5 Evil Doll Movies That Are Actually Scary
Note: Collider’s Halloween horror month continues this week with an all-out monster mash! Yesterday we ranked cinema’s best monsters, the best vampire movies, and today we’re counting highlighting five evil doll movies to get you in the spooky spirit.
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, bloodlust 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.
Without further ado, here’s a handful of evil doll movies that might actually raise your heartbeat.
In 77 minutes, Stuart Gordon does more than most horror directors accomplish in their entire career with Dolls. The set-up is simple: a rainstorm brings a group of strangers together in the home of married toy makers who have a haunted, homicidal collection of creations hidden away. The story never feels rushed and yet the pacing is breezy, and Gordon makes sure the movie never feels overtly pre-ordained or made simply to showcase a few nifty murders. The director has a talent for building tension without many words, and he builds murders up with clarity and no small measure of glee. Working with editor Lee Percy, who went on to cut Maria Full of Grace, The Ice Harvest, and Snowden, Gordon makes an efficient thrill ride born of imagination and thoughtfulness as much as blood and mayhem.
'Dead of Night'
This is a bit of a cheat. A little more than a quarter of the runtime of this classic are devoted to the tale of Maxwell Frere, the ventriloquist who begins to have a psychological tug-of-war with his dummy. It’s one of three stories told between a group of wayward souls in wondering how they ended up in the English home where they seem to have settled into. Still, it’s the story of Mr. Frere and his dummy that sticks out with exquisite tension and thematic weight. The dummy in this scenario could represent addiction or malformed desire or even repressed expression, but in Michael Redgrave’s splendid lead performance, the fight between master and puppet is one of self-control and confidence. The Twilight Zone has attempted to replicate the simmering unease of this story at least twice – probably more – and still hasn’t reached these heights. The rest of the movie is pretty great too, by the way.
After making three historical dramas about the war, Richard Attenborough needed something different, and he settled on the William Goldman book Magic as his fourth production as a director. Goldman wrote the screenplay, which told of a young, talented ventriloquist who has a mental test of wits with his dummy while trying to win back the love of his life, and Attenborough cast a young Anthony Hopkins as the main character. There’s ample clarity, efficiency, and some semblance of style to what unfolds but for the most part, Attenborough cedes the camera to Hopkins as Corky, the man, and as the voice of Fats, the doll. As a psychological portrait, it’s still chilling despite its absurdist plot, helped amply by the unsettling design of Fats. In essentially extending a very good segment from Dead of Night into a full-length feature, Attenborough provided a hypnotic and quiet thriller, as well as a sensational showcase for the man who would eventually play Hannibal Lecter.
'Pin...A Plastic Nightmare'
This one really has to be seen to be believed. At a young age, Leon (David Hewlett), the affluent son of a doctor, bonds with his father’s talking anatomy doll but is scarred quickly after when his father’s nurse, well, fucks the doll in front of him. It gives him a bit of a condition, and by the time he’s college-aged, he’s dangerously obsessed with his sister’s sex life and begins using Pin, the doll, as a vessel for his increasingly violent fantasies and punishments. Much like Magic, part of the game is in wondering just how much fantasy infested the narrative but director Sandor Stern, the writer behind the original Amityville Horror, turns a mildly demented premise into a tawdry, bracing psychosexual melodrama. The acting is not great and the script is quite obvious, but Stern gives the entire production an eruptive quality.
'Child's Play 2'
The first Child’s Play movie is arguably the most boring film to feature a killer toy in the history of time and yes, I’m including the third Puppet Master movie in that equation. With the second movie, however, director John Lafia found a more suitably cartoonish tone and look for the continuing war between Chucky (Dourif) and Andy, played again by Alex Vincent. The movie takes some dark turns – Andy’s mother has been committed following the occurrences in the first film – but has the common courtesy to remember that it’s a movie about a My Buddy and Me doll with a bad attitude.