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John’s Horror Corner: Dolly Dearest (1991), Poltergeist meets Mexican Child’s Play in this great evil doll movie!

April 11, 2016

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MY CALL: The poster art makes this movie look like something you’d want to skip. But trust me, DON’T SKIP IT. This is solid gold B+ horror and a decent evil doll movie that borrows heavily from Child’s Play (1988) and Poltergeist (1982). MORE MOVIES LIKE Dolly Dearest: There’s no shortage of evil doll movies on the market and they come in all different flavors. Puppet Master 1-5 (1989), The Boy (2016), Child’s Play (1988), Curse of Chucky (2013) and Poltergeist (1982), from which this movie borrows heavily. But not Annabelle (2014; podcast discussion of Annabelle), which was just garbage on film. Other horror movies that take Americans to Mexico and Central America are The Ruins (2008) and Indigienous (2014).

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The Wade family moves from Los Angeles into a Mexican home sight-unseen after buying a Mexican doll factory sight-unseen. Already, this plot sounds like something that would only feasibly happen in a bad horror movie…nobody does that! But this is their lucky day, because some ancient Mayan ruins are nearby and an anthropologist accidently unleashed a ball of red glowing energy–errrr, I mean, an evil spirit!

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Hmmm…noticing the similarities yet?

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After being given a doll from the factory, their young daughter begins acting strangely. Her mother Marylin (Denise Crosby; Pet Sematary) has caught her talking to “Dolly” frequently, she draws violent depictions of animals, hisses at priests and rosaries, and speaks in the ancient Sanzian language to their devout housekeeper.

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What’s more is that we (the audience) see the Dolly move on her own and it’s implied that she scampers about the house at night very early in the film. And once her murderous intentions are known, we see Dolly’s creepy little doll hands locking doors and picking up sharp objects, sneaking, hiding and stabbing! It’s straight out of the Child’s Play (1988) playbook staged in a Mexican Poltergeist (1982) scenario.

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The jump scares are tedious but Dolly is sufficiently creepy (even scary) enough to make it work…and well! As the story progresses, so too does the little girl’s weirdness. She becomes increasingly attached to Dolly and disengaged from her family…even hostile to them.

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Dolly, like Chucky, gets meaner and uglier.

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This may not be a good film, but it’s a solid B-horror. It’s greatest gift is its pacing. Most B-horror takes 40-60 minutes for anything at all interesting to happen. Whereas we find eerie goings on with Dolly nearly from the start, ambulatory murderous Dolly within about 30 minutes, and after an hour things continue to escalate into bonkersville. There are no great effects, but the walking talking creepy dolls are every bit as effective as we need for his to be a lot of fun.

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Speaking of this being a B-movie, Rip Torn (The Man Who Fell to Earth, RoboCop 3) plays an archaeologist and seemingly shows up for no other reason than to explain that Sanzia means “Satan on Earth,” reveal the ancient burial grounds entomb a Devil child with a goat head, and to blurt out an occasional displaced Spanish phrase even though everyone is always speaking English. He is movie exposition personified, walking and talking and explaining everything.

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Dolly and Chucky are both quite industrious.

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By the way, the dolls follow suit behind Child’s Play (1988) pretty hard. They utter similar lines like “now we’ll be together forever” and “time to play” and their faces become more and more evil-looking as we approach the finale as if they were slowly sapping the soul and humanity from the little girl to transmute Dolly into a living entity of flesh. Then you have Rip Torn filling the Zelda Rubenstein’s Poltergeist (1982) role and the ancient burial ground unleashing spirits that want the youngest child, a little girl whose parents have moved for the father’s job, just like Carol Anne and her family–plus the slightly older boy who discovers the evil, just like Caroll Anne’s brother.

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Older brothers…they’re protective and they mean well, but it usually turns out bad.

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After this film, writer/director Maria Lease went on to do a few episodes of the sultry Silk Stalkings show and then backed off from direction entirely. I’m not sure why she didn’t do more horror. Not only did this movie surprisingly not suck, it was pretty solidly entertaining. I had been procrastinating seeing this for over a decade (some of the poster/cover art is not very promising LOL) and now I find myself recommending it to fans of evil doll movies and 80s-90s B-movie horror…as this was more of a B+ movie (the same can be said for Pumpkinhead and Subspecies 1-2).

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Oh look, there’s more of them. And they get uglier as the movie goes on.

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The poster art makes this movie look like something you’d want to skip. But trust me, DON’T SKIP IT. This is solid gold B+ horror and a decent evil doll movie!

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