Some of the scariest moments in last year’s hit, The Conjuring, involved uber freaky doll Annabelle. She was so memorable that she earned her own spin-off, set for release this October 3rd. The teaser trailer is online today and expected to precede The Purge: Anarchy in theaters tomorrow. But while we wait for Annabelle to terrorize us once more, I wanted to revisit some of cinema’s scariest and oft forgotten killer dolls.
1. Asylum (1972)
The final segment of this British anthology, “Mannikins of Horror,” sees Dr. Byron experimenting on soul transference with a small doll in his likeness. While the body looks like a little robot toy the inside is filled with organic tissue. The doll’s head is a bit too life like for comfort. Along with part of his soul, Dr. Byron has also transferred his desire for revenge and his miniature doll goes off to do his bidding. While not a perfect segment, Dr. Byron’s little automaton is scary, and it’s easy to see this films influence in a later, far more successful killer doll series.
2. Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Even if you’ve never seen this made for television anthology, you’ve more than likely seen the infamous Zuni doll, the antagonist in the final short “Amelia” based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Prey.” Karen Black plays Amelia, a woman living alone in a high rise apartment, who brings home a vicious looking doll modeled after an aboriginal warrior. This doll comes with a scroll, warning that the gold chain around its neck traps the warrior soul within. Of course, the moment Amelia leaves the room the chain breaks with Amelia none the wiser. The rest of this segment is an edge of your seat cat and mouse game between Amelia and the Zuni doll that ends in a surprising twist. The Zuni doll is the stuff of nightmares and it would be wrong to have any killer doll list without it.
3. Tourist Trap (1979)
A flat tire sends Woody in search of a gas station for help but instead meets a grisly end when he encounters some of the creepiest mannequins ever in the back room of an empty station. Woody’s friends show up shortly after to find him but encounter gas station and mannequin museum owner Jerry instead. While Jerry helps the group look for their missing friend, the friends are picked off one by one. The unhinged jaws of the mannequins and their human cries are chilling despite this being a slasher flick, though one with a bit of a paranormal twist.
4. Dolls (1987)
Stuart Gordon directed this tale about a storm that forces a family, a motorist, and two punk rock hitchhikers to take shelter in a mansion owned by a doll maker and his wife. Little Judy is delighted by this, as the mansion is filled to the brim with a variety of dolls, much to the dismay of her rotten to the core parents. Stuart Gordon takes a unique approach by viewing the killer dolls through a child’s eyes, with a comedic tone as they take out mean old grown-ups and the magic of childhood wonderment. The opening scene in which Judy imagines her beloved bear growing monstrous and devouring her cruel parents is a favorite of mine to this day, and I still want that killer bear for my own.
5. Pin (1989)
Dr. Frank Linden, played by Terry O’Quinn, uses ventriloquism with a life sized medical dummy to explain the birds and the bees to his two children, Leon and Ursula. Already a traumatic experience, but even more so on young Leon, who beings to associate the dummy as real. The dummy, named Pin, becomes Leon’s only friend aside from his unhealthy obsession with his sister. Pin is creepy enough as a translucent anatomical dummy, but becomes even more so when Leon decides to make him more human-like. The film is a slow burn tale about a mentally unstable boy and his really scary doll.
6. Death Doll (1989)
The cover box for this hard to find 80s film is a bit misleading as there are no actual killer dolls. There is, however, a serial killer that leaves dolls at the scene of each victim. The fortune teller doll in the machine that gives our heroine a warning of imminent danger is so eerie I wouldn’t go near it. In fact, I’d venture to say the fortune teller scenes may be even scarier than the film’s killer. A fun slasher film that injects dolls throughout, though with a very obscure 80s feel.
7. Dolly Dearest (1991)
Chucky’ s soul mate may be Tiffany, but I always thought Dolly would have given him a run for his money. Though, as Dolly’s little doll body is inhabited by an evil Mayan spirit, she may have been too much for him to handle. Unfortunately, this killer doll flick is a little all over the map and is more comparable to the later Child’s Play sequels in terms of camp. The ending is a disappointing mess as well, but it’s still a fun answer to the question, “What if Chucky was a girl doll?”
8. May (2002)
May Canady’s only friend is her doll Suzie that she keeps encased in glass as it was a gift from her mother with the sage advice, “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” After May’s lazy eye is corrected by her doctor, her esteem is boosted enough to become more social and she makes friends. It doesn’t take long before her friends flee from her bizarre personality, leaving her alone with Suzie again. When something happens to Suzie, May’s devastation pushes her to try for friendship again. Angela Bettis plays the title role to perfection, garnering empathy from viewers while simultaneously scaring them with her unhinged quirkiness. Suzie’s presence permeates throughout despite spending most of the film behind glass. May is a tonally unique film that often goes unnoticed.
9. Love Object (2003)
A shy, socially awkward technical writer named Kenneth decides to gain practice with women by ordering an anatomical sex doll. He takes it a little too far when he develops a relationship with “Nikki,” and even further when he begins dressing Nikki like his at work crush, Lisa. Nikki’s jealousy toward Lisa elevates into stalker tendencies, and one warped love triangle ensues with disastrous results. Desmond Harrington’s worthy performance as Kenneth takes audiences through the gamut of emotions, from pity to terror, making audiences fearful of that quiet, shy guy in your office as well as all love dolls.
10. The Doll Master (2004)
Five people visit a gallery in the forest to have dolls made in their likeness by a talented but wheelchair bound doll maker. That sounds like a terrible idea, right? It is, though our characters don’t know it yet as the first half takes its time building atmosphere. The setting is beautiful, and the doll movements begin subtly with a blind here or slight hand twitch there. By the time they catch on that the gallery and doll maker aren’t quite so normal it’s too late and things take a turn for the bloody. Unfortunately, this South Korean tale doesn’t finish quite so strongly as the first half but does refreshingly avoid the long haired woman trope.
So the moral of the story is that dolls are evil, and if paired with social awkward, mentally unstable people they’re even worse. What film doll has scared you the most?