In honor of The Conjuring‘s upcoming prequel, Annabelle, here are some of my favorite creepy dolls and terrifying toys:
1) Talky Tina and Willie the Dummy — The Twilight Zone (1962 & 1963, respectively)
The Twilight Zone was notorious for turning various inanimate objects into harbingers of doom and dread. The scariest part of “The Dummy,” though, is the very idea that it is Jerry– a ventriloquist– who makes his dummy, Willie, alive. The episode centers upon Jerry’s desire to use a different dummy for future acts, but Willie is not going to give up and retire that easily. From whispers to downright manipulation, the dummy is a malicious and maddening presence for Jerry. That is, until the roles are reversed and we see who has been controlling whom all along– the shocking reveal of Jerry as a dummy and Willie as the ventriloquist is one of my favorite Twilight Zone moments of all time.
“Living Doll,” meanwhile, guest-starred Telly Savalas as a belligerent new stepfather to a little girl named Christie. To remedy the tension in the home caused by the recent marriage, Christie’s mother buys her a Talky Tina doll that is just plain chilling even before it proves to be actually evil. When you wind a key on the back of the doll, she says “My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much–” unless you’re a hostile stepdad who yells about how much said doll costs, of course. When Savalas winds the key, she instead says (in the same sickly sweet tone) “My name is Talky Tina and I don’t think I like you/I think I could even hate you,” and after he throws her against the wall, “you’ll be sorry!” By the end, she’s doling out warnings to Christie’s mom that she’d better be nice to Tina unless she wants to end up tripping down the stairs to her death, too.
2) The Clown — Poltergeist (1982)
I consider Poltergeist to be a sort of gateway horror movie. It’s fun and scary without being overly gory or too childish, either. The goriest you’ll get is Craig T. Nelson peeling part of his face off in the bathroom mirror. Not too bad considering this film was directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. There is one part of this movie that always scared me though, and it wasn’t the “they’re here” or the mere fact that this family’s house is built on top of an old Indian burial ground and that’s what is causing all the paranormal shenanigans to occur. No, the scariest part of this movie is the clown doll in the children’s bedroom. Again, even before suddenly appearing behind the son, strangling him and dragging him under the bed, the look on this clown’s face and the bells on his hat are automatically ominous, regardless of if you’re typically afraid of clowns or not.
3) The Puzzle Box — Hellraiser (1987)
I won’t dwell on this one too much since it’s the most unlike the others on the list, but I can’t help but at least mention it. The puzzle box has always seemed to me like an evil Rubik’s Cube; seemingly harmless (albeit obviously challenging and tempting to play with), it actually contains a portal to the terrible, disturbing underworld of the Cenobites. This is one of the less obvious but most dangerous toys out there in horror movie history.
4) Chucky — Child’s Play (1988)
Perhaps the most obvious and beloved scary doll, Chucky has become a cult phenomenon and a plastic embodiment of campy horror. His franchise has endured– for better and for worse– but Chucky himself is still one of the most fun and simultaneously frightening dolls, all because he’s possessed by the soul of one seriously demented and darkly funny serial killer.
5) The Puppets — Puppet Master (1989)
I watched this film for the purpose of writing this post and I’ve come to terms with the fact that the puppets are the best part of the movie. The plot was muddled and mostly unimportant anyway, but these puppets-come-to-life did not disappoint. The leader, or at least most iconic puppet, is Blade, an eye-less, knife-toting creep (black trenchcoat and hat included). Then, there’s Pinhead, whose disproportions are unnerving to say the least, Tunneler who kills by drilling, and Leech Woman who throws up leeches. Yes, leeches. These charismatic and crazy puppets are the whole point of the movie, and they’re definitely worth the watch.
6) Billy the Puppet (aka the Jigsaw Doll) — Saw (2004)
Though never referred to as Billy within the Saw films, that was indeed the name given to the now-legendary puppet by writers, directors, cast and crew of the franchise. Billy is not only inherently terrifying– especially when he rides in on his creaky tricycle– but he is the bearer of brutal news for Jigsaw’s victims, acting as Jigsaw’s avatar in instructing people how to survive the torture ahead of them. Plus, the distorted voice used for such a purpose fits the Billy puppet’s appearance perfectly. The Billy puppet has come to represent the entire franchise, and his image has now become iconic, joining a pantheon of easily identifiable villains.
7) Billy the Dummy — Dead Silence (2007)
James Wan’s second appearance out of a whopping three on this list is another Billy and another Dummy. Billy is a perfect combination of campy and genuinely horrifying at points in this oft overlooked and under-appreciated flick from Wan, who was veering away from torture porn territory at this point and trying out a complex ghost story here instead. But, he hadn’t yet mastered the latter with the sophistication he would exuibit in Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013). Here, Billy’s possession is part of a convoluted but undeniably entertaining story, but I’d like to point to one notable climactic scene in particular: our protagonists find an entire room filled with dolls, all of whom start to take on the same spirit– and if there’s anything scarier than one haunted doll, it’s a whole room full of them and the inability to even scream.
8) Annabelle — The Conjuring (2013) and Annabelle (2014)
So scary they needed to give her her own movie, Annabelle is probably one of the most chill-inducing dolls I’ve ever encountered in a horror movie. She is sadistic and downright needy; two simple words made The Conjuring a success for me even before it got to its central plot, and those two words were Annabelle’s pleas of “Miss me?” And miss her we certainly would have if they hadn’t chosen to focus on her for The Conjuring‘s much anticipated follow-up. Unlike Puppet Master, I somehow doubt that the doll will make the movie in this case, and it may take more than the simple trope of doll-disappearing and doll-reappearing-somewhere-else to make this prequel good. But it’s fair to assume, I think, that Annabelle herself will be as scary as she was last summer, except instead of stealing scenes, she’ll have all the scares all to herself– which is, I’m sure, just how she’d like it.