What scares you? The best horror movies exploit our most basic fears. Home invasion movies, for example, undermine our sense of security in the place we should feel the safest. Killer bug movies understand that most people hate ‘creepy crawlies’. And sharks – they’re basically freight trains with teeth. But some people have strange fears. Take clowns, for instance – Pennywise, Art the Clown, Twisty the Clown. Coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, is a actually a thing. Others are afraid of dolls. Not surprisingly, there’s a word for that, too – pediophobia. Last year saw the release of two new Killer Doll movies – the Child’s Play remake and Annabelle Comes Home. Today, an unexpected sequel to 2016’s The Boy – Brahms: The Boy 2 – hits theatres. So for this edition of The Chopping Block, I take a look at some of the better Killer Dolls of horror.
Honourable Killer Dolls
You’d be surprised by how many horror movies revolve around killer dolls. Sir Anthony Hopkins himself starred in the 1978 horror film, Magic. Though it’s probably too understated for today’s audiences, critics liked it a lot. More recently, The Boy, starring The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan, impressed some horror fans. Someone thought it was good enough to warrant sequel. Too bad the sequel hasn’t made the same impression.
Dolls is most definitely a 1980’s horror movie. From its VHS picture quality to the score, Dolls just screams 80’s. It’s also a surprisingly decent little horror comedy. Stuart Gordon, best known for Re-Animator, directs, which may explain the movie’s quality. It’s essentially a dark fairy tale where a group of lost travelers – some nice, others not so nice – stumble upon a mansion during a storm. The inhabitants, an elderly couple, are doll makers. And surprise, surprise, the dolls come to life at night. Perhaps realizing the inherent silliness of the concept, Gordon leans heavily on humor. All the performances are broad. But there’s some effective gore. In spite of its age, the killer doll effects also hold up well. Gordon avoids overexposing his killer dolls. At a trim 77 minutes, Dolls never overstays its welcome, making it a fun watch.
Puppet Master (1989)
Puppet Master was a straight-to-video release that developed a cult following. Like the Hellraiser and Children of the Corn series, Puppet Master has since sparked a never-ending cycle of sequels. Its most recent entry, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, came out In 2018. To be honest, Puppet Master’s story of toy-maker, Andre Toulon, and his living puppets never did much for me. It has atmosphere to spare, but it’s also dreadfully slow, taking itself far too seriously. And the less said about the performances, the better. Nonetheless, the killer puppet designs are admittedly pretty impressive. The Blade may not be Annabelle or Chucky, but he makes for a good killer doll.
Yes, Goosebumps is a family-friendly horror movie. That’s not a bad thing. We need more gateways to horror for younger audiences. By the time RL Stine published his first horror novel, I was reading Stephen King. And the Goosebumps television series aired when I was in university, watching The X-Files. But my kids love the books and the series. And true to the series, the recent big screen adaptation was a fun, inventive movie. Slappy the Dummy was a favourite antagonist from the series, so it only made sense to build the movie around him. Though his creepiness factor is probably limited to children, Slappy is a formidable ‘dummy’ … or killer doll. Simply put, Goosebumps is the perfect family horror movie.
Poor Dead Silence deserved a much fate. James Wan and Leigh Whannel, the creative minds behind Saw, The Conjuring, and Insidious, married ‘old’ and ‘new’ with Dead Silence. There’s some Universal Monsters’ Gothic horror, mixed with the same visual horror elements the duo would perfect in their subsequent movies. It’s not a perfect movie, but Dead Silence’s story of Mary Shaw and her dummy, Billy, has a creepy origin and enough scares to make it a worthwhile watch.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Of all the killer dolls on this list, only Chucky has made more big screen appearances than Annabelle. Following a chilling cameo at the start of The Conjuring, Annabelle flopped in her first solo outing. Fortunately, the creative minds behind The Conjuring universe didn’t give up. New Line Cinema hired the talented David F Sandberg (Lights Out) who, in turn, invested Annabelle with everything that made her truly frightening in the first place. Annabelle: Creation is Grade-A popcorn horror, stuffed with perfectly staged jump scares. Sandberg goes the extra mile, filming several striking visuals. Overall, Annabelle: Creation gives the Killer Doll the origin she deserved.
Child’s Play (1987)
Is the original Child’s Play as scary as Annabelle: Creation. No. But Charles Lee Ray, or Chucky, is the quintessential Killer Doll. While the franchise has roller-coastered over the years, Child’s Play remains a classic horror movie. As the sequels progressed, Chucky became more of a self-parody, so it’s easy to forget that Child’s Play had some good jolts. Karen Barclay discovering that her son’s Good Guys doll works without batteries is horror at its best. As the voice of Chucky, the always fantastic Brad Dourif made you believe a doll could be scary. Some of the visual effects may not have aged perfectly. But if you’re looking for Killer Doll movie, this is the place to start.