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Before "Annabelle"...There Was "Dolly Dearest"

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"Dolly Dearest" (1991)

Directed by: Maria Lease

Starring: Denise Crosby, Sam Bottoms, Rip Torn, Lupe Ontiveros


Every October, I welcome the Halloween season with a month-long personal marathon of cheesy horror flicks. I discovered the subject of tonight's entry, Dolly Dearest, during one of those marathons (thanks to Amazon Prime), and it certainly appeared to tick all the right schlock boxes for me. Shoot, who doesn't have a weakness for a good old-fashioned killer-doll movie? I'm sure everyone reading this has seen at least one installment of the seemingly endless Child's Play series, and I've even reviewed the legendary Demonic Toys—which starred a foul-mouthed, psycho doll named Baby Oopsie Daisy. When I first sat down and pressed play on Dolly Dearest one afternoon, I had a vague feeling that I might have seen it before, but it turned out to be new territory for me. I guess I must have been confusing it with Stuart Gordon's far superior Dolls (1987) for all these years.

So how does Dolly Dearest stack up against those other, better known murderous-plaything flicks? Let's roll'em and find out.

Initial Reaction

The video box for Dolly Dearest (whose artwork, it must be noted, is WAY creepier than anything in the actual movie) offers a rave review from one "Dr. Donald A. Reed" of the "Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films," who says it's "Entertaining, high-class terror." The Academy is a real thing and Dr. Reed is an actual person (I looked it up), but I have a feeling that the good Doctor was shoveling it with both hands when he provided that quote. Dolly Dearest suffers from an extremely low budget (it was released in 1991, but looks like it was filmed in 1981), an all too familiar plot, and a D-list cast - the biggest name is Denise "Granddaughter of Bing" Crosby, who'd recently done Pet Sematery but was best known at the time for Star Trek: The Next Generation. The script is awkward and the "special effects" seem to consist mainly of midgets in unintentionally hilarious doll costumes stabbing people, knocking things over and snarling a lot. if this still sounds like your kinda meat, read on... but don't say I didn't warn you.

The Story

Dolly Dearest has a great opening shot but it's all downhill from there. An archaeologist working on a dig somewhere in Mexico is suddenly flattened by the massive stone door of the crypt he's been trying to pry open. A hilariously-animated red "evil spirit" flies out of the tomb and rockets to the surface, where it takes up residence in a nearby building. Fade out...

...and fade back in on the All-American Wade family, composed of Dad Elliot (Sam Bottoms), Mom Marilyn (Denise Crosby), and annoying kids Jessica (Candace Hudson) and Jimmy (Chris Demetral). They are flying down to Mexico to begin a new life. Dad is in the toy business, and the Wades are planning to take over the operations of a long-dormant doll factory. Of course, Elliot will soon regret his decision to out-source his American business to Mexico (haha!). The "Dolly Dearest" factory is in serious disrepair with boxes of creepy doll parts peeking from every corner, but Jessica falls in love with a mint-condition doll that she finds on a shelf, so Dad lets her take it back to their new home. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that this will soon backfire spectacularly, especially after the family takes note of the archaeological dig that is going on practically outside of the factory's front door (cue foreboding music).

How it Develops

You can probably write the rest of this one yourself. Jessica totes her new doll everywhere she goes, which quickly creeps out the rest of the family. Marilyn swears she hears whispering when Jessica and "Dolly" are alone in the playhouse outside and thinks she catches a glimpse of the doll moving by itself as well. Jessica, naturally, does not take kindly to the notion of anyone taking "Dolly" away and begins reacting violently whenever Mom tries to separate them. Even after the family's superstitious housekeeper meets a grisly electrical fate in the house's basement on a stormy night, Dad still refuses to acknowledge that All Is Not Right Here.

Young Jimmy eventually starts poking around the dig site and winds up befriending/pestering cranky old Dr. Karl Resnick (the dependable Rip Torn), who's picking up where his colleague (the guy who got squished by the door in the opening scene) left off. Dr. Resnick explains that the site once belonged to the Sanzia - a murderous ancient tribe whose goal was to bring about the end of the world by summoning a so-called "Devil Child." The corpse of the said child - which, legend has it, has the "body of a human and the head of a goat" - is believed to be buried in the tomb. Would it be too obvious to point out that Devil Child's spirit has already taken over "Dolly" and is well on its way to owning poor Jessica's soul forever and ever, Amen? Didn't think so.

How it Ends

Eventually, Jessica starts speaking in tongues and threatening to kill her Mom ala Linda Blair in The Exorcist, which naturally kicks Marilyn's Mama Bear instincts into high gear. She and Jimmy escape from Dolly's clutches at home and race to the factory, which is now crawling with a horde of homicidal, evil Dollies, picking off anyone stupid enough to enter. Elliot and Dr. Resnick (who has seen the error of his meddling ways) realize that the only way to stop this evil from spreading is to re-seal the Devil Child's tomb - and destroy the factory building. Fortunately, movie archaeologists always keep a healthy supply of TNT laying around, sooooo.... KAAAA-BOOOOOM! Thankfully, Dolly Dearest does not end with one last jump-scare or cheap shot intended to set up a sequel, like most horror films of the era... because it sure didn't deserve one!

Summing It Up

It should be quite obvious by now that Dolly Dearest is nothing more than a cheap, by-the-numbers, gender-swap knockoff of the Child's Play series... but hey, at least "Dolly" didn't constantly spout lame puns and one-liners like a third rate stand up comedian. I suppose that counts for something!

If you've burned yourself out on Chucky's adventures and have already seen the Demonic Toys and Dolls flicks as well, then Dolly Dearest might provide a few low-wattage jolts, but in my book, Chucky or Baby Oopsie Daisy could take "Dolly" with one hand tied behind their backs.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Keith Abt