Dolly Dearest (1991)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays my dear, and dearest, Enemaniacs!

Now, I’ll admit that B-Movie Enema isn’t that good at celebrating other holidays outside of Halloween. That’s so easy with the type of stuff we cover around these parts. In the past, I have touched upon Christmas and New Year’s. I’m trying. But these holidays are rough to go much further, especially for Christmas, because, before long, I’m going to be starting to run into a lot of movies that a lot of people have already talked about.

But when it comes to Christmas, let’s face it… It’s all about the gifts, right? And when it comes to gifts and Christmas, kids love toys. Many times over, at least once upon a time, little girls would get some sort of large, realistic looking, and EXTREMELY creepy, doll. That’s the angle here, folks. This week, I’m going to dig into 1991’s Dolly Dearest!

It is no surprise that Dolly Dearest is mostly deemed a knock-off of Child’s Play. Child’s Play was extremely successful in 1988. I mean, shit… Roger Ebert (who would go on to have major issues with sequels in the series) gave the original Child’s Play 3 out of 4 stars in his newspaper review. If he liked a horror movie, that was a big deal. And it showed in grossing about four to five times its original budget.

Dolly Dearest comes along in 1991, about a month and a half after the third Child’s Play film was released. It was released through Trimark Pictures who mostly specialized in home video releases. It did get a brief theatrical release around the Midwest. Trimark is definitely one of those companies I remember fondly from my years working at a video store in the late 90s. What they brought to video stores weren’t completely unknown. Some of their earlier releases before Dolly Dearest included the final film directed by Roger Corman, Frankenstein Unbound, Warlock, a huge hit on video and on cable, Ken Russell’s Whore, and Kickboxer 2, another hit on video. Later on, they distributed the Leprechaun films of the 90s, the sequels Return of the Living Dead III and Deathwish V, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (aka Braindead), the critical darling Eve’s Bayou, and the cult hit Cube. The quality from Trimark was kind of all over the place, but I like to think of them as kind of the multi-genre version of Blumhouse. The big hits sustained the company for as long as they could but the little ones could get them from one release to the next in between the big hits.

Dolly Dearest stars Denise Crosby. Personally, I will always know her best as Lt. Tasha Yar on the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sadly her time in the role only lasted 22 episodes before her character was tragically killed in the line of duty by a slime monster in the episode “Skin of Evil”. I should mention that today, episode 22 would be the season finale. In 1988, when the first season of TNG ended, it was with episode 26. It was a fairly unceremonious, and senseless, death for a character who was credited during the opening credits of every episode. The reason for this happening to Yar was that Crosby, while having been featured heavily in earlier episodes, started to fade to the background of subsequent episodes. Displeased with not being allowed to do something more with her character, Crosby ultimately opted to leave the show. Writers decided to kill her off basically immediately and then didn’t even seemingly get a gracious exit among the cast and crew – though not to the fault of the cast who, themselves, were struggling with the production crew too.

Later on, Crosby would get roles in movies like Pet Sematary and Dolly Dearest which her most prominent roles, but also movies like Jackie Brown and Deep Impact. She would have triumphant returns to TNG over the series’ life too including appearing as an alternate timeline Yar in the highly appreciated “Yesterday’s Enterprise” before eventually showing up as a half-Romulan, half-Human daughter of that alternate Yar in two highly discussed two-part stories, one of which featured the return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock. She also co-produced, narrated, and interviewed folks for the documentaries Trekkies and Trekkies 2. Trekkies in particular is a fantastic documentary about fandom, and maybe the first I can remember actually being appreciative of the fans, even if some of them are a little awkward. It’s all done lovingly and it should be watched by anyone who, themselves, feel a little dorky or a misfit because of their fandoms.

Alrighty… So for Dolly Dearest, we open the movie in what appears to be an archaeological dig in Mexico or some other Spanish-speaking part of the world. A guy is trying to chip away at a door that probably belonged to the Aztecs or the Mayans or something. He hammers at the space between the door and the wall, but it’s not budging. As he works on it, he does hear a very brief sound like stones moving against each other. Suddenly, the door blows open and lands on top of the old guy and a red light flies out and dances around before escaping out into the world.

The Wade family, of which Marilyn (Denise Crosby) and Elliot (Sam Bottoms) are the parents, are traveling to Mexico so Elliot can take over the Dolly Dearest factory. Their daughter, Jessie, is hoping they can go back to Los Angeles after they become successful. Marilyn and Elliot exchange looks that either say: 1) “Woof… Well, we 100% KNOW we can’t go back after all those massive drug trafficking charges you have hanging over you.” or 2) “Eek… No way the U.S. will let us back after they see how much child labor we’re employing at the factory!”

Now… I don’t want anyone here to think that when Elliot talks about becoming a massive success with the Dolly Dearest toy factory that he’s taking over a beautiful, multi-story factory. Oh no. He’s taking over a, as far as I can see it, shithole.

No shit… This place doesn’t just have metal for walls and a roof, but it also has tumbleweeds tumbling by. Classic visual joke. The inside is no better. Spider webs, dirt, and no workers await the Wades. Apparently, this is was a successful place. However, the place has gone to shit since the woman who used to own it died. Exactly why Elliot bought this place is a mystery as of yet. Maybe he was a drug kingpin and needed to go on the run and this was his best idea of how to do that.

I should say that this is the building that the evil red glowing spirit thing flew into from the archaeology site. I am going to guess that it’s spent most of this time in between that scene and this one flipping all the dolls’ switches to evil.

Speaking of! I need to read no fucking synopsis or see the creepy doll thing on the poster to know that this thing… this motherfucking thing… has all its switches set to evil.

Look, I know someone out there will say, “Oh you fuckin’ pansy… That’s just a little girl’s doll!” Well, you’d be right, but you know why dolls are so damn creepy? It’s the eyes and the unsettling accuracy in skin tone and, *shivers*, the lips. That thing looks like it is going to talk at any minute. It should not be allowed to talk. It’s creepy. But the real kicker are the eyes. There’s a soul trapped in there. It has life to them. It’s neither a good soul or a life worth preserving.

It’s just goddamned evil.

Anyway, in the office of the factory, Jessie found a line of those devil dolls and asked her daddy if she could have one. I will say that the doll, as creepy as it is, is pretty exquisitely manufactured. So I get why both Jessie and father Wade were taken by its looks and craftsmanship. Maybe there’s hope for the Dolly Dearest factory yet.

Then the fucking doll already starts moving on its own the very first motherfucking night.

What’s more is that the very next day, Marilyn finds some crudely drawn pictures with bloody knives and probably some sort Mayan thing and she just kind of shrugs it off as a silly kid’s drawing. She does see that Jessie and her little Dolly are starting to go everywhere with each other. Again, she just kind of smiles because, clearly, her daughter is adjusting well in this brand new country. Later, as she packs for something that she’s doing with Jessie, she starts to hear little taps in the hallway. After asking if anyone was in the hall, it stops and she just decides that maybe she’s going crazy.

As a padre is blessing the Wade house, Jessie starts screaming and growling and looking kind of mean and shit. Jessie wants her goddamn Dolly. She also wants to stare daggers at the Mexican maid who asked the padre to come and bless the house. You know… normal little girl behavior and shit.

On one hand, you have Jessie who is super obsessed with Dolly. On the other hand, you have the Wades’ son, Jimmy, who is kind of a dork and likes poking around the Mayan joint that killed the old man at the beginning and unleashed the killer spirit now living in Dolly. I’d be really excited if Jimmy solves the mystery of what’s going on and holds the key of saving his sister because he’s a nerd. After poking around the excavation site, he finds a blueprint of the dig or something and takes it for himself. Maybe he will solve everything.

Things start to pick up steam pretty quickly in this movie. Jessie is spending all her time with Dolly. She talks to it constantly. She even tells Marilyn things… Wait. Holy shit. Okay, bookmark what I was about to say because something totally clicked for me by total happenstance. At one point in this movie, Denise Crosby came in from doing a little gardening in the white dress below. I literally snorted and said, “Okay, I guess Marilyn Monroe had some gardening to do.” I then just kind of played it off because Denise Crosby is a good looking lady, this is the early 90s, and the movie probably just wanted her to look good because she does look good, right?

Jesus Christ… Her name IS Marilyn in this. Hilarious.

Anyway, things are speeding up here. This movie is actually fairly fast paced anyway. The movie opens with the spirit getting out. Shortly after the credits, the Wades appear in Mexico, and it’s only minutes later that little Jessica gets Dolly and things have been rolling ever since.

Jessica is clearly either being influenced by Dolly or has become possessed by Dolly. The whole fit she had with the padre coming over to bless the house is the first indication that it’s more than just a obsession with the doll. Now, after seeing crucifix on the maid’s wrist, she pushes a bunch of dishes out of the lady’s hand, says something pretty off-color to her in Mayan, and then tells Marilyn that she’s not feeling the maid because she prays to the spirits that don’t like Dolly.

Again, normal little girl behavior here.

Everything’s ramped up quickly. Marilyn’s not too happy with Jessie’s behavior. Camilla, the maid, decides to quit because Marilyn doesn’t want her doing her stupid religious shit around the house. It’s clearly making Jessie a little fucking bitch and therefore it’s Camilla’s fault!

This is one of those scenarios in which someone is clearly not taking the possible warning signs of trouble very seriously. In supernatural movies of the 2000s, it’s always the husband who refuses to believe the wife or the little kid who says there’s something haunting the house or whatever. Here, it’s Marilyn who’d rather just tell the maid to stop doing dumb religious shit than to believe that maybe something IS wrong, and, more accurately, something is wrong with Jessie.

But whatever! It’s time for Dolly to get up and out of her rocker and run around the house before calling out to Jessie to follow her to the little playhouse in the backyard. Camilla tries to call Jessica to have her come back inside. Jessica struggles but the wind closes the backdoor and locks them out of the house. Camilla can’t get Jimmy’s attention because he’s rocking out with his headphones on and can’t hear her calling for him. Camilla gets into the cellar but the interior door is locked too.

“I really wish I hadn’t given full notice before leaving…”

I like that Dolly’s first attempt to get Camilla is to put a skate on the steps down to the cellar. Camilla is too wise to that though, so plan A failed. Plan B is to jump up and scream at Camilla from under the stairs. She falls down the stairs but survives. Plan B is no bueno. Plan C is to stab Camilla in the shoulder with an awl. But a shoulder is hardly a vital organ so plan C failed. You know what? I’m not entirely sure Dolly is very efficient. It’s not until plan D does she finally kill Camilla by making her fall into a tiny hole of standing water and throwing a lamp into the water to electrocute her.

Elliot goes into the basement to check the fuse box when he and Marilyn get home and discover the lights are out. It smells surprisingly of cooked Mexican maid lady. But it takes a little time before he finds her in that weird tiny well of water. When he pulled her out of that well, the door blew open from the thunderstorm outside. It’s safe to say that things were pretty bad that night.

The next day, Marilyn hears whispering in the backyard dollhouse thing that Jessie and Dolly always sneak off too. We can see through the window that it looks like Dolly is holding court. We see the back of Jessie’s head and it looks as though Dolly is walking back and forth as she talks in her creepy little monster voice.

At the archaeology site, Professor Rip Torn from the University stops by to continue the job that got that old geezer killed at the beginning of the movie. Jimmy was messing around in there too. He tells Rip that a cave-in has blocked most of the path back to the crypt. Jimmy, hearing the word “crypt”, gets pretty excited to explore deeper.

Professor Rip Torn, going into the Dolly Dearest factory to use the phone, tells Elliot and Jimmy that the excavation wasn’t Mayan. It was a different group that lived in the area about 900 years ago called the Sanzia. Sanzia translates, roughly, to “Satan on Earth”. Jimmy, totally into nerd shit, sneaks out of the house to join Professor Rip Torn in his nighttime excavation. Rip is discovering more inscriptions inside the tomb that warn people from crossing the threshold of the tomb.

Anyway, let’s take a short detour here because the overnight guy at the Dolly Dearest factory is making burritos while on break and decides to hit on one of the dolls that look just like Dolly. I’m very concerned that I’m about to see a man fuck a little girl doll. He asks if she would join him for dinner. He asks if she would like to Lambada. I have it on very good authority that Lambada is the forbidden dance, and if he fucks that doll that dance will be far less forbidden. He also even gives the doll his keys to meet him in his room later.

Yes, I realize that I can blame no one but myself for these predicaments I get myself into with these types of movies.

Anyway, this doll moves by itself too. So, is this because Rip Torn is poking around that tomb or did the original spirit make all these dolls evil? Whatever it is, Luis has a significant killer doll problem back at the factory that ultimately ends with him being killed by them. Now, what’s weird is that it seems as though he dies of fear or, like a heart attack or something. However, there’s weird movement going on under his chest. I thought for a second one of the dollies were going to pop out of his chest like a chest burster alien. But, alas, no.

Okay, so back with Professor Rip Torn, he’s looking in the tomb and he deduces that the Sanzia entombed the “devil child” in the little stone sarcophagus in the center of the tomb. I’m guessing that’s what possessed Dolly back at the Wade homestead. And probably those other dolls in the factory.

Anyway, the whole time that Jimmy was trying to get to the dig, he got chased by a scary dog. When he gets to the dig, he doesn’t see Rip Torn, but he gets chased by that fuckin’ dog. He climbs into the Dolly Dearest factory and the little devil dolls talk about how they are going to have some fun now. Jimmy starts to find some of the evidence that Luis is probably supposed to be around. Outside, at the dig, Rip Torn finds a woman trying to burn down the tomb. She begs him to close the tomb or everyone will die. She runs off after Rip Torn says that the Sanzia are all dead and all this superstition shit is dumb. She runs off and he ignores her request to stop. More about this lady in a bit.

Elliot shows up looking for Jimmy. Of course, Jimmy is not with Rip Torn. He’s inside being messed with by the haunted dolls. He finds Luis’ body and when he runs outside, Elliot and Rip Torn happen to be outside. He tells them about Luis. They get the authorities over there to get Luis and take him to the morgue. Back at home, Jimmy explains how he got into the Sanzia and read up on them. The legend goes that the Sanzia attempted to create a devil child that would be the embodiment of pure evil.

This jazz about the Sanzia gets Marilyn thinking. She goes to the bedroom to get Dolly out of the bed and away from Jessie. I suspect she’s going to do more than just have the doll sit in the rocking chair, but it doesn’t really matter because Jessica wakes up and freaks out. She even goes so far as to say she’ll kill Marilyn if she ever tries to separate her form her Dolly. She even has a creepy Exorcist voice thing going on. When Jimmy and Elliot come into the room, Jimmy even comments on the voice. As soon as she sees Elliot, she reverts to normal and even tries to make it look like Marilyn is roughing her up.

Marilyn now knows that the doll is messing with Jessie and she’s changing into something kind of awful. Elliot, having seen none of this, refuses to even entertain the idea that something wrong with Jessica. Marilyn asks about Rip Torn and what he’s about. She said that Camilla mentioned the Sanzia and was terrified of them. Elliot, using Marilyn’s own criticism how Camilla constantly mumbled over her Catholic shit, so clearly that’s the end of this shit.

The next day, Marilyn goes to talk to Rip Torn. He still doesn’t really even believe that anything supernatural is going on. So, Marilyn’s next stop is Camilla’s sister who is… uh… an actual Sister. Like the nun kind. She asks the sister about whether or not Camilla told her about Jessie. The nun tells her to basically get fucked because she refused to heed the words of a lady who spent all day praying and said something about devil dolls and devil children. The nun says there’s nothing she can do but pray for salvation. This was the woman who begged Rip Torn to destroy the tomb a little earlier.

Catholicism is a real happy joy fun time.

Rip Torn even comes to the convent and says that it’s lunacy that keeps people afraid of old stories like this one about the Sanzia. Marilyn is mostly inclined to believe, but she does believe that her daughter is possessed by “some fucking doll.” That was the best line in the movie. She goes home and finds Jimmy hiding in the hallway closet because he watched the doll speak to Jessica. He gives her the key to get into Jessica’s room to see for herself.

She goes in and finds Dolly looking… Well, like a creepy ass fucking doll!

Marilyn asks Dolly where Jessica is. Dolly says she’s in there with her and they will forever be together. Marilyn asks Jimmy to call Elliot at work but one of the evil dolls put the phone of the hook. Marilyn has him keep trying while she goes upstairs with a double-barrel shotgun. She’s gonna deliver some hot lead justice!

She gets Jessica and she calls for Jimmy to get in the car, but they are met at the door by Dolly. Dolly tells Jessica to attack and she starts kicking and biting and slapping and scratching at Marilyn. Dolly, now producing a giant butcher’s knife, starts to close in for the kill.

Jimmy picks up the shotgun and blows Dolly away. See! I told you wanted Jimmy to be the one who saves the day for his sister! I didn’t expect the shotgun blast and one liner of “Play with this, bitch.” I’ll take it either way, though.

Jessica seems to be freed from the devil child. However, you still have Rip Torn fuckin’ about in the Sanzia tomb. You also still have more evil dolls in the factory with Elliot. In the Sanzia tomb, Rip Torn does something fucking awful. He loosens the sarcophagus thing and it blows open the lid. Seeing the mummified devil child inside the sarcophagus makes Rip Torn realize he’s made a terrible mistake.

That’s a fuckin’ cool devil child prop, though.

He hauls ass out of the tomb to help fight the evil things. In the factory, the various devil dolls catch Elliot in a trap that is slowly dragging him to his doom. They are about to drop him in a mixer when Rip Torn comes running in and finds the various devil dolls messing about with Elliot. Elliot says he needs to go home, but the good news is that Marilyn, Jimmy, and Jessica are there to meet him. Rip Torn and Elliot start lighting the doll factory up with dynamite sticks destroying the possessed dolls.

I’m… I’m not sure, despite Marilyn saying that it’s all over, did… did they actually use dynamite to exorcise the spirit of an ancient devil child? Is that even possible? Wouldn’t Rip Torn have to, like, I dunno, close the tomb back up? Oh whatever.

As the credits roll, it’s wild to see that apparently the name of the family is “Read” even though they said “Wade” and it was even written on boxes in the store room of the factory. I love seeing these kinds of fuck ups in a movie. It reminds me of the other great Vinegar Syndrome release (of which this was one too) – Tammy and the T-Rex that had the title card of Tanny and the T-Rex.

Is this a good movie? Not especially. There are some good things in it. The movie starts fairly fast and has a pretty quick ascent to Dolly moving by herself and Jessica acting weird. All the dolls used for the action are pretty good too. Nice, creepy, and kind of fun to watch running around and setting up traps at the factory and such. I loved it every time the dolls began screaming at someone and then when they would shake, it would crack me up… but in a good way. Honestly, Denise Crosby is gorgeous in this. She was giving it her all and I’m always up to see her in something. So obviously she’s also in the positive column.

Overall, the movie isn’t all that special. It does have a unique direct-to-video or made for TV quality to it, but that’s not always a bad thing. Besides Crosby and the little creepy dolls, there’s not much to really write home about. That said, it’s also far from the worst way for us to spend this Christmas together. Next week, we celebrate New Year’s and party like it’s 1982 with the cult classic musical comedy Get Crazy!

So, until next week when we say goodbye to our brains, I hope you have a wonderfully Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays!

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