While the theme of Fantastic Fest this year is occultism/Satanic panic, the “junior” theme of the fest could easily be The Wrath of Troma, given that the opening night film of the festival was the long-awaited remake of The Toxic Avenger (review) and the studio is also bringing us Heidi Moore‘s Kill Dolly Kill. It’s a micro-budget film with horrendous production values and some truly terrible performances, so about what you’d expect from a modern Troma film, but a committed lead performance and some transgressive humor make for a mildly entertaining romp through the streets of Tromaville.
A follow-up to Moore’s 2016 film Dolly Deadly, Kill Dolly Kill sees Tromaville’s local celebrity murderess, Dolly Deadly (Donna Slash) in competition to win Serial Killer of the Year. Unfortunately, rival drag queen Slasherella (Amy Vodkahaus) has designs on the title and will stoop to the lowest of lows to take the crown. To make matters worse, Tromaville’s ultra conservative and corrupt Mayor Cox (Tom Komisar, pulling double duty as the film’s co-writer) is campaigning to get the “weirdos” and “freaks” out of town, throwing a wrench in Dolly’s schemes.
While Kill Dolly Kill is a sequel, you don’t have to have seen Dolly Deadly to get any enjoyment out of it. The musical slasher (oh yes, this is a musical) kicks things off with an amusing, partially animated recap of the events of the first film, which saw Dolly (then a young, doll-loving boy named Benji) go on a killing spree against his bullies and tormenters before running away from home and restarting his life as drag queen Dolly Deadly. Kill Dolly Kill picks up some time after the end of Dolly Deadly, with Dolly having already made a name for herself in Tromaville.
Kill Dolly Kill is being sold as a John Waters-influenced serial killer comedy with drag queens galore and plenty of grisly deaths, and it is those things, but it’s also missing that spark that made Waters’ films shine. The problem with films that try to emulate the magic of John Waters (or go for intentional camp) is that they often us it as an excuse for just being “bad.” Waters’ films may have been micro-budget productions, but they always had something to say, often in transgressive ways, and always kept things funny. Kill Dolly Kill mostly achieves the first aspect, but fumbles with the latter.
The film sings (often literally) when its star is on screen. Donna Slash is a magnetic presence as Dolly, and she is able to make even the worst lines of dialogue tickle the funny bone. Her commitment to the bit is truly admirable. Unfortunately, there are far too many scenes (most of them in the middle stretch of the film) where she is absent, and those become an honest-to-God chore to sit through. Shots go on for seconds too long, killing many of the jokes, and some scenes are, quite frankly, boring. There is a refreshing lack of pretension here, but you’ll often wish you were having as much fun as the performers on screen clearly are.
The songs are a bit of a mixed bag. Musical styles range from ’60s pop to heavy metal, and actors lip sync to the songs, often terribly, with their mouths rarely lining up with the lyrics (though it should come as no surprise that Slash and Vodkahaus nail their lip syncs). One could argue that this is part of the charm of a film like this, but it proves to be more of a hindrance than an asset.
Still, in an age where drag as an art form is under attack and new anti-trans laws seem to pop up every day (especially here in Texas), there’s something deeply cathartic about an unapologetically queer film that is in direct conversation with the current social landscape. Dolly murders bigots and homophobes and transphobes with absolute glee, making the murder set pieces the film’s main draw.
All in all, the enjoyment you get out of Kill Dolly Kill will depend on your affinity for trash cinema. It’s a midnight movie through and through, but the humor might be more, well, humorous if you’re surrounded by a bunch of friends with more than a few drinks in hand.
Kill Dolly Kill made its world premiere at Fantastic Fest. Release info TBA.