Dolly Dearest Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Written and directed by Maria Lease
1991, 94 minutes, Rated R
Released on May 26th, 2020
Denise Crosby as Marilyn Wade
Sam Bottoms as Eliot Wade
Rip Torn as Dr. Karl Resnick
Chris Demetral as Jimmy
Candy Hutson as Jessica
Lupe Ontirveros as Camilla
Will Gotay as Luis
Eliot Wade and his family are flying to Mexico, where he has just purchased a doll factory. Joined by his wife Marilyn and their children Jimmy and Jessica, Eliot plans to make his fortune reintroducing a once popular line of toys known as “Dolly Dearest”. He takes the kids to check out the factory only to find it completely run down. An archaeological dig site across the street has uncovered a crypt of the ancient Sanzia tribe, and nobody knows, but an evil spirit has recently escaped and now inhabits the dolls. Eliot gives one of these toys to his daughter, who soon begins acting strangely. A series of tragic accidents strike at both home and the factory and Marilyn suspects the doll is somehow responsible. She reaches out to an archaeologist and a nun for guidance and learns of a satanic influence that is now trying to possess her child.
Dolly Dearest is a cheap riff on the wildly popular Child’s Play franchise. It follows the familiar blueprint of a variety of killer doll movies, but Chucky’s shadow looms large over this production. The script takes an interesting premise and loads it with clichés and forces its characters to repeatedly make terrible decisions to advance the plot. The most interesting ideas involve the spirit inhabiting multiple dolls and giving one the power to control a little girl. Sadly, these ideas are minimally explored beyond the realm of Jessica acting like a bitch to anyone who comes near her doll. As for multiple antagonists, the other Dollys are content to stay in the factory shadows and play peek-a-boo.
Written and directed by Maria Lease (Little Girls Blue), the film takes a traditional American family and places them outside their normal environment where they are unprepared for the danger that comes for them. Lease fails to commit to the potential darkness of the material, repeatedly shielding the family unit from harm. Oddly, no white people are killed by the dolls in this movie, just Mexicans. Aside from a derivative script that plays it safe, the film is further hampered by its low-budget constraints. There are no extras to give the story a broader scope; the dig site is without an excavation team and there is only one employee at the factory. Even the number of dolls is limited to four, and Eliot gives one of those to his kid –which undercuts the idea of him selling the existing line of merchandise to kick off his new enterprise.
On the whole, Eliot (Sam Bottoms, Apocalypse Now) is pretty worthless. He drags his family to a remote location and spends all of his time at the factory, ignoring their growing troubles. His wife Marilyn (Denise Crosby, Itsy Bitsy) isn’t much better when it comes to parenting, as she leaves young Jessica (Candy Hutson, The Maddening) alone with her doll in a giant playhouse in the backyard for hours on end and has little interaction with her son. Camilla the housekeeper (Lupe Ontirveros, The Goonies) is deeply religious and is immediately afraid of the doll, but her warnings are dismissed as superstitious nonsense.
Jimmy (Chris Demetral, Sometimes They Come Back), the teenage older brother, has the most promising storyline. He lives in his own world and is fascinated by archaeology. His parents are so self-absorbed that he freely leaves the house and walks to the empty dig site near the factory. The script didn’t see fit to provide him with friends, so he strikes out on his own, trying to team up with prickly archaeologist Karl Resnick (Rip Torn, Robocop 3). Jimmy learns of the Sanzian curse and tries to warn his family, but they don’t listen. He takes an active role in the finale, proving himself to be the most competent character, but spends a fair amount of the picture on the sidelines.
The cast does a serviceable job with the material, but fails to leave much of an impression. Rip Torn appears to have lost a bet or needed to pay his rent for this one. His performance is remarkably uneven as he struggles with a muddled accent that comes and goes and when present regularly swings from Texan to English to Mexican?! I’m not sure where he’s supposed to be from and I’m not sure Torn knows either. He’s still an amazing actor and elevates every scene he is in, he just runs out of things to do. Denise Crosby emerges mostly unscathed, but despite all of her character’s growing suspicion and leaps in logic, she is relegated to the backseat for the film’s climax.
The titular character is designed by Michael Burnett Productions (The Dark Backward) with moderate success. The doll is sufficiently creepy, but it takes way too long to come to life and do anything. We get a lot of shots of running feet and legs before actually seeing the thing moving on its own. Undercutting its effectiveness is the decision to provide a series of out-of-character wisecracks during the threatening moments. Dolly Dearest is an adequate diversion for those with a fear of dolls, but the film moves at a snail’s pace, sidelined by subplots that go nowhere. The filmmakers bungle several creative possibilities, most notably the angle of multiple villains, an idea better explored in Stuart Gordon’s Dolls and the Puppet Master franchise.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, picture quality is impressive following a 2K scan and restoration of the original film elements. Enhanced clarity exposes some of the seams of the production, but colors are bright and there is an abundance of small-object detail.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track gets the job done with a well-balanced mixture of music cues and sound effects to ramp up the tension. Dialogue levels are clear and understandable throughout and optional English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
There are two newly recorded interviews on this disc, and the first is Playing with Dolls (15 minutes) with actress Denise Crosby. She is appreciative of the opportunity to work with female directors (on both this film and Pet Sematary) who bring a fresh perspective to the genre. She goes on to share her memories of her co-stars and the challenge of working with child actors.
In Dressing the Part (8 minutes), actor/ stunt performer Ed Gale discusses his work on the film doubling the little girl and playing the doll in all the shots that don’t show her face. He compares his duties here with the similar job he did as Chucky in the Child’s Play series.
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