Forgotten Playthings: 30 Years of “Dolly Dearest”

I was nine years old scouring our local Mom and Pop video rental store with a friend after devouring a Personal Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut next door when I first laid my eyeballs on Dolly Dearest. Of course, I was intrigued right away as killer dolls were certainly high on my personal interests list; yeah I was a twisted kid. The late 80s’ and early 90s’ brought terrifying playthings front and center in the horror genre with films like Stuart Gordon’s DOLLS, Puppet Master, and the massively successful Child’s Play. However, this one looked different from the rest. Not only was the antagonistic toy shown as a female, but it featured mainly a female led-cast as well; also to note it has a female director as well- Maria Lease but of course you’re not looking at these things as a kid. Being a young girl, this hit all the right horror notes for me and I immediately rented this sucker to see what this was all about.

Needless to say, my 3-day rental turned into a week-long bender on this Sanzia devil doll because I couldn’t get enough of this fuckin’ movie.

The story goes, a well-to-do picture-perfect family of four moves from Los Angeles down to Mexico where dear ol’ Dad seizes an opportunity with an empty doll factory in an effort to start up a successful business. Young daughter Jessica (Candice Hutson) is undoubtedly upset about this up and sudden move but has a change of heart when she and her father discover a plethora of “beautiful” (I think they’re rather creepy) dolls inside their families’ newly acquired factory that seemed to be never released to the masses. Father Elliot (Sam Bottoms) allows Jessica to take one and that’s when the fun begins as they leave the factory and stroll right on past an underground Mayan tomb of Sanzia, (Satan on Earth) where prior to the family’s arrival, an archeologist accidentally released the malevolent spirit of Sanzia; a devil child spirit that, SPOILER ALERT, possesses these dolls.

Now we got a movie!

As soon as this creepo doll is brought home Jessica begins acting strangely. Drawing weird demonic pictures, lashing out, all-around acting like a typical spoiled brat-zo. Which wouldn’t really raise any red flags except the kid starts speaking devil language to the housekeeper in a threatening manner- who is by the way very religious. Well, being as how Dolly Dearest is possessed by a Devil spirit, this doesn’t go over too well with the girl who is rapidly being manipulated by this doll, and she doesn’t last long in the movie. Mom Marilyn played by Pet Sematary’s Denise Crosby, notices these changes right away, most especially after an Omen-like incident with Jessica in the car sensing the house is being blessed by a priest. Elliot is about as blind as a bat to any of this shit and chalks all these outbursts up to tantrums so he is of NO HELP at all in this situation. Soon, Jessica is totally consumed by the spirit of Dolly and Sanzia and it’s pretty much up to Marilyn, older brother Jimmy (Christopher Peter Demetral), and Sanzia Expert Archeologist Karl Resnick (played by Rip Torn) to put a stop to Dolly and the rest of the possessed porcelain freaks in the factory from taking over children’s souls all over the world.

On top of some cool casting, there are some really great behind-the-scenes people attached to the movie. Dolly took a lot of hints from Child’s Play, including using Ed Gale as Dolly for a few of the more difficult scenes that required human-like movement. The doll itself was sculpted by Brian Wade (The Thing) and brought to life by puppeteer Vance Hartwell (Army of Darkness). The unsettling score was composed by Mark Snow, who is probably most famous for his television work on shows like “The X-Files” and “Smallville.”

Dolly Dearest hasn’t gotten quite the love I feel like it deserves over the years; possibly due to the overload of killer doll flicks of the time and it came too little, too late. Grant it, it’s not the greatest movie in the world, however, I feel it has so much charm and is a nostalgic blanket for me personally that warms me to the bone anytime I watch it. It sure as hell doesn’t deserve the sweeping under the rug treatment. Vinegar Syndrome recently released a blu-ray that has been long-overdue and if it’s been a while, or have never seen it, give Dolly a watch (click here) and bask in the peak of 90s’ killer doll flicks.

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