With the arrival of the new Child’s Play (2019) trailer hitting the internet yesterday, I’ve been thinking about the roles that toys typically play in horror movies. Much like clowns, creepy toys are there to masquerade as something tied to our childhood. Something so innocent and associated with fun, how could it possibly be scary?
Whether they are murderous themselves, the host of something more sinister, kick off a series of horrible events, or are just creepy to look at, toys play a key role in a lot of horror films. So I thought I would pick my personal favourite appearances of toys and dolls in the horror genre, and by personal favourite, I mean the ones that creeped me out the most.
1. The Crooked Man Toy in The Conjuring 2 (2016)
If we’re taking a dip into The Conjuring universe, then let’s be honest, there are a lot of creepy toys that could have made the list. From Annabelle herself to the music box that keeps catching the reflections of ghosts, this is not a good place for toys.
The one that gives me the most issues is the Crooked Man toy from The Conjuring 2, which belongs to the Hodgson children. The zoetrope toy plays an eerie tune as it spins around and shows the Crooked Man creeping about with limbs that are way out of proportion for his body, as is quite common in horror. The toy itself is not something I would have in the house, but later on in the film, we see the toy spinning and the drawing of the Crooked Man from inside disappears, only for the real thing to pop up and terrorise the residents of the house.
The Crooked Man only appears in the film twice, and he’s not even the main villain of the piece, but he can get right in the bin because he is terrifying. It’s no wonder Ed Warren takes the Crooked Man toy back to the Warren’s cursed collection room at the end of the film, so it hopefully can’t hurt anyone else.
2. Brahms in The Boy (2016)
When she is hired as a nanny for a family in England, Greta is a little more than disturbed when she finds out the child she will be caring for is a porcelain doll called Brahms, even though on the face of it, that seems like a pretty easy gig to me.
Brahms’ mother and father have a lot of rules in place for how to look after their son; however Greta thinks she has nothing better to do than ignore then rules and basically just chill out, and that’s when things start to go wrong. Brahms starts moving on his own and even telephoning Greta, leading Greta to believe that perhaps the spirit of the human Brahms, who apparently died in a fire, is living within the doll.
While the truth of what actually happened to Brahms is far more creepy than a possessed doll, it doesn’t take away from how horrible the doll itself is. His pale, expressionless face frequently pops up in places he shouldn’t be, and I’m pretty sure if I were Greta, I would have thrown him in the fire pretty quickly.
3. The Clown in Poltergeist (1982)
The Clown doll in Poltergeist is definitely a case of “why on earth did you have this in your child’s bedroom?” This doll is creepy before any of the haunting activity starts to go down, and poor Robbie who has to share a room with it is clearly terrified from the outset.
Again with arms that are far too long for any human, this thing is about the size of a child, and apparently just spends the night staring at Robbie when he’s in bed unless Robbie remembers to throw a t-shirt over its head.
When the paranormal activity starts cranking up, Robbie notices the clown has disappeared from his usual spot, before it pounces on him and drags him under the bed. Luckily Robbie manages to escape, but I hope that clown doll was still in the house when it got sucked into another dimension, so no one has to deal with it ever again.
4. Bear Bear in The Outer Limits ‘Under the Bed’ (1995)
If we’re talking about things that fucked me up as a kid, then the ‘Under the Bed’ episode of The Outer Limits is right up there – specifically the opening scene. Jillian and Andrew are getting ready for bed one night when Andrew’s teddy Bear Bear goes missing. When Andrew hangs over the edge of the bed to look for Bear Bear, the bear seems to whisper to Andrew to come under the bed to retrieve him. Bear Bear’s eyes glow red before some unseen, clawed monster pulls him under the bed.
While the boogeyman-type villain was merely using Bear Bear to trick Billy so he could munch him, this scene definitely made me a little more distrusting of my soft toys for a while.
5. 101 Dummies in Dead Silence (2007)
If you do not like ventriloquist dummies, then let me tell you, Dead Silence is not the movie for you. “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw, she had no children only dolls” goes the creepy rhyme from the movie, which is true, but I’m not sure why Mary Shaw felt she needed 101 dolls in her life. Especially as most of them look the same, it just seems a little excessive.
After Mary is murdered, she asks that all her dolls be buried beside her, in tiny coffins. Clearly being a ventriloquist pays really well, because how on earth her estate managed to afford that much land and 101 little coffins, I will never know.
In death, Mary lives through her dolls, and while she mainly uses her favourite doll Billy for this purpose, there is a scene in the closing act where the other 100 dolls are present so they can do standard creepy doll shit like following the characters with their eyes or rocking about in a rocking chair of their own accord.
6. Suzie in May (2002)
May tells the story of a young woman who is a bit socially awkward and didn’t have a lot of friends growing up due to her having a lazy eye. In a bid to make her at least have one friend, her mother gifts her a terrifying doll called Suzie, because if you can’t find a friend, make one.
Like all the best toys, Suzie is kept in a glass box, and as May’s mental health starts to take a severe nosedive, May begins to hear Suzie talking to her. After May takes Suzie into the blind school she volunteers at to meet the children, the children accidentally destroy her, and a heartbroken May has to construct a new friend to replace the one she’s lost, perhaps taking her mother’s old adage a bit too literally.
7. The Ball in The Changeling (1980)
The red rubber ball in The Changeling is definitely a case of taking something that absolutely should not be scary and making it terrifying. We follow John, who has moved into a new house which he quickly finds out is haunted. John soon discovers the ghost is a young boy named Joseph, who was murdered in the house, and one of his favourite activities is throwing a red ball down the main staircase.
One night John drives far away from his house and throws the ball in the river, in a bid to stop the ghostly activity, but as soon as he returns home, he is he greeted by the ball bouncing down the stairs towards him as if the whole river incident had never happened. Nope!
8. Colouring Pencils in Paperhouse (1988)
There’s been a lot of dolls in this list, so let’s take a look at something a little more innocent – colouring pencils. Paperhouse was another film I caught on Channel 4 as a kid and stuck with me for years before I could track down what it was on the internet and share my trauma with other people.
Paperhouse tells the story of Anna, who is off sick and spends her time drawing a frankly monstrous house with a little boy in the window. At night, she dreams of herself in the house with her new friend, and while the interior of the house is something out of a nightmare itself, everything is going pretty well until Anna decides to add her dad into the picture.
When she is unhappy with the face she gives her father, she crosses it out, but that night he appears in her dream as this angry presence with a twisted face who is trying to hurt Anna and her new friend. The lesson here kids is always use an eraser and maybe think twice about the nightmarish things you decide to draw.
9. Der Klown in Krampus (2015)
Der Klown is already about a nine on the scary scale before he even starts acting creepy, so when stuff starts to go down, he is impressively terrifying. Krampus sees the Engel family being stalked by Krampus himself after they have lost their Christmas spirit, and their house is basically attacked by Hell’s version of Christmas.
One of the creatures that captures most of the family is Der Klown, a giant jack-in-the-box who can unhinge his jaw like the Predator and display more teeth than any being should possess. He then swallows people whole, before dragging them around in his snake-like stomach.
10. Stay Alive video game in Stay Alive (2006)
While no children play the game Stay Alive within the movie Stay Alive, it’s pretty safe to say that if kids out there are sneakily playing Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013), then chances are kids would be all over a game about a murderous Countess.
If you die in the game, you die in real life, which leads to a group of hapless gamer friends being picked off one-by-one by the evil Countess Elizabeth Bathory. When the group tries to simply stop playing the game, the game cheats a little and starts forcing them to play, meaning the only way to stop the Countess is to figure out how a computer game got cursed in the first place.
At the end of the movie, it looks as though our heroes have saved the day, but we cut to a local video game shop stocking the shelves with the game, suggesting the Countess may soon be back among us, which is probably going to ruin a lot of kids’ Christmas mornings.