5. Saw (2004)
Before descending into a mediocre-at-best slasher franchise, director James Wan’s original horror film was one of those “why didn’t I see that coming?” kind of films.
After being imprisoned and shackled in a disgusting bathroom, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) awakens and must figure out who is the stranger seated opposite him, how did he find himself in this intense situation and how to figure his escape.
Unlike subsequent films, the focus of “Saw” is not on the bizarre kill scenes, but on the two main characters, their possible relationship with each other and the slow burn of details which emerge as the film progresses.
The character of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and the creepy doll he uses to explain the dire situations to his victims are interesting and something you had not seen in horror in a long time. The doll itself became a mascot for the “Saw” franchise and appeared subsequently and increasingly in the entire series. Personally, it was more interesting to try and figure out the resolution than for waiting for the next onscreen death.
4. Magic (1978)
It’s hard to believe, but between “A Bridge Too Far” and “Gandhi” this film was directed by Richard Attenborough, was written by film screenplay maven William Goldman (based on his novel) and starred Sir Anthony Hopkins.
The story centers around a failing magician who decides to try his hand at ventriloquism to help resurrect his act. He does have success with his new act, but decides to move to the country instead to have a simpler life much to the dismay of his agent.
When he arrives, he meets up with a high school friend (Ann-Margret) and quickly develops a relationship with her. The dummy, “Fats”, “speaks” to his operator and convinces him to do various deeds including murder.
The film works in many ways, best of which is the unexplained origin of the dummy’s spirit. The film suggests it may all have to do with the mental illness of the main character, but doesn’t fully explain it.
While watching the film, you can definitely feel the “Hannibal Lecter” influence as this is the same type of protagonist dealing with similar issues.
3. Dead Silence (2007)
Frequent director on this list, James Wan, is at it again with another creepy doll tale this time involving a young couple who receive a ventriloquist doll as a present with sinister results.
After the murder of his wife, a young man (Ryan Kwanten) returns to his home town to explore the legend he heard about involving the murdered ventriloquist, Mary Shaw. Through his investigation, he learns of certain details surrounding Shaw’s death, the burying of her dolls and other murders which have happened within the town.
While watching the film, it reminded me of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” just in that the origins of the villains were similar. The ventriloquist dolls become animated and do their best to thwart the actions of the young man to defeat them and uncover their secrets. The ultimate reveal was interesting and unique and one you do not see coming.
2. Poltergeist (1982)
When the Freeling family begins to experience “ghosts” moving furniture around in their home, they are entertained until the spirits become more evil.
Things eventually become more involved when they learn “poltergeists” have inhabited their home and have kidnapped their young daughter.
The possession of the clown doll scene is one of the most chilling scenes of its kind and had to have frightened a generation of children, like me, to be afraid of clowns, dolls and looking under your bed.
The crappy 2015 remake attempted to recreate the intensity and the same basic scene, but failed. In this case, new director Gil Kenan (Monster House) failed to capture any of the heart-pounding slow-building suspense and went for the more obvious CGI, “throw everything onscreen” approach. Audiences failed to care and the film is already forgotten.
1. Child’s Play (1988)
Only one name was brought to my mind when beginning to write this list: CHUCKY!
After being inhabited by the soul of killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), “Good Guy” doll “Chucky” is purchased by a young boy (Alex Vincent) and his mother (Catherine Hicks).
They soon discover there is more to this doll than meets the eye as he comes to life and begins to torment them. In addition to fantastic special effect work on the doll itself being more realistic in its motions than some of its predecessors, the thing that worked very well in the film was the animated voiceover work by Dourif as Chucky.
His voice gave the doll a much more sinister and menacing personality than filmmakers could have hoped for. He made the character believable and creepier as a result. His voiceover work was recorded first then matched to the movements and actions of the doll itself.
Dourif stayed with the franchise throughout its many sequels including the most recent incarnation from 2013, “Curse of Chucky” which starred is daughter, Fiona. Something tells me we have not seen the last of everyone’s favorite creepy doll!
Author Bio: Andy Kubica is a life-long cinephile. Having spend time as a video store manager, movie theater manager and the first DVD buyer for a former rental chain he now spends every waking moment reducing his film “bucket list”.