With once glance at Dolly Dearest’s cover or poster, the immediate and unavoidable conclusion is “Child’s Play clone”. The 1991 film is indeed a killer doll movie, and more generally part of the big wave of 80s-90s features with diminutive killer monsters.
Is “Child’s Play clone” a fair assessment? Probably. The similarities are certainly present: a doll is possessed by ancient evil and given to a child, hides its nature from grownups but “befriends” the kid, eventually gets discovered, turns ugly and terrorizes the family. In both films, the child’s mother figures prominently as the main adult protagonist. And perhaps most interestingly, both doll characters were played by actor Ed Gale. That said, the Child’s Play similarities are by no means a bad thing. That’s a great movie, and this one’s a ton of fun as well.
In Dolly Dearest, an American family moves to Mexico to take over a doll factory which they purchased from a deceased dollmaker’s estate. The first ‘sale’ under new ownership is a gift for the family’s young daughter, Jessica (Candace Hutson).
Unfortunately the factory neighbors an archaeological excavation of an ancient crypt, from which escapes the evil spirit there entombed. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Jessica becomes withdrawn and secretive, spending all her time with her new best friend.
As Jessica’s brother and parents (Chris Demetral, Denise Crosby, and Sam Bottoms) become aware of the Doll’s evil presence, they team up with the excavation’s supervisor, Rip Torn, to put an end to the curse.
In a bit of a spin on the formula, the evil spirit possesses not only Jessica’s Dolly, but the other dolls in the factory as well, compounding their presence and lethality — though in slasher terms, the film has relatively few kills and is more dependent on spookyness and action than actual violence.
While not original, Dolly Dearest is a ton of fun, and I had a blast with it. Some of the fun is campy (Rip Torn’s Mexican accent fades in and out randomly) but the genuine family dynamics create both pathos and peril, while also having the benefit of differentiating it from Child’s Play.
Dolly Dearest arrives May 26 from Vinegar Syndrome. The standard version is reviewed and pictured; a limited edition version with slipcover is also available directly from vinegarsyndrome.com.
As usual for Vinegar Syndrome, the scan looks great and is chaptered by reel.
Special Features and Extras:
“Playing with Dolls” with Denise Crosby (14:52)
Actress Denise Crosby shares her memories of the film, working with the rest of the cast, and being intimidated and charmed in turn by Rip Torn.
“Dressing the Part” with Ed Gale (8:12)
You won’t recognize him in the film, but he plays the title character! Ed shares his memories of the film, thoughts on his career and acting process, challenges of being an actor and little person, losing credit for his work to effects artists, and… the dress he wore!
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Dolly Dearest Standard Edition Blu-ray
Vinegar Syndrome exclusive:
Limited Edition with Slipcover
Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.