Judged By its Cover: Dolly Dearest (1991)

It's Friday night in the 90's. Your mom says you can rent one movie and one game. You've paced the dusty aisles in the overlit video store for close to an hour. You already know you're renting The Mask (again) and Banjo-Kazooie (again), but looking at all of the washed out covers makes you wonder...What if there is a movie here that will permanently alter your brain chemistry? You muster the courage to walk into the horror section and, unbeknownst to you, you form a core memory when you set your eyes upon her. 

Your eyes lock with hers and you freeze in place like you've been enraptured by Medusa. You chicken out of renting it for the same reason you wouldn't go to the library and check out the fucking Necronomicon. But it stays with you for a couple of years. As you grow older you forget about it and that god forsaken doll doesn't keep you up at night anymore. But Dolly never left. She has been lying dormant in your noggin, waiting for you to rediscover her. The question replays in your mind: if you rented this, would it live up to the cover art that haunted you all those years ago? Is there anything in the movie scarier than your own imagination?

Much like Star Wars, Dolly Dearest is never really gone. Also it kinda sucks. 

Dolly Dearest begins with your standard early 90's American nuclear family who are on their way to their new home. Daddy Dearest has purchased a doll factory sight unseen and he's relocating Wifey Dearest, Sonny Dearest, and Daughter Dearest to Mexico so he can put Pickles Toys on the map. Dad is a brilliant toy maker who is forcing his children to leave their friends behind so they can live next to an abandoned mineshaft in Tijuana. His wife is "A Mother." That's her character. They have two annoying kids. Their son is your typical nerdlinger know-it-all bookworm who is just begging to get crammed into a locker and their daughter is a weird little freak who is obsessed with Dolly. 

These lovable losers are on their way to Mexico but, unbeknownst to them, the doll factory just so happens to be right next to a Mayan tomb. If that wasn't bad enough, an archaeologist has unleashed an ancient malevolent spirit from its prison. The malicious spirit escapes its grave and inserts itself into a doll at the abandoned nightmare factory. That is one of the dumbest things I've ever typed and yet it's only slightly dumber than Chucky's origin.

We need to talk about Dolly

It doesn't take long for the possessed demon doll to make its way into the family's lives. The daughter, who dresses like a living doll before the plane lands in Mexico, becomes infatuated with the doll the moment she lays eyes on it. She takes it home, names it Dolly, and becomes hopelessly attached to it. It is astounding how quickly the daughter becomes Dolly-pilled. She's not even the one possessed but she acts bugnuts crazy within five minutes of meeting the doll. She spends the entire movie doing three things: talking to Dolly, terrorizing the Mexican maid for wearing a rosary, and doing the bit from The Omen where she has a meltdown whenever they drive past a church. She clearly resents her family for uprooting her entire life so dad can sell cheaply made dolls instead of getting a real job, so she attaches herself to Dolly and becomes an absolute menace. 

And with a face like this, how could you not become entranced? It's like looking into Kaa's hypnotizing gaze.

Truly disgusting stuff. Not only is Dolly hideous, it doesn't have a funny voice or personality. There's no Brad Dourif here (which is shocking if you check his resume), no presence of any kind. Just an over-modulated evil voiceover that could have been taken straight from Pinnochio's Revenge. I'll tell you what it does have, which is a little person body double wearing a dress.

Dolly Dearest was made for approximately 45 dollars, you think they were gonna shell out the money for a full body animatronic? Let me tell you something Boys and Ghouls, every time it cut from the doll grimacing to a little person in a dress skedaddling away, I absolutely die. That alone gets it an extra star, bringing it up to a solid half a star. It ain't Citizen Kane but it's cracking me up. When you're scouring the horror section at Blockbuster you're just looking for a good time. So as of now we have a movie about a killer doll, we've established that it can walk about on its own, and now it's time to start dropping bodies. The family is in trouble, so one man must answer the call to vanquish the evil spirit.

There are few people in this world I would trust with my ghost problems more than Rip Torn. For some of my younger readers, you might recognize him either as Patches O'Houlihan in Dodgeball or from getting so drunk that he broke into a bank and passed out because he thought it was his house.

I am fully convinced that Rip had no idea he was in this movie at any point during or after filming it. If you had asked him about being in a doll movie he would have spit in your face and called you slurs you've never even heard of. He would've called you a Venusian beggar and tried to fist fight you, God rest his soul.

I don't wish to speak ill of the dead or make any sort of inferences on any particular demons he may have been battling at the time (whether they be alcohol or doll related), but Rip Torn is a sentient Irish Car Bomb in Dolly Dearest. He effortlessly switches between his normal American accent, British, and Scottish on a scene by scene basis. The problem is he's playing a Mexican. This was filmed on location in Mexico, meaning someone paid him to pound margaritas in a cabana all day until it was time to saunter into an abandoned mine and say "hon hon hon your child eez in danjer" and then retreat to the hotel (bar). He was playing chess while everyone else in the film played checkers.

I'm not saying this movie is worth watching solely to hear this Tequila Golem say "Sanzian Devil Child" over and over again, but there are worse things you can waste your time watching on Youtube. God bless this man, the director shook the cobwebs off him, took the bottle out of his hand, and had him explain to the costar of Pet Sematary that Sanzia means "Satan on Earth" and that her stupid kid's doll is host to its spirit. The juxtaposition of the family fighting off a killer doll possessed by devil spirits with Rip Torn digging up an infant body skeleton with a goat head on it is so funny that it almost makes the whole experience worth it. Almost. You see, there's just one problem with the rest of the movie: 

There are only two fucking kills

That should be a sticker on the front of the VHS box. Dolly kills 2 people, 3 if you count the demon spirit breaking out of the tomb at the beginning of the movie. AND I DON'T. If Dead Meat made a kill count video about this movie and included that, I would send them anthrax in the mail.

Here's what you have to look forward to. Kill The First: The family has a Mexican housekeeper and she...well...I think you can guess where this is going. She is only in the movie so she can take one look at the doll and clutch her rosary, scream "¡Dios mío!", try to pray the evil spirit out of it, and then die hilariously. A jump scare sends her flying down the stairs and she gets stabbed in the shoulder and then electrocuted. You're probably asking yourself "how does she get electrocuted in a basement?" but ask yourself this: do I really care? I guarantee it's not as gruesome nor as funny as you're imagining. If you want to check for yourself, just skip to THIRTY THREE GOD FORSAKEN MINUTES into the movie.

Nothing else happens for another half an hour and then wouldn't you know it, a Mexican employee wanders around the spooky factory at night. We get an honest to god cat jumping out of the shadows fakeout jump scare, followed by Dolly jamming his hand into a sewing machine and he dies of a heart attack.

Absolutely go fuck yourself. That is half a kill at best and I DEMAND retribution for my time. 

To recap: An old man clutches his aching ticker and keels over after Rita Repulsa escapes her Guadalajaran dumpster (which, I repeat, does NOT count), a housekeeper gets electrocuted in a basement straight out of a William Castle haunted house movie, and a drunk gets so scared of fine needlework that he has a heart attack. Two thumbs down.

This little Mandark and his entire shitty family survive and the only 2 fatalities are Mexican. Probably a coincidence.

We are left asking ourselves the same questions: if I rented this, would it live up to the box art? Is there anything in this movie scarier than my own imagination? If I worked up the courage to pick up a copy of Dolly Dearest, walked halfway across the store, made eye contact with the lady behind the counter, got nervous and made my mom check it out for me, would the movie live up to my expectations?


None of the above. Not even close. It has a lot of nerve being 90 minutes, that's for god damn sure. I was patient for a while, because right as the first act ends the movie stops playing around with the idea of whether or not the doll is real. It is real and it is evil and it is going to do murders. All of the pieces are in place for the next hour to be filled with a malevolent demon doll stacking bodies. And then we get TWO. 2 kills in a 90 minute slasher is an absolute no go from me, and if both of your actual factual kills are preceded by jump scares, go to the locker room and don't come back out. 

I'm sure the doll itself would have scared the shit out of me as a kid because I was a humongous coward, but the cover art is scary enough and doesn't take an hour and a half to look at. There is nothing in this movie that is scarier than being a child and staring this picture down.

Even as a kid, I could take a look at that thing and imagine something way scarier than a part time doll factory worker getting his hand sewn up. 

This is a slam dunk premise and there should have been a new Dolly Dearest on Blockbuster shelves every year for a decade. By 1991 there were 3 Child's Play movies and 3 Puppet Masters. As of the end of 2022 there are 8 movies and 2 seasons of Child's Play and FOURTEEN Puppet Masters. Those are real numbers. Haunted dolls have been a thing forever. This is a fumbling of a surefire moneymaker on a nearly incalculable scale, which ironically enough is what all of the actors were paid. Limitless possibilities with nothing to show for it. You could make a scarier doll movie than this by accident.