Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.
Release Date: October 18th, 1991 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Maria Lease Actors: Denise Crosby, Sam Bottoms, Rip Torn, Chris Demetral, Candy Hutson, Lupe Ontiveros, Enrique Renaldo, Alma Martinez
he legends say the Sanzia prepared a place for the birth of Satan’s child. They suckled a child that was neither man nor beast; it had the body of an infant and the head of a goat. They fed it with the warm blood of slaughtered children.”
– Karl Resnick (Rip Torn)
While an archaeologist pokes around the Mexico excavation site of an ancient Mayan tomb (later clarified as housing the soul of the devil child, as proclaimed by the century-old Sanzia tribe, or followers of Satan on Earth), a hoary evil is unearthed. This bodes ill for the Wade family (erroneously named as the Read family in the closing credits), as father Elliot (Sam Bottoms, the rational disbeliever) plans to manufacture children’s toys in the “Dolly Dearest” factory down south, situated adjacent to the accursed crypt. Wife Marilyn (Denise Crosby, the concerned, paranoid parent) and children Jimmy (Chris Demetral, the precocious, fearless snooper) and Jessica (Candy Hutson, who convincingly alternates between sweetness and tantrums) are along for the ride, quickly getting situated in the palatial residence arranged for their stay. They even have a jovial housekeeper named Camilla (Lupe Ontiveros) to aid in their transition.
When Elliot is introduced to the facility, he’s immediately disappointed; the appraisal documents suggested that the building and its machinery were being kept in tiptop shape, but everything is covered in dust and disorder. The salesman doesn’t seem ashamed at having misrepresented the business; instead, he suggests it just needs a bit of cleaning. Oddly, Elliot isn’t too fazed; with his indomitable entrepreneurial spirit, he soon only sees potential. “No one ever comes through the factory. Not for any reason.”
“You’re gonna be my new playmate.” Little Jessica discovers a row of life-sized, incredibly eerie (or hysterically stupid looking) girl dolls hidden on a high shelf in the warehouse. And Elliot is more than happy to let her pick one out. This, of course, leads to a series of supernatural tragedies, beginning with a few bad omens (including a blatant ripoff of “The Omen,” when Jessica throws a fit in the presence of a priest and other holy paraphernalia). Amusing mirror gimmicks, the extreme coincidence of a massive dollhouse residing in the backyard of the Wade’s property (as well as a basement filled with doll heads, eyeballs, and various disconnected limbs), Camilla’s prompt decision to leave, and Jessica’s sudden change in behavior (as if possessed, this time borrowing from “The Exorcist”) are just the beginning of a slew of occult terrors involving a murderous toy.
“Senora, there is evil here!” Though the music is nicely sinister, even if it’s not particularly memorable; immersive shadows and nighttime shocks are frequent, paired with typical torrential downpours and lightning; and jump scares crop up, cleverly resorting to the use of a real person walking around in the doll’s clothes (again stealing from another movie – “Child’s Play” [and then “Dead Alive” during choice moments]), there’s also an unavoidable sense of silliness – largely due to the low budget. Were it not for the abundance of unintentional humor, “Dolly Dearest” could have been a genuinely scary endeavor.
Ultimately, the laughs are more prevalent than the chills, but a few death scenes are quite appealing in their ambition and design. Plus, the evil doll’s chuckle, rubbery fingers, and goofily contorting face (and unfortunately limited movements) are the stuff of nightmares – even if they’re also conducive to fits of laughter when they fail spectacularly in their sincerity. The pitter-patter of little feet scurrying across hardwood floors and the subtle turning of the doll’s head (going so far as to roll its eyes at a factory worker’s bad joke) are similarly unnerving (slightly) and hilarious (excessively). Brief bits of gore and the laudable increase of possessed playthings are also notable. “Dolly Dearest” may be blatantly derivative of so many other pictures, but it’s nevertheless surprisingly entertaining in its lofty intentions and shoddy execution.
– Mike Massie