"Dolls with no little girls around to mind them were sort of creepy under any conditions." ― Stephen King, Desperation
Good ole Uncle Steve. He's not off base with this quote, not at all.
When I was a child, like many other little girls, I had an extensive porcelain doll collection. I received them as birthday presents, begged for them at toy stores, and won them at church fairs. They were kept on three long shelves in my bedroom, where I could stare at them when I drifted off to sleep at night, and wake up with their blank, smiling faces beaming at me. When I was about 6, I received a life-sized doll that had a pretty red hair in a Dorothy Hamill bowl hair cut (just like me!) and whose eyes opened and closed when you laid her down. I would dress her up in old toddler clothes my mom had never gotten around to throwing away.
I can't tell you exactly when things started to go bad with me and the dolls, not exactly, but I can tell you this; it was sometime after I watched Poltergeist. At 8ish, it was one of the scariest movies I had ever seen, and while Carol Ann getting sucked up by the TV and then vomited back through the ceiling was bad enough, seeing Robbie get attacked by his grinning clown doll was pretty much the worst thing ever. It still is.
Shortly after seeing the movie — by myself, I might add, when it aired on box cable — a favorite aunt and uncle gave me a clown doll to add to my collection. It wasn't very large, but it had red hair and a blue and white clown outfit. Just like the doll in Poltergeist. I thanked them for it, allowed my mother to place it on my shelf, and then proceeded to white knuckle my way through the first night in my room, waiting for it to choke me to death. The next day I put it in my baby brother's room under the very practical theory that a baby is a lot slower than I was, and I'd probably get away if the doll came to (evil) life.
This is the reasoning of a small child.
My mother put the doll on my brother's toy chest. From where my bed was, I could see a clear shot through my doorway to my brother's room, to the doll, which was angled in such a way that it was facing me, and every night I'd struggle to stay awake because I knew if I closed my eyes, the next time I opened them that doll would be closer. And closer. And closer.
That is the punishment of a small child.
I slept with that life sized doll in my bed, tucking her in at night and telling her stories. We were good friends, this doll and I, until one night I woke up in the middle of the night (probably in my clown fueled paranoia) and saw her sitting up in bed. And then, while watching, she turned her head and looked at me.
As an adult, I'm sure that the red headed doll did not turn her head and look at me, but even as I type this I feel a residual panic building in my chest. My screams brought my mother into my room, where I was completely inconsolable no matter how many times my mother tried to explain that the doll did not come to life and threaten me — she hadn't seen Poltergeist, dammit, and I couldn't explain how wrong she was because I wasn't supposed to have seen it either. The next day, the doll was banished to our basement, which would flood every time it rained hard, and because I had shoved the doll under the stairs by the wall, she got progressively moldy, which just added to how fucking scary she was, which just fueled more fantasies about how I was going to wake up with her rotted form standing over my bed. It was terrible.
Eventually, she was thrown out in a great basement purge, and I remember her lying on top of the heap of moldy discard pile in our driveway, one of the eyelids stuck open so that she looked like she was watching you. Me. Specifically watching me, until the nice trash-men came and took her away.
I don't know what happened to the clown doll. My brother survived his babyhood without the thing eating him, and I'm clear on the other side of the world now, so I feel pretty protected from it's evil range. It could still be out there, some vintage store find tormenting another small child, or roaming the countryside, fueled by the souls its stolen.
All of this is a very long, personal lead in to say that the movie Annabelle came out this past week, exploring the origins of the demon-possessed doll that was featured in last year's The Conjuring. It hasn't made it's way to my part of the world yet, and maybe it hasn't shown up to torment yours either. So while you're waiting, here's a few other films about murdering dolls to check out! (P.S., check under your bed tonight before you go to sleep!)
Child's Play — 1988
The spirit of a serial killer haunts a child's My Buddy-esque doll. Terror ensues, as the spirits of serial killers are never just looking to hang out and have a nice cuppa while enjoying the afterlife. Followed by several sequels, including the fantastically funny (no, for real) Bride of Chucky.
Dolly Dearest — 1991
Dolls are really fond of menacing people with knives, by the way.
In this one, Tasha Yar takes her family to Mexico to run their doll manufacturing business, but their plant is located next to a graveyard. Evil spirits avail themselves of the opportunity to, you know, possess dolls.
Trilogy of Terror - 1975
If you ask around in horror circles, Trilogy of Terror is often spoken of as a major fan touchstone. Originally aired as a television movie, Trilogy is an anthology of adapted Richard Matheson (I am Legend, Hell House) stories, each segment staring genre mainstay Karen Black. For our purposes, the third act, "Amelia" fits our bill, with a Zuni fetish warrior doll coming to life and stalking a woman through her apartment.
Clearly, the "possessed object" subgenre is not the most progressive in terms of racist tropes. Check out this article from Marena on how Tales from the Hood flips these narratives around.
Another long running horror series, the Puppet Master films center around a puppet maker who gave life to his puppets using an "old Egyptian formula". Murders ensue. Evil comes in all sizes. Aside from dolls that just stab you with knives, there's also some creepy inventiveness on display, including a puppet that can vomit leeches, which is more frightening than it sounds.
This article was originally published on Persephone Magazine as part of Slay's annual "31 Days of Halloween" series.