Words: Howard J.P. Gorman
Chucky might only be a kid’s toy but he’s as resilient as they come. Everyone’s friend till the end has come a long way since he first landed on our screens in 1988, with his reign of terror having continued across seven films. And between a deep-in-production TV series from the franchise’s original creator, Don Mancini, and an “unaffiliated re-imagining” released in cinemas this Friday, Chucky is showing no sign of getting back in his box any time soon.
While Child’s Play sprung the demonic doll sub-genre into the mainstream, countless other horror films depicting dolls as creepy playthings just begging to be possessed by evil spirits silently worked their way through the underground. So, with Chucky all set to make his big screen return and Annabelle Comes Home hot on his heels, let’s take a look at some of cinema’s most psychotic playthings.
Hugo Fitch – Dead of Night
First appearance: 1945
Arguably the earliest example of demonic anthropomorphic dummies on film, Hugo Fitch appeared in The Ventriloquist’s Dummy, the segment that ran rings of terror round the other segments making up the classic British horror anthology Dead of Night.
Putting in a singular and psychotic performance, Michael Redgrave plays Maxwell Frere, an unbalanced ventriloquist who spirals into a state of absolute insanity when his personality is possessed by that of his dummy Hugo – who just happens to sport the creepiest steadfast smile ever put to film. The final act is something you’ll just never be able to unsee, and Redgrave’s voice throwing performance is a tour-de-force yet to be topped.
Best line: “Hello, Sylvester. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Fats – Magic
First appearance: 1978
Magic showcases irreparable stage-mate quandaries between a clearly unhinged ventriloquist, Corky (Anthony Hopkins), and his domineering dummy, Fats, who destroyed childhoods well before arriving on the big screen as even the trailer was deemed too scary for TV.
Fats twists Corky’s arm into carrying out all manner of deadly deeds for him, culminating in a particularly sordid twist. Oh, and Hopkin’s display of ventriloquism is hands down on a par with his turn as Dr. Lecter.
Best line: “Fasten your seatbelts, everybody. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Pin – Pin
First appearance: 1988
The titular character of Sandor Stern’s low budget psycho-sexual take on Psycho isn’t quite a plaything but rather a creepy, anatomically-correct medical doll. Even creepier still is what he’s used for.
As strange as it sounds, we first meet Pin at a clinic where the local GP is using him as a ventriloquist dummy to teach his kids the facts of life. From thereon in, his tasks range from serving as a surrogate father, a makeshift sex toy and a schizophrenic’s alter ego/weapon of death and destruction, replete with Chuck Norris hair piece and latex skin. If that description doesn’t make you want to watch this, I’d hate to think what would.
Best line: “Alright, let’s begin with the male sexual apparatus. Leon, take the towel off my lap.” Pure nightmare fuel!
Brahms – The Boy
First appearance: 2016
Avoiding the cartooniness of some of the other films on this list like the plague, director William Brent Bell was inspired by antique dolls, and even moreso by The Omen‘s Damien.
The Boy sees au pair Greta accept a job to look after an eight-year-old boy while his parents head off on a trip. Only thing is, the boy in question is actually a life-sized doll which the house owners use as a somewhat eccentric way of grieving the death of their son some 20 years earlier. Of course, when the parents are away, kids will play and everything starts to suggest that something very real is hiding behind Brahms’ porcelain façade.
Having proved itself a pretty healthy box-office hit, Brahms will be back for more in Brahms: The Boy II which releases in UK cinemas this July.
Best line: With Brahms not one for social pleasantries, it’s his mother who gets the best line in this case: “Be good to him and he’ll be good to you. Be bad to him and….”
Annabelle – The Conjuring Universe
First appearance: 2013
Despite serving as the jumping off point for the Conjuring Universe, it was only a question of time before the studio decided Annabelle deserved an “unboxing video” in the form of a spin-off franchise.
Annabelle’s first solo entry gave some insight as to where she came from, but it wasn’t until David F. Sandberg climbed on the bandwagon to direct Annabelle: Creation that the real roots of Annabelle’s evil were revealed: shortly after a doll maker named Mr. Mullin creates the Annabelle doll, his young daughter dies in a tragic traffic accident resulting in Pet Sematary-like sequel, swapping Micmac burial grounds for the titular demonic conduit doll.
Sandberg’s take on the material proved so successful that a third instalment, Annabelle Comes Home, will hit cinemas this coming July 10th, bringing demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren back into the mix.
Best line: “The contact started small, but then it wanted permission to move into a doll so that it could be with us forever. We said yes.”
- READ MORE: The Conjuring Universe explained: how all the films are connected, from Annabelle to La Llorona
Sabrina – Sabrina
First appearance: 2018
This sleeper Netflix hit is actually the third entry in Indonesian horror franchise The Doll, although Netflix never let on about this fact as it functions perfectly well as a standalone title (and it sounds cunningly like one of their buzzy original series).
A toymaker and his wife seek the services of a celebrated psychic to save them from a demonic doll when their adopted child tries to summon her late mother. What follows is a pretty formulaic Conjuring-like dynamic but what is lacks in originality is more than compensated for by just how downright bone chilling the doll is. Words can’t even describe how terrifying she is, which makes the following quote all the more disquieting:
Best line: “Sabrina looks cute with this headband, right? She looks just like me.”
Robert – The Robert the Doll Franchise
First appearance: 2015
Details: This purportedly real-life haunted doll is said to have served as the inspiration for Chucky – although Don Mancini has repeatedly cited Freddy Krueger and “Cabbage Patch Kid consumerism” as the chief inspirations for the Chucky.
Under the helm of British mockbuster maestro Andrew Jones, Robert, who can only best be described as the bastard bairn of Slappy and Glen/Glenda, didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts but he went on to star in a steady series of disparate sequels/prequels. And, despite venturing into increasingly absurd territory, Robert just kept outdoing himself with each new entry, whether it be exacting brutal revenge on Nazis aboard a train, a la Steven Segal or battling Stalin’s henchmen on board a plane, Wesley Snipes style; the latter of which (Robert Reborn) has (coincidentally?) decided to pit itself against Chucky, hitting UK DVD shelves this Friday.
Best line: While Robert never gets to demonstrate any of his arse-kicking skills, Jones’ proudly wears his ’80s actioner stripes on his sleeves in the later entries: “Stay with me if you want to survive.”
Chucky – The Child’s Play Franchise
First Appearance: 1988
Description: The only way to draw this list to a close is by coming full circle with one of the few gateway drugs that dragged this writer deep into the abyss of VHS terror.
Possessed by the spirit of fictional serial killer, Charles Lee Ray, the blue-eyed, potty-mouthed doll tapped into fears about corrupted innocence and bodily possession – something sadly lost in later iterations that converted him into a lunchbox-adorning Looney Tunes character. All the same, no matter how you slice it, Tom Holland’s sadistic take on the sub-genre is the ultimate testament that dolls have been a horror mainstay for decades.
Best Line: No one can argue that he didn’t warn us: “Don’t fuck with the Chuck.”