If you think Chucky from Child’s Play and Annabelle are scary – well, it’s time you met their Italian predecessors, a pair of very creepy dolls that play key roles in the classic giallo Deep Red, from Dario Argento, the maestro of the macabre. This pair are so frightening, they’d make Billy from Saw turn his trike around and pedal in the opposite direction!
To celebrate the release of the film on a splendid 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Limited Edition from Arrow Video, here’s a look at some of the scariest dolls in cinema – as, let’s face it, there is nothing quite so chilling as an innocent kid’s toy turned evil!
The franchise-starting, audience-terrifying Annabelle makes one thing perfectly clear: whatever you do, don’t fill your house with vintage porcelain dolls. Especially not one that has already appeared in the extremely scary film The Conjuring! They won’t just sit there looking pretty and decorative – no, they’ll come to life and raise hell.
Arguably the scariest ‘something lurking under the bed’ moment comes in Tobe Hooper’s horror classic, where young Robbie’s seemingly harmless clown doll becomes the thing of nightmares, thanks to the malevolent ghosts haunting the house his family have just moved into. A fear of clowns is called “coulrophobia”. But what’s a fear of clown dolls called?
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
Probably the most famous segment of this Ealing horror anthology film features Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist called Maxwell, slowly being driven mad by his frightfully well-spoken, dinner-jacketed, ‘almost human’ doll Hugo.
Another tale of a ventriloquist doll taking control of its owner, in Richard Attenborough’s brilliant chiller, starring Anthony Hopkins as the superstar ventriloquist who is losing his grip on reality, while Fats, his doll, starts to put murderous thoughts into his mind. Gottle of fear indeed!
TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975)
Proving once again that scary little dolls give the biggest frights, the most memorable segment of this popular horror anthology (directed by Dan Curtis) features Karen Black being terrorised by a Zuni hunting doll possessed by an evil spirit, that she picked up in a junk shop. Okay, so it is small, but it has teeth, and a spear, and it knows how to kill.
CHILD’S PLAY (2019)
In this re-imagining of the 1988 horror film, a single mother (Aubrey Plaza), gives her son a doll imbued with Artificial Intelligence, making it the ultimate kid’s companion. Unfortunately, this particular doll, Chucky, has a sinister side, which, combined with AI, is a recipe for disaster!
DEVIL DOLL (1964)
The ventriloquist doll – called Hugo, perhaps in a nod to Dead of Night – in Lindsay Shonteff’s superb cult chiller not only talks of its own accord – it also walks and kills! Let’s be honest, a doll just moving its lips awkwardly and not being able to pronounce words very well would suffice!
Of course, no list of evil dolls in films would be complete without mention of Billy the Puppet, from the Saw series. A distinctive ventriloquist doll, with red spirals on his cheeks and long black hair, Billy rides a trike and has a spine-chilling cackle. His first appearance in the 2004 film suggests the filmmakers might have been influenced by the doll in Argento’s Deep Red. Billy became so popular he spawned his own merchandise range – although, would you really want a Billy doll lurking around the house?
DEEP RED (1975)
In Dario Argento’s masterpiece, musician Marcus Daly (David Hemmings, Blow Up), witnesses the brutal axe murder of a woman in her apartment. He takes on the role of amateur sleuth, to try and find out who the killer is before they strike again. But strike they do, in the most macabre fashion. The scene involving a mad puppet coming out of cupboard ranks as one of Argento’s most chilling and nightmarish – watch if you dare! And the less said about the doll hanging in a noose, the better….