This movie reminded Judge David Johnson of his experience with a demon-possessed doll. Except it wasn't so much a "doll" as it was a "Camaro" and it wasn't really "demon-possessed" as it was "suffering from a blown water pump."
It's time to play.
Facts of the Case
When the Read family moves to Mexico, they don't expect to be menaced by a legion of demon-possessed little dolls. Elliot Read (Sam Bottoms) has sunk every penny his family has into a risky investment: to renovate a rundown doll-making factory and start manufacturing dolls of his own design. His lovely wife Marilyn (Denise Crosby, Star Trek: The Next Generation) is generally supportive of her husband's endeavor.
But when things start getting creepy, and the Reads' little girl, Jessica, begins acting like a loony-tune, Marilyn suspects otherworldly malfeasance is at work. Jessica has become unhealthily attached to one of the dolls from the factory, and has acted bizarrely ever since.
Marilyn's suspicions are confirmed when she learns of the dark past of the doll factory from roving archaeologist Karl Resnick (Rip Torn): apparently, the building was constructed on site of an infamous, mythical "devil boy," a creature with the body of a child and the head of a goat.
When people close to the Reads start turning up dead, and murdered in mysterious circumstances, the family must band together to free Jessica form the evil clutches of demonic dolls and, if they can, save the world.
So it's another possessed-doll, Child's Play rip-off. But is it any good? The short answer: meh. Long answer to follow.
Dolly Dearest is actually a well-made little film, featuring half-decent performances and a sinister-enough mythology. While these traits are to be recognized, the sum total of these parts, sadly, does not equal a memorable film.
Once I looked past the obvious similarities with Child's Play, I was able to take in the film for what it was: a derivative, though legitimate, entry into the demon-toy-that-wants-to-kill-you genre.
Denise Crosby shoulders most of the dramatic load here, and she handles the responsibility well. Hers is another skeptical mother role, common in these films (believe it or not, the default reaction of a parent to a child acting crazy is not to blame it on a Hell-spawned forces of the Abyss, but rather to prescribe medication), but Crosby sells it convincingly.
She of course eventually comes over to the audience's side and realizes that she is indeed in the middle of a horror movie, but it's not easy; even her daughter's voice five octaves lower than it should be doesn't tip her off to some otherworldly malfeasance.
The most interesting aspect of this film is the whacko story drummed up to support living dolls slaughtering people. The whole goat-headed demon child thing is something I can get behind, despite the one big question mark in the myth: why would the Indian tribe that summoned it and fed it the blood of children necessarily be surprised that it went crazy and started killing lots of people? Whatever. It was an enjoyable backdrop to the events.
Finally there's the doll itself. While it's painfully clear that the distance shots were accomplished with a small person running around in white leggings and a dress, the up-close make-up work and proto-robotics was decent. As is with most horror films, the full reveal of the killer isn't unveiled until the very end, so for the bulk of this movie, people fall prey to shadows and quick camera edits. But when we do see the demon doll, it's not a letdown.
Lions Gate dug this up and slapped it on a bare-ass disc: full screen, 2.0 stereo sound, and no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's hardly any gore in the film and only a few jump scenes. Horror geeks may not be wowed with this quotient.
Dolly Dearest is okay, but aside from a handful of fun moments, there's nothing much here to separate it from the lineup of Child's Play clones it dwells among.
Recommended only for parents looking for an alternate approach to weaning their children from over-dependence on dolls or stuffed animals. "You see, Susie?! Little Baby Pumpkin Bottom may actually be the corporeal embodiment of a child-eating goat-demon!"
The accused is sentenced to five months of hanging out in $1 bins at local yard sales.
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