Scary dolls are a common device in horror movies. But the dolls don’t always kill people - remember, that hideous clown in Poltergeist may have sparked plenty of nightmares, but somehow it didn’t actually murder anyone. However, there are still plenty of maniacal Toys “R” Us escapees running around out there, racking up body counts. Here are eight all-star killer doll moments.
1. Chucky’s first kill, Child’s Play (1988)
Chucky’s got a new movie out, of course, adding to his legacy of gory, inventive mayhem. But his first kill (as a doll; who knows what Charles Lee Ray did to his victims when he was human) is still one of the very best in the series, for a few reasons.
The target of his wrath, Maggie (Dinah Manoff), is the person who encourages Andy’s mum (Catherine Hicks) to buy the doll in the first place, then she offers to babysit the kid and his new toy - two well-meaning acts that inadvertently seal her grim fate. And her death, which involves a wee hammer to the face followed by a swift push out a very high window, shows the audience that even though the idea of a homicidal Good Guy doll is absurd on every level, the little dude can still do some major damage.
2. Tiffany chops Redman, Seed of Chucky (2004)
Though Tiffany’s preferred M.O. is slitting throats with a nail file, she uses a good old-fashioned knife on Redman (playing a parody of himself) in the campfest that is Seed of Chucky.
The scene puts an end to Tiffany’s short-lived vow, made on behalf of her tenderhearted son, to resist her murderous urges, but she can’t resist stabbing Redman for being a dick to Jennifer Tilly (playing a meta-parody of herself, since Tilly also supplies Tiffany’s voice). Appropriately enough, the dick is the body part she slices into first.
3. Annabelle rips Mrs. Mullins, Annabelle: Creation (2017)
For all the frozen-faced grinning that Annabelle does in her first Conjuring spin-off, most of the cast of that film actually survived till the end. The characters in follow-up prequel Annabelle: Creation are less fortunate, especially grieving parents Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto), who unwittingly summoned the doll’s resident demon in the first place.
Years later, the evil spirit has zeroed in on a young orphan as its next host, but it can’t resist offing the Mullins as a parting gift; poor Esther, who’s long since lost half her face to demon claws, meets her maker after being ripped in half and crucified to her own bedroom wall.
The actual murder happens offscreen and is presumably committed by Annabelle in her superstrong demon form. But even still - how will this week’s Annabelle Comes Home be able to top such a dramatically gruesome crime scene?
4. Puppet payback, Puppet Master (1989)
Though the Puppet Master series doesn’t have as high of a profile as Child’s Play, it’s been around nearly as long, and it has more than a dozen sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, as well as its own reboot (last year’s Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich).
As these things often go, however, the first film is still the best, introducing audiences to the strange legacy of alchemist, doll maker, and Nazi quarry André Toulon, whose magic resurfaces 50 years after his suicide when a group of psychics are drawn to his former home in Bodega Bay, California. That is a very simple breakdown of the movie’s complex set-up and attendant mythology, but really it’s all just leading toward the good stuff you really want to see: human beings, mercilessly attacked by malevolent dolls!
The final murder, which sees the sentient puppets, all of whom are built for slaughter in different ways, turning on the smarmy “master” who’s used Toulon’s techniques in a bid for immortality, is truly a stop-motion symphony of agony, including but not limited to slashing, chopping, drilling, punching, and using a giant slimy leech as a choking device.
5. Wicked stepmother’s demise, Dolls (1987)
Not to be confused with the brand-new film with the same title, this cult oddity from Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon begins on a dark and stormy night, as a sweet little girl named Judy and her dismissive parents take refuge in a rickety old mansion occupied by an elderly couple who just happen to be doll makers.
And also, it just so happens, the whimsical duo crafts their dolls using magic and jerky humans they deem rotten to the core - bad news for Judy’s folks and the “punk rockers” who also show up during the course of the night.
The giggling dolls already in residence help capture and kill the new blood, and the most horrifying death is reserved for the most odious character: Judy’s rich-bitch stepmother, who’s played with campy, villainous flair by director Gordon’s wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. Armed with knives, scissors, and whatever weapons their tiny hands can grasp, the dolls form a pissed-off porcelain army that sends her flailing out of a window... and then later tucks her mangled corpse back into bed. Tee-hee!
6. “Zuni fetish” hunt, Trilogy of Terror (1975)
This made-for-TV anthology film from director Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) and writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) stars the great Karen Black in all three segments, but the most memorable is final chapter “Amelia.” She plays a woman who’s trying to get some distance from her controlling mother - a task that’s complicated when she starts dating an anthropology professor.
Things take a sinister turn when she picks up a macabre birthday gift for him: “a genuine Zuni fetish doll” (1975... not really an era of cultural sensitivity), purchased at a curio shop that thoughtfully includes a warning not to remove a gold chain from the doll’s outfit, or else.
Naturally, the chain drops off within minutes, and the toothy thing is soon stalking Amelia all around her apartment in an extended sequence that definitely foreshadows the original Child’s Play. Though she initially appears to survive the attack, the doll manages to transfer its spirit into her body anyway - and the last shot makes it very clear that the real Amelia is no longer present.
7. “KKK Comeuppance,” Tales From the Hood (1995)
Like Trilogy of Terror, Tales From the Hood is an anthology film; its killer-doll segment actually made another recent Gizmodo list, compiling horror films that feature horrifying works of art, but it works in this context, too.
When a KKK member turned politician (Corbin Bernsen) callously sets up his new office at a former plantation, he doesn’t take into account that the place might be haunted by people who were tortured there.
He certainly doesn’t suspect their souls will come to life in doll form, thanks to a local witch who oversees their revenge mission from her enchanted portrait on the wall (not to mention some nifty stop motion). And he definitely doesn’t anticipate being swarmed by an angry crush of dolls hellbent on sending yet another hateful racist shuffling off this mortal coil.
8. Jealous Fats, Magic (1978)
This list would not be complete without at least one “ventriloquist dummy gone wild” movie. These dolls are perfect horror-movie antagonists. They’re already extremely creepy in any context, so adding to that the ability to possess or mind-control their performance partners, and/or literally roam around causing chaos on their own, guarantees multiple layers of terror.
Thirteen years before he became a household name thanks to The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins played Magic’s puppeteer, Corky, a failed magician who finds success when he adds a crass dummy named Fats to his act.
Unfortunately, he’s too psychologically fragile to handle fame, and his solution - to hide out in the country - proves dangerous when Fats becomes the more dominant personality, mentally manipulating Corky into helping him kill, including a romantic rival that Corky-as-Fats stabs to death with a knife clutched in his puppet hand.
Magic is a little different than the other films on this list (not just because of its cinematic pedigree; it’s directed by Richard Attenborough and William Goldman adapted the script from his own novel). It’s never clear if Fats is really sentient, or if his personality is merely a manifestation of Corky’s illness, or maybe there’s a little bit of both going on.
All equally disturbing scenarios, to be honest.