The Child’s Play franchise centers on a doll possessed by a serial killer (Brad Dourif) via black magic. It would be an unhinged understatement to say that half of the films’ “juice” comes from the thrill of watching a toy curse loudly and regularly. The other half, however, comes from a long-standing flashpoint of imagination: what do my toys do when I’m not around?
In the Toy Story franchise, which comes from a similar start point, we see a rejiggered take on the westerns that John Ford once made, a heroic vision of the modern American community. In contrast, the five Child’s Play movies and their ilk have considered dolls as conduits for morbid expressions of angst, anger, and ambition, carrying around missions of toxic nostalgia or undeterred greed, blood lust or a broken heart for their makers. It’s the latter mythology that makes that episode of Seinfeld with the doll that looks like Mrs. Costanza so deeply terrifying. It’s also the one that sticks more often than not.
Then again, another key theme in the bloodier tales is that dolls represent tradition and classicism, a bygone era frozen in time and reanimated to take its vengeance on an indifferent modern world, for themselves and often for their makers. That’s more or less what drives newer entries in the canon like Annabelle: the horrors of the past, left unsettled. That’s still the case in Annabelle: Creation and with that movie hitting theaters this weekend, I picked a handful of evil doll movies that might actually raise your heartbeat.