Throughout this annoyingly frigid month, some folks are celebrating black history, others, women in horror, but leave it to the almighty Emily of The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense to take the month of February and add her own 'little' twist to it. With - as Emily puts it - February being a short month, she has focused all 28 days of February to villains that are less than five feet tall. Vertically challenged villains, if you will. Dolls, killer kids, midgets…heck, even people without legs aren't safe from the sting of Emily's always-wonderful reviews. Along with her focus on tiny terrors, Emily was gracious enough to invite anyone and everyone to take part in this celebration, which is exactly what I'm doing here, with 1992's killer doll classic (well…), Dolly Dearest.
Directed by Maria Lease - whose other directorial credit belongs to that of the saucy TV series, Silk Stalkings, if that tells you anything - Dolly Dearest follows a toy manufacture and his family who move to Mexico so he can mass-produce the hottest toy since the Cabbage Patch Kids: Dolly Dearest. As soon as his young daughter, Jessica (Candace Hutson), lays her eyes on one of the dolls her father will produce (at his Mexican sweatshop) she falls in love and must have one immediately. Of course, her father gives Jessica a Dolly Dearest of her own but, little does he know, the torture porn toy factory is located right next to a Mayan tomb that, after being opened by an archeologist, released the evil spirit Sanzia (aka SATAN!) whom has taken refuge in….wait for it…the Dolly Dearest toys!
As opposed to Child's Play's protagonist, Andy, who becomes fearful of his killer doll, Chucky, Jessica's relationship with Dolly Dearest is a little more possessive; as in, Dolly slowly turns Jessica into an evil accomplice. A bad best buddy, if you will. While there could easily be a ton of comparisons to Child's Play, the films really share no more than the idea of a killer doll. Which is a big idea, sure, but that's beside the point. Dolly Dearest focuses less on Dolly herself and more on Jessica's sudden burst of poor behavior (and how it affects her family, specifically her mother), where she begins to act erratically and violently toward anyone that would dare to separate her from her new best friend. She lashes out at her mother constantly (played by Denise Crosby, in her greasiest of roles), attacks the religious Mexican maid - or slave, as some call it - and draws violent images…with crayons, naturally.
Candace Hutson, who plays Jessica, is fun to watch and actually quite adorable in a welfare Drew Barrymore sort of way. She puts out a nice over-the-top performance, while sometimes even coming off as somewhat creepy when she 'acts out' to the people around her. Also creepy is Dolly Dearest herself, who, specifically in 'normal' doll form, is unpleasant enough to give most any kid a doll phobia. In fact, as a normal doll, Dolly Dearest is probably most effective when she does little more than turn her head or moves her eyes slightly, as that is something that seems a little more plausible from an inanimate object such as a doll. That's not to take away from Dolly Dearest in full on 'I have an old face' killer doll mode, which is quite wonderful in its own way, just not as unsettling as what could be contemplated as real.
Going into what is essentially a direct-to-video killer doll film, I would expect no more than the normal amount of cheese and incompetence from this movie, however, Dolly Dearest really isn't as cheap as one would expect (or as many would claim it to be). Not to say this is a great film on any level, but it has a decent cast (that includes Rip Torn!), it's made competently enough and you can tell that the filmmakers were trying to make a solid scary movie that could step out of Childs Play's shadow, all while benefiting from its popularity. Nevertheless, good intentions don't always result in good films and Dolly Dearest fails in more ways than it succeeds.
Dolly Dearest suffers from a serious illness, an illness best known as being boring. Not completely, but mostly, which is more than too much for me to be okay with. One major issue is this film falls very short in the death department. In fact, I think there are no more than three, maybe four, kills all together. Moreover, with that comes a lack of Dolly's presence (who was played by Ed Gale), which was great when she was around, but her screen time was far too little for a character that could have been pure gold. What it comes down to is, it's not quite good enough to be good, and it's not quite bad enough to be good, either. Therefore, what you are left with is a middle of the road, doll driven Slasher film that tries too hard to be good and loses what it could have been, entertaining.