Evil dolls are right up there with clowns as one of those things that give a lot people the creeps. Under that theory, evil clown dolls would be the worst.
They can be either made of plastic, wood or porcelain and be meant as toys or dolls for the amusement of children, for adults to collect or for those who entertain us by throwing their voices and animating them for the elation of an audience.
Generally, dolls are meant to give comfort and joy and are not meant to have a predilection for evil. Nonetheless, we are fascinated by “creepy”, “killer” or “sinister” dolls, they things they can do and those of us they can scare.
There was an episode of the original “The Twilight Zone” called “Living Doll” from 1963 which gave me scares even when watched as an adult. It involved a doll named “Talky Tina” given to a little girl who soon is spouting vicious dialogue toward the girl much to her dismay. Even the evil toy with the doll head and spider legs from the original “Toy Story” come to mind as unsettling.
Several films on this list spawned a whole sequence of these films. Low budget horror B studio Full Moon Entertainment has pretty much devoted itself to making the rancidly bad “Demonic Toys” and “Gingerdead Man” (the funniest of these films is where he fights an evil bong) films all preying on the same fears and emotions.
The word “great” for lists like this mean within the horror sub-genre of this type of film only. No comparison’s to “Schindler’s List” or “Die Hard”.
Surely, they will continue to haunt our nightmares as long as they continue to make these types of creepy films.
10. Small Soldiers (1998)
The man who brought us 1980s classics “Gremlins”, “Explorers” and “Innerspace”, Joe Dante, brings us this tale of toys come to life after being outfitted with computer chips giving them voices and the ability to think for themselves. Two factions: the “Commando Elite” and the “Gorgonites” soon prepare for battle with each other each trying to prevail.
The neighborhood is the battleground with a couple of teenagers (Gregory Smith and a young Kirsten Dunst) trying their best to corral the newly animated playthings. The voice talent for the toys is stellar including Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Even six original members of the film “The Dirty Dozen” participated in lending their voices to various toys.
Upon release, the film was unfairly compared to “Toy Story” which had been released a few years earlier which had a much different tone than “Small Soldiers”. To start with, this film was rated PG-13 and had a much darker, adult tone. There was toy innuendo and blowing up each other, but it was all in good fun. This one could be ripe for a reboot at some point with all the advances in technology since 1998.
9. Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Horror veteran actress Karen Black stars in multiple roles in this trio of chilling tales, one of which features a creepy Zuni doll with sharp teeth.
“Amelia” begins with Black alone at her apartment with her new doll friend. She doesn’t notice when the doll goes missing, then gets reintroduced when she is attacked by it. She is chased through her apartment having to listen to the dolls sinister laughs and growls.
She eventually corrals it and throws it into her oven to burn to death. In the end, the doll is destroyed but does its spirit remain? It appears to do just that.
Black carries the whole firm with her multiple roles; however, is strongest here as she is the lone character onscreen other than the doll. She is believable in her terror, but strong enough to do what has to be done to survive.
8. Dolls (1987)
“Re-Animator” and “From Beyond” director Stuart Gordon tells us this ultra-1980s tale of a carload of strangers being stranded close to a mansion during a storm.
The passengers get acquainted with the owners of the home who turn out to be a nice elderly couple who happen to make toys. The guests realize over time the toys and dolls are actually vessels for degenerates who the couple have imprisoned in them as punishment for their ill ways in life. Slowly, the newcomers discover various rooms and doll collections within the home and succumb to the dolls in various creepy and hilarious ways.
The camp of this film makes you want to watch. Everything you remember about the 1980s is present including the hairdos, make-up and outfits of the time. The costume designer must have been a big Madonna fan, as you can definitely feel that influence. There are hordes of creepy dolls performing many menacing deeds here and it is fun to watch.
7. The Conjuring/Annabelle (2013/2014)
Based on the writings and case files of real life spiritual investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, both films feature the possessed doll, Annabelle; however, “The Conjuring” only features a tidbit at the beginning of the film and just shows the doll in its resting place within the Warren’s home.
“Annabelle” is a prequel of sorts showing the origin story of the doll and how it came to be with the Warrens. After a young man purchases a rare doll for his pregnant wife, Mia, (Ward Horton and the appropriately named Annabelle Wallis), their home is invaded by a pair of occultists. They are subdued; however, the mortally wounded female assailant drips blood on the new doll.
The child is born and Mia begins to experience a series of bizarre events at her home including the reemergence of Annabelle after she was presumed thrown away before moving to their new home.
There are a lot of typical jumps scares in the film which focuses more on the demonic spiritual terror than that of the doll itself. Unlike a lot of the other films on this list, Annabelle the doll does not actually move herself. The threats are always hidden or come from somewhere else.
Events come to a head when Annabelle is discovered to be the vessel for evil and must be destroyed.
6. Puppetmaster (1989)
One of the most enduring “evil doll” franchises, it all started with the original film in 1989. Veteran actor William Hickey plays the “puppet master” who has discovered a way to bring puppets to life and has made several of them including Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Tunneler and Leech Woman.
The plot is sort of irrelevant and includes a group of psychics who meet up and try and learn the secrets of the original “master” through their visions.
The fun of this film and the series in general is the low-budget graphic fun. The acting and dialogue are cheesy and the situations are outlandish and impossible, yet somehow you find yourself not being able to look away as events unfold before you.
One can only imagine the reason these films have endured is not only because they are made on shoestring budgets, but they have to be an absolute blast to make. As long as expectations are not that high, the “Puppetmaster” series delivers.