I’ve got six daughters. They’re all grown now, but when they were little, the house was overrun with many things—last Sunday’s New York Times, Russian novels, shoes, sporting equipment, piano music, and some more shoes. And some more Russian novels.
But we never had many dolls. My wife didn’t care for dolls, and I seconded that emotion. There’s something creepy about a doll. I do remember at one point investing in an American Girl doll. Every time I came into the room where the doll was, I had the feeling she was staring at me, plotting against me in some way. At one point when we moved, I think Samantha (or whatever that doll’s name was) “accidentally” got misplaced. By me. I’m a jerk, but I swear something was up with that doll; she had plans to stab me in her frilly dress, I was pretty certain of that.
And I’m not alone in being freaked out by dolls. Here are our favorite demonic scary movie dolls.
This is the movie that introduced the world to Chucky, the murderous little doll. The Child’s Play franchise has been an unrelenting success for Hollywood, spanning seven movies and the associated merchandise. The films have generated a quarter of a billion dollars in box office receipts. The series creator, Don Mancini, got the idea for Chucky from the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls craze. The original here is a genuine horror film, but the ensuing films got increasingly campy. If you’re looking for a good scare, stick with the original.
Annabelle was the third film released in the frightening supernatural The Conjuring series, a fictional take on the real-life adventures of a pair of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. Annabelle is an old porcelain doll and people just keep getting murdered whenever she’s around. The Conjuring took place in Rhode Island in 1971, and Annabelle serves as its prequel, taking place in Santa Monica in 1967. There is now even a prequel to Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation. My advice to people who find an Annabelle-type doll in the dilapidated house they buy: do what I did and “accidentally” misplace it in a garbage dumpster behind a Whole Foods in Pasadena. There, I confess to the crime.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Take the late and much-admired Sir Richard Attenborough. Before he directed Gandhi, A Chorus Line, Cry Freedom, or Chaplin, he made Magic, a superb psychological thriller about Corky Withers, a deranged ventriloquist (Anthony Hopkins). His alter ego, Fats, is Corky’s id. And Corky has a pretty ugly id. The screenplay is by the great William Goldman, based on his novel. This is a much better movie than you think it’s going to be, plus it features the radiantly beautiful Ann-Margret whom I will always watch in any movie.
I think we can all agree that few things in life are creepier than marionettes. Puppet Master proves this point. Until Team America: World Police came along, this was the definitive marionette movie. And by definitive, I don’t mean excellent. I just mean that this is about all you can expect from a marionette movie. A group of marionettes come alive and go on a killing streak in a mysterious old hotel in downtown Pasadena (which is a real building called Castle Green). The movie is too silly and over-the-top to be scary, but it sure can be a lot of fun to watch with a group of friends late at night.
Now we come to an authentically excellent movie by the wonderful Japanese director Takeshi Kitano. Kitano has been called the true successor to Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Rashomon). He has made several yakuza (gangster) films, and has a distinctive style of filmmaking. Kitano is noted for his static long shots and a nihilistic sense of story. Dolls, which features a sequence of Japanese puppet theater known as Bunraku, is a mesmerizing trilogy of intertwined tales of tragic love. It is a beautiful film to watch. I highly recommend any Kitano movie, but especially this one.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.