (though I’ve always been partial to the corny cheapness of Lysette Anthony in Trilogy of Terror II).
All of these movies took things over the top and then some, and all for the simple reason that they could. Plus, almost all of us have been freaked out by a doll at some point in our lives (for me it was JM’s Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll, which I’m absolutely positive sported human hair scalped from some unwilling victim). Dolly Dearest is an early-1990s entry into the doll genre that’s probably best known for its box cover. It’s a gem, for sure – featuring a nasty-faced doll with its legs spread wide open atop little baby blocks that spell D-O-L-L-Y. This one’s been haunting video store shelves for years, but it’s worth finally plunking down a few bucks and taking a look.
Dolly Dearest stars Denise Crosby (apparently famous for appearing on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," though the only thing I remember about that show is Whoopie Goldberg’s hat) as a mother who moves with her husband (Sam Bottoms) and children to Mexico. You see, her husband is a dollmaker and has purchased a factory – sight unseen, mind you – to produce “the most beautiful doll in the world.” OK, we should probably stop here and point out a few issues. First of all, not that I’m an expert or anything, but if I were buying a factory I’d probably want to take a look at it first. Not to mention that once he arrives, Sam seems to be doing all the work himself, which seems like an awfully inefficient way to mass produce. Oh, and any wife who follows her husband to a different country so that he can make dolls is a very, very trusting woman.
Well, this factory (where, it turns out, the dolls are already made…so what exactly are these people doing?) happens to be next door to an archaeological site, where Rip Torn (hammier than a Bob Evans breakfast bar) is digging for artifacts. He’s investigating the Sanzia people who lived there “900 years ago” – and apparently worshipped Satan. Well, before you can say, “It’s time to play” – an evil spirit flies out of the underground tomb and into the dolls. I should probably mention that this “spirit” takes the appearance of a cheaply animated red laser beam as it zips through the factory. Clearly, blowing the budget on Denise and (sadly) Rip left little room in the special effects department.
Which, of course, brings us to Dolly herself. Here’s where this movie is a big success; the Dollies (because several of them are possessed here) are awesome. They are easily the most enjoyable characters in the movie, as they run around in adorable little shoes whispering things like “Now we’re gonna have some fun” and sticking a guy’s hand in a sewing machine. It’s sort of like watching a dozen Shirley Temples taking over Camp Crystal Lake; you can’t help but root for the dolls to kill off Denise’s lame family and take over the world. The doll effects actually aren’t bad, although admittedly the director often relies on cheap shots, such as only showing only a little pair of feet running by the camera (which, again, is just so damn cute you wanna take one of those little monsters home).
Anyway, somewhere along the way Denise’s little daughter becomes possessed by one of the dolls (who, again, are possessed themselves…this is becoming a very tangled web here), and starts screaming things like “I’ll kill you, she’s mine…MINE!” in a dubbed-in demonic voice a la Linda Blair. Speaking of, Denise goes all Ellen Burstyn on us, freaking out and convinced that her kid’s Satan, all the while Sam thinks his wife is going bonkers and refuses to move back to L.A. Meanwhile their son, like every glasses-wearing geeky boy in the early 90s, is an expert on ancient Mexican culture and keeps sneaking into the archaeological site and his dad’s factory – where, at one point, he stumbles onto a dead body but is happily playing with his toy airplanes about two scenes later.
Through it all, Denise remains fiercely committed to the material; in one scene, giving a desperate-for-Oscar performance, she cries out, “Listen to me, I’m not losing my daughter to a goddamn 900-year-old goat head!” Determined to outdo Burstyn, Catherine Hicks, and even queen-of-hysteria Karen Black herself, Denise actually gives us an intriguing dialogue scene where she converses with the doll, pleading “No! I want my daughter!” while the doll (whose face has suddenly developed a mean case of boils) laughs hysterically. By the time Denise had grabbed the family shotgun and gone doll-hunting, I was personally convinced that this is the single greatest performance of all-time. That is, until the geeky son grabs the gun, smiles, and says “Play with this, bitch” while blowing little Dolly through the door. Poor Denise…well, at least this time you weren’t overshadowed by a hat.
Eventually Denise and the kids come to the rescue of Dad, who’s been completely useless through the entire movie. They blow up the factory and say “It’s over…” – which, of course, is the totally wrong thing to say when you’re trying to vanquish a supernatural demon…you’re just asking for it to come back. Anyway, sadly for us, Dolly Dearest never did come back as a sequel, but if you ask me, it’s never too late. After all, somehow this movie has found an audience on home video for more than a decade, and killer doll movies never go out of style. So what do you say, Denise...wanna play?