Dolly Dearest – Film Review

After Elliot (Sam Bottoms), an American businessman, takes ownership of a doll manufacturing company in Mexico, strange things start happening to his family. Most notably, his young daughter, Jessica (Candy Hutson), develops an unusually close bond with a doll she has found. The doll, possessed by an evil spirit, proceeds to terrorize the household and exert its influence on Jessica. Can Elliot free his little girl from the doll’s supernatural grip?

Maria Lease’s Dolly Dearest actually had the potential to be a fun female-doll version of the popular Chucky movie franchise. It really doesn’t have the best premise to be fair, but with the right execution and with a script that doesn’t really take itself too seriously, this could have been a simple and entertaining ride, but unfortunately, this film does not have a great script at its disposal.

The characters here might as well not even be characters. They constantly feel like pawns that are waiting to be knocked over at any second. As soon as the film begins, you get the feeling that a lot of these characters are not going to make it to the final moments of the film, and these feelings are absolutely right. The Chucky films are kind of the same. You know that a lot of the characters are eventually going to get killed by the seemingly innocent doll.

But the problem is that we don’t care when these characters are about to die or are in danger. I wish these characters were ones that I genuinely rooted for and by the time they were getting hunted down, I was worried for, but I simply wasn’t. There wasn’t even an attempt to develop these characters and give them backstories which is one of the biggest sins.

Courtesy of Trimark Pictures, Image Organization

However, the biggest sin comes from the film’s main antagonist, the titular Dolly. In the Chucky movies, he is given a backstory and we understand exactly how Chucky is alive and what his motivations are. Is he a crazy doll that wants to go around and murder innocent people? Yes, he is. But the difference is that we understand who he is as a person and we know how a soul got trapped inside the doll in the first place.

In Dolly Dearest, the titular serial-killer doll doesn’t really get too much of a backstory or explanation as to how she is alive to begin with. She is quite simply one of those characters that you just kind of have to roll with and not ask too many questions, because as soon as you start to think about the logistics, the entire movie makes absolutely no sense.

Plus, the doll is just not scary either. As a kid, whenever I saw Chucky on a commercial or on a  YouTube video, I was creeped right out. I basically slept with one eye open the first time I saw Chucky on the television one night when I was about eight years old. And even still to this day, I think Chucky is an extremely creepy doll. Dolly on the other hand is kind of unintentionally hilarious. Her dialogue, facial expressions, and overall presentation here is over-the-top in every single way and so ridiculous.

And I know this was released in 1991 but why was this so incredibly corny? It felt like the screenwriter Daniel Cady wasn’t one-hundred-percent sure whether or not he wanted to make this a straight-up comedy slasher or a dramatic thriller because the tones here are extremely conflicting. One scene we will watch a scene that attempts to be comedic (and fails greatly mind you), and the next, we will see an attempt at extreme drama and by doing both, the film feels like it has two tones.

Unfortunately, not a whole lot of the acting is the strongest, either. A lot of the dialogue and line delivery was remarkably weak and almost felt like a first-take kind of thing. It’s not really the fault of the actors, however, but more so the fault of the director and screenwriter.

If there is one thing entertaining about Dolly Dearest it would have to be some of the kill scenes. Are they ridiculously goofy and over-the-top in every single way? Yes, they are. But at the same time, they were kind of fun and enjoyable to watch. Some of the kills are a little clever and I appreciated that aspect of the movie. The rest, however, could have been done so much better. Dolly Dearest is a disappointingly bad missed opportunity.

Overall Grade: D+

MPAA Rating: R for horror violence

Cast: Denise Crosby, Sam Bottoms, Rip Torn, Chris Demetral, Candace Hutson, Lupe Ontiveros

Directed by: Maria Lease

Distributed by: Trimark Pictures, Image Organization

Release Date: October 18, 1991

Running Time: 94 minutes

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