Regular readers of the blathering assemblages of non-sequiturs and stream-of-consciousness semi-tirades that I have the gall to call “reviews” already know that the distant margins is where I often find the most interesting stuff, and they don’t come much more marginal or distant than 2016’s Dolly Deadly, a brutally surreal and intentionally ugly $10,000 production lensed in the depressing backwater of Chester, California by director Heidi Moore. Simply put, if you’re looking for a flick that makes you feel like an irredeemably sick fuck for even knowing of its existence, never mind actually watching it, then you could do a lot worse than this blood-soaked serving of deeply troubled and troubling psychological unease. I know I certainly felt like I could use a good, cold shower after catching it on Amazon Prime (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD, from what I understand) the other day — but how, exactly, does one shower the stain off one’s brain?
The story here, written by Moore and Cassandra Sechler, revolves around the tormented upbringing of a trailer park youth named Benji (played with chilling deadpan veracity by Justin Moore), who takes the terms “sullen” and “withdrawn” to whole new levels and feels that his collection of dolls — and, yes, he’s constantly informed by his grandmother (Kimberly West-Carroll) , in-and-out (as well as out-and-out) lowlife Donald (Jay Sosnicki) and any and all other adults and youth he encounters that “boys don’t play with” such things — represents the closest things to “friends” that he has. So, ya know, when a bunch of shit piles on him in quick succession and he finally snaps, it’s only natural that he’d dress up like a “living doll” himself and kill everyone in sight, right?
Is the plot simple? Sure. The best ones usually are. But the unfathomable psychosis of the lead character is anything but, the horrors inflicted upon him are quietly depraved, and his vengeance is — well, not-so-quietly depraved, plus interest. Moore and Sechler have described their film as a kind of John Waters-meets-Troma mash-up, but in truth, Dolly Deadly doesn’t offer any sort of humorous safety valve of the sort you find in Serial Mom or The Toxic Avenger. It’s no more “realistic” than those films, to be sure — the gaudy day-glo color schemes employed throughout and OTT practical effects work see to that — but for all its unreality, it still feels, paradoxically enough, like something that could happen because, God help this society we live in, there are tons of kids this far-gone out there who are probably only one bad day away from “pulling a Benji” themselves, and often not without reason. To the extent, ya know, that their ability to reason is even functioning —
“Make ’em die slowly — and painfully!” seems to be the nearest thing to a “philosophy” that Benji has once he dons the mask and make-up, and I’ve gotta say, this youngster does a damn good job of living up to that, especially considering that he lacks any advance training in the murderous arts. His kills aren’t particularly original in terms of their methodology, but they are particularly brutal, and Moore stages each and every one of them with a reasonable amount of elan and considerable gusto. But for all the red syrup and fairly-convincing viscera on display, it’s what we don’t see — the inner workings of Benji’s warped mind — that holds the real scares here, and that will stick with you long after the Karo washes off. I just seriously can’t get over how memorable a slasher this intrepid little whippersnapper is, and considering that young Mr. Moore probably has zero formal acting instruction to his credit and spends much of the film with his face obscured, I’m damn near ready to give him an Oscar for producing such a memorable performance under such challenging circumstances. Unfortunately, the Academy seems to have forgotten, once again, to mail me a ballot this year.
Tell ya what, though, our gal Heidi should definitely have one delivered to her PO box, because Hollywood could desperately use her advice on how to stretch a dollar well past its breaking point. Sure, this flick has a “cheap look,” but definitely not $10,000 cheap. The hallucinatory dream sequences interspersed throughout alone look like they cost a lot more than that to make, and seldom have I seen a “micro-budget” auteur get as much bang for their buck as she does here. Granted, you can get away with a lot more when your “low-fi” film blatantly calls for an equally “low-fi” aesthetic, but even that’s a valuable lesson other ultra-indie horror filmmakers could learn from : rather than trying to pretend your limitations don’t exist, or hope you can pull a rabbit out of your hat to somehow supersede them, embrace them and use them to your advantage and you’ll go a hell of a lot farther.
All told, then, on levels both artistic and practical, Dolly Deadly is a solid, bordering on remarkable, achievement. It’s ugly. It’s disturbing. It’s disgusting. It’s well beyond weird. It’s unwholesome in the extreme. And it wallows in its own filth with something approaching sheer glee, minus the happiness usually attendant with that term. This is “micro-budget” misanthropy par excellene and I loved every minute of it while hating myself for doing so.