17 March 2023
Demon dolls: Chucky, The Conjuring and more creepy toys you’ll never forget
Come play with us! The Showmax toy box is filled with fun friends like Chucky, Annabelle and Nadja Dolly…
Chucky hasn’t changed fun-demonically since writer Don Mancini created him to terrorise moviegoers in the first-ever Child’s Play film back in 1988. The core team, including Don and doll voice actors Brad Dourif, Brad’s daughter Fiona, and Jennifer Tilly, are along for the ride in this TV series, too.
Chucky’s name comes from dying serial killer Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray (born in 1958), who possessed a “Good Guy” brand doll via voodoo ritual. Yes, horror fans, Chucky is a Boomer! For demon doll lovers and franchise fanatics, Chucky Season 2 is peak mayhem, with good vs evil Chucky dolls, a Chucky exorcism, Chucky’s treacherous ex Tiffany doing a doll-body swap with actress Jennifer Tilly, the return of Glen and Glenda, and one Chucky doll getting a makeover that slays, as it becomes a glamorous Gigi doll.
Doll design: Chucky works so well because he looks so ordinary and, in 2023, even stylishly retro (it helps that the series has given him one of the most believable boy faces in the whole franchise in his resting state). Kevin Yagher, the designer behind Freddy Krueger, based the Chucky doll design on the real-life My Buddy toddler-sized dolls, released by Hasbro in 1985 as a toy especially for helping young boys to learn and express empathy. Oh, the irony! And there’s a touch of that other 1980s sensation, The Cabbage Patch Kid, in him. The best bit of Chucky lore is that the longer a Good Guy doll is possessed, the more “human” it becomes. The face ages, and it develops male pattern baldness, and grows blood, guts and gore beneath the vinyl.
The 2013 horror film The Conjuring follows two paranormal investigators and demonologists named the Warrens, who’re called in to help a family who’s just bought a cursed house. But the movie opens with the Warrens giving a lecture about a former case, that of the cursed doll, Annabelle. Annabelle was known for sneaking around while people’s backs were turned, writing messages in red crayon, attracting evil, haunting dreams, and allegedly being possessed by the spirit of a little dead girl (well, at least that’s what some evil spirits wanted her owner to believe).
Doll design: A real haunted doll named Annabelle inspired the story in The Conjuring. However, the original Annebelle is a trademarked, soft-bodied Raggedy Ann doll. As the film was unable to get licensing rights to the doll, doll designer Tony Rosen reimagined Annabelle for The Conjuring as a child-sized porcelain doll with dark blonde wig in pigtails with red ribbons, matching the sash of her white Sunday dress. She’s a pretty child’s treasure that turns sinister. Close up, her eyes are deep set, shadowed and hyper-realistic, with white showing around the iris, which gives her a fixed stare and emphasises one cracked pupil. Her pale face is grimy and worn, and her wig is slightly askew. The furrows around her mouth also give the otherwise childlike face an adult look, which is enhanced by her makeup. Annabelle would go on to haunt her own movie franchise.
In this horror film based on Eva Konstantopoulos’ novel Hush, fake ghost hunters get in over their heads when they’re called to the scene of a real haunting. They pretend to get the ghosts to move on from the sewing room of the house, which is filled with mannequins. And they’re congratulating themselves on a con well done when one of the mannequins seems to turn its head to look at “psychic” Angela (Florence Pugh) for a moment before lurching forward and darting straight at her. And things get creepier when they’re called in on a new case in which foster children were found dead with their mouths sewn shut. Where’s the creepy doll you ask? It’s not saying anything because its mouth has been sewn shut, too.
Doll design: The mannequin makes for a surprisingly effective jump scare in its CGI animated scene, but it’s the shrunken head-style doll that’s the real creeper until you figure out the banal human evil behind the case. Shaped like a small child’s plastic baby doll from the 1970s or 1980s, complete with gigantic, matted artificial hair, it’s a sad little object, and a silent echo of what happened to the murdered children. It’s a cheap, disposable doll, for a throwaway child.
True Blood’s haunted doll first turns up on the floor of Jessica and Hoyt’s house in the Season 3 finale. It’s an absolutely filthy porcelain baby doll. In Season 4, between episodes 3 and 9, the doll magically reappears in the house after being thrown into the town dump and actually chucked into a lake. The doll is possessed by the spirit of a Black woman named Mavis (played by South African actress Nondumiso Tembe), whose white married lover murdered their baby the night she was bringing home the doll as a gift. Later it turns out the lover murdered her, too, and buried mother, baby and doll together under Hoyt and Jessica’s house during the 1930s.
Doll Design: Mavis scraped and saved to buy this classic male baby doll, which originally had neat, painted-on black hair, a composition head, arms and legs, and jointed canvas body. The face and body design seem based on the Horsman company’s Baby Dimples doll, which was made from 1928.
Composition is moulded and lacquered sawdust and glue, which was more resilient than porcelain, and used in dolls until the arrival of hard plastics in the 1940s. What helps make composition dolls creepy is that any moisture that seeps into the sawdust and glue layer makes it swell, leading to the painted surface cracking and peeling, and dirt getting stuck in the cracks. So now you have something with a baby’s face that seems to be rotting.
What We Do In The Shadows
During Season 2 of vampire mockumentary series What We Do In The Shadows, we found out that while Nadja is undead, she also has a ghost. That spirit was eventually transferred into a custom-made “Dolly”, who has a will of her own. In season 3, as the vampires become obsessed with power and running the vampiric council, Dolly feels neglected and decides to leave home. While acting out, Nadja Dolly transfers to a number of alternative inanimate bodies including a mannequin, an angel statue, and an inflatable rat named Scabby, all of which come alive in horrifying new ways.
Doll design: Nadja’s cat-sized mini-me shares her gothic fashion sense, makeup, and haircut, but has the face of a suspicious toddler, with large, mobile, realistic eyes. Until she bites or attacks, she’s especially endearing. Head of Prosthetics Make-up Paul Jones created Dolly using Nadja actress Natasia Demetriou as a reference along with character design elements from the animated series Family Guy. Showrunner Paul Simms has revealed that once the two operators add head and eye movement, people on set automatically start reacting to Dolly as if she is alive. She isn’t, though … is she …?
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