Horror movies that maintain the whimsical innocence of childhood in a sinister setting are a personal favorite. The catalyst in these pieces all have a common thread, usually possession, which results in the obvious killer doll. This week I’m reviewing a different take on the destruction of childhood in DOLLY DEADLY, directed by HEIDI MOORE, which strays from the norm.
DOLLY DEADLY is a disturbing telling of a child’s life that went horribly wrong, but with an element of comedy and an aesthetic not unlike that of a John Waters film.
The movie opens by sharing a little backstory on our main character, Benji (JUSTIN MOORE), who was born into the most unfortunate family on earth. His mom, who gives me hardcore Tiffany Ray vibes, is a sloppy, dorito-loving doll collector who’s dyeing her hair. Something goes horribly wrong with the hair dye, which had me questioning everything I know, and she winds up splattering the room… with her face. Benji is then taken in by his disgusting Grandma Mitzi (KIMBERLY WEST-CARROLL) and her shitty husband, Donald (JAY SOSNICKI).
Mitzi and Donald are a wonderful example of everything wrong with the world and are relentlessly emotionally, sometimes physically, abusive to Benji. From the start, it’s evident that Benji WILL snap because no one could handle taking on that much at such a young age. Benji has a very obsessive attachment to his dead mother, which he never really knew well, and her dolls that she left him. The white trash palace he is forced to live in is covered in stains and leopard print and he copes by being introverted, only communicating and bonding with his dolls. He eats with them, sleeps with them, takes baths with them, takes them everywhere on a wheelbarrow, and fantasizes about being on stage, dancing for them. Because of his behavior, he was singled out in the neighborhood as being a total weirdo and is teased by the other kids.
Mitzi runs the home with the money she pulls in from her “Dollface” cosmetic line that, one can only assume, is carcinogenic and contains acid. In case you were unclear on HOW terrible these people are, Mitzi’s client needed to make sure the product was tested on animals, just so she could know if it was safe for her delicate, cheeto-dust crusted skin. Donald sits in a recliner, drinks, is concerned with being making sure Benji is a “man,” and is basically a breathing pit-stain. Mitzi orders Benji around, while Donald taunts him, even throwing a cigarette in his cereal bowl in one scene. Unsurprisingly, Benji starts to crack.
Benji’s subconscious is dark and his imagination begins to take him to dangerous places, which I think is the most beautiful part of the film. The real world white-trash castle melts away to a technicolor wonderland filled with stop-motion creatures that only Benji can find comforting. It doesn’t take long before he’s convinced by one of his cute, demented dollies to kill someone. What’s scarier than the obvious bloodbath pay-off, is the behavior of those around Benji, who torment him in disturbing ways. His grandparents had so many opportunities to provide him with a therapeutic, creative outlet, but took it all away for fear of him being a “pansy,” leaving him with almost no coping mechanism. The end is gloriously fitting for all the wastes of oxygen that caused Benji the most pain, but the fact remains, Benji is forever damaged.
The murder spree was then dubbed the “Dolly Deadly Murders” by the media and all the frumpy, lumpy women slathered in Dollface Cosmetics came out of the woodwork to give their two cents. Much like in real life, the people running to the news cameras to share what they know where people that took no active part in Benji’s upbringing, nor did they ever lend a helping hand. Everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon, the murders in the sleepy backwoods town sparked an interest, even rabid fans and collectors.
DOLLY DEADLY showcases the absolute worst humanity has to offer. Benji gets away, grows older, and seems to have realized his dreams, but the horrors of his abuse remain. No one cared, no one noticed, and no one offered any help when an innocent kid needed it the most. DOLLY DEADLY takes a story that is likely to happen and adds a fun spin to it without overshadowing the seriousness of child abuse, which requires a lot of guts. The characters are all believable, the stop-motion animation by JOSH FUNK is eye candy, and the sets were so accurate, I think I got emphysema from just watching it. No, there are no killer dolls, but the imagery and tone is delightfully dark. Check this one out if you’re looking for a movie with a more creative flair to it, it won’t disappoint!