Review: Dolly Dearest
Here we go again, same old song again. I’ll be honest, this week had me concerned. For a while there, it seemed as if A Serbian Film was going to be the pick that won this week’s Facebook poll, but in the end the exploitation gods spared me. However, some of you Blood Suckers need to take a long look in the mirror and figure out how much you need to be investing in therapy.
Now I’m not going to say that Dolly Dearest is a good movie, mostly because it’s not. Considering the pedigree of Maria Lease, the writer/director of this one, I’m kinda surprised. We’ll save Maria Lease for later though, for now let’s go ahead and dive into the totally original tale of a killer doll possessed by and evil spirit.
Okay, so it’s not totally original. In fact, it’s pretty much a blatant rip-off of 1988’s Child’s Play. But in the world of exploitation that isn’t the worst thing. There are plenty of movies (I’m looking at you Robowar and Shocking Dark) that are unapologetic about ripping off successful flicks with absolutely zero attempt to pretend otherwise. Being boring, however, is unforgivable. Dolly Dearest has a thin story, weak kills, zero gore, and the killer doll has a perpetual look of having just smelled a poop.
Filmed in the summer of 1990, this was Maria Lease’s first directorial effort that was not X-rated. Distributed by Trimark Pictures (the same folks that brought us the Leprechaun franchise and Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive), it was originally slated to go direct-to-video, but somehow got a limited run in the Midwest. Although, and you might want to sit down for this shocking turn of events, it did not fare too well. In fact, this was the last feature film Lease would direct, and except for a handful of episodes of Silk Stockings in 1992, that was it for her directing career. However, that was not the end of her time in showbiz. But put a pin in that and we’ll circle back.
What’s with the doll?
Dolly Dearest starts with the common sense premise that someone down in Mexico made the obvious decision to build a doll-making toy factory right next to a creepy ancient burial tomb. We later learn that the folks who build this were the Sanzia, and as we all know Sanzia translates to Satan on Earth. Karl Resnick (Rip Torn) is the resident archaeologist who seems to be present just to provide exposition. “The legends say the Sanzia prepared a place for the birth of Satan’s child. They suckled a child that was neither man nor beast. It had the body of an infant and the head of a goat. They fed it with the warm blood of slaughtered children.” (Cue bitchin’ metal guitar solo.) Sounds really fucking cool right? Well settle down, unless the thought of a doll dressed like Small Wonder leaves your knees knockin’. If that’s the case…what’s wrong with you?
Now this doll factory has just been bought by Elliot Wade (Roger Bottoms), and the Wade family is relocating to Mexico from Los Angeles to, um, run a doll factory. I’m sure that happens more often than you’d like to believe. Unbeknownst to them, some archaeologist dude just cracked open the evil Sanzia tomb next door and let loose a rad laser light show that goes into the factory and possesses the dolls. Of course, little Jessica Wade (Candace Hutson, who no shit is the voice of the Triceratops, Cera, in The Land Before Time franchise) has to have one of these creepy looking dolls. Soon after taking “Dolly” home, Jessica develops a rather intense relationship with the toy that concerns her mother Marilyn (Denise Crosby of Pet Semetary and Star Trek: The Next Generation fame).
A series of events unfolds where the doll goes on a murder “spree” (I’m being very generous), and we get an electrocuted housekeeper and a night-watchman suffers a…heart attack? This kill makes no sense whatsoever and I would have been confused if I had cared. Soon Rip Torn and Roger Bottoms decide to team up to kill off this Sanzia demon and the possessed dolls it inhabits once and for all in a climax that left me muttering, “That’s it?” When the credits rolled, I was surprised because it was so abrupt. I did enjoy the lead up though, where we see our two heroes tossing lit dynamite sticks like Mardi Gras beads inside the factory while demon dolls scurry around frantically trying to snuff out the fuses or splashing cups of water on them. I think that was one of those moments where the film did not come off as taking itself too seriously. Well that and anytime Rip Torn does something. I mean, this is a guy who once broke into a bank while armed and heavily intoxicated because he thought it was his house. He was also in Freddy Got Fingered. And that is a goddamned masterpiece, I don’t care what anyone else says.
I also have to mention good ol’ Ed Gale, the guy who actually played the doll in Dolly Dearest. Ed left home at the age of 20 with a mere $41 in his pocket and a dream to become a working actor. And by God, he did it. Shit, he even made his feature film debut as the titular character in Howard the Duck. He also went onto appear in Spaceballs, Phantasm II, Chopper Chicks in Zombietown, and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. The crazy thing is, he also appeared as Chucky in Child’s Play. Small world.
Who made this?
Before I wrap this all up, I have to talk about the director and writer of Dolly Dearest, Maria Lease. I really wish I could find out more about her, because she had quite a career. She got her start in movies working as an actress working for some of the great exploitation directors of the 60s and 70s including Al Adamson and Lee Frost (who actually served as the production supervisor on Dolly Dearest). Some of her credits include All the Sins of Sodom, The Wall of Flesh, Love Camp 7, Horror of the Blood Monsters, and Sinthia: The Devil’s Doll. Lease then made her directorial debut in 1978 with a series of X-rated films.
Like I said before, Dolly Dearest was her first and only movie not rated X, and it was also the last flick she directed. Besides acting and directing, she also got jobs working as the script supervisor for such gems as Teen-Age Jail Bait, The Dirty Dolls, and Schoolgirls in Chains. From these humble beginnings in exploitation, she moved to television and worked as a script supervisor for some huge shows throughout the 80s, 90s, and 00s. Just a sample of these include Hill Street Blues, MacGyver, The Practice, and Boston Legal. In fact, the bulk of her film credits are as a script supervisor. So she had a career in the movie business that spanned five decades. Not too shabby.
And that’s why I was disappointed in Dolly Dearest. Maria Lease had worked with great exploitation directors and on some true classics. Maybe the studio was heavy handed when it came to cuts. I don’t know. I just felt that this was a paint-by-numbers rip-off with not too much to make it worth watching. Really the only person who went on to do anything of significance after this was Rip Torn, and clearly he was the big “get” for this picture, as in the credits someone is mentioned as “Mr. Torn’s Driver”.
They can’t all be winners I guess. Dolly Dearest is one of those flicks that I remember seeing the VHS at the video store all the time, but that I never gave a chance. This is not something I regret. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of killer doll movies outside of Child’s Play. Just like killer children flicks, I am not scared of something I can punt.
Outside of some of the cool stories on the background of Maria Lease and Ed Gale, there wasn’t much I liked about this one. It just felt very bland and I got the feeling the actors and filmmakers were about as interested in it as I was. 1.5 bolos – check it out!