Dolly Dearest is one of the many evil children's toys films to come out in the wake of massive hit Child's Play. I'll give Dolly Dearest credit for one thing: it looks really good. The effect of the little girl's doll running around and causing chaos is very well down. Setting the entire film in a remote part of Mexico works well, too. Otherwise, this is by the numbers possession horror. A family moves to Mexico to buy a warehouse for a doll business. The youngest child, the daughter, finds a doll in the workshop she absolutely has to have. The doll starts to talk to her. The daughter starts acting weird. People start dying and the family can't figure out why.
Dolly Dearest is clearly a lower budget Child's Play knock-off and it works. It's not innovative, but it's clean. The edit is good. The score is good. The set decoration and special effects are great.
There's just nothing new here. The best scares are pulled from Child's Play, The Bad Seed, Poltergeist, and The Exorcist. The performances are strong, but every character is a stock type with more iconic entries within a few years of Dolly Dearest coming out.
The impetus for the film, the family's move, makes less sense the more you think about it. The reasons for a white suburban family purchasing a house and workshop in Mexico are never really explored. Hints are made that it could be the pedigree of the previous owner, but the parents act like they never heard about her each time she's praised by other locals. It's pretty clear the real reason is film budget, but the setting does have some good benefits.
The family in Dolly Dearest establishes itself as non-religious. That's unfortunate for them considering the strong Catholic presence in Mexico. Very few Mexican horror films set in Mexico fail to draw upon the imagery of Catholicism in their storytelling devices. This family can't escape religion even if they'd rather it not be in the house. Their child is clearly possessed by the spirit in the doll, their housekeeper is constantly praying and talking about her sister's work as a nun, and the local priest is within walking distance to show up and bless the house. The whole setting creates a nice motif of faith versus disinterest that works pretty well.
There are far worse haunted toy/object films than Dolly Dearest. It's tight and well-made. It's just not that distinctive in a deep field of accomplished horrors.
Dolly Dearest is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.