From the 1988 release of director Tom Holland’s Child’s Play to Don Mancini’s 2017 film Cult of Chucky, the horror genre’s most famously devilish doll has lived a long and varied life. With their latest Devious Dialogues piece, Mike Thorn and A.M. (Anya) Novak look back at the series entries and provide their thoughts on the newest addition.
Anya: What’s the horror appeal with dolls? Everything from Annabelle (2014) to Puppetmaster (1989) to Dead Silence (2007) has been focused on creepy toy dolls with nasty intentions. Movies like Child’s Play (1988) seem to tap into a subconscious trauma in our collective psyche. Do you personally find dolls like Chucky to be unsettling?
Mike: Ooh, good question! Fundamentally, I think creepy dolls work on the fear of animating the inanimate, which upends our understanding of natural laws. They also tap into horror’s almost ubiquitous dealings with the uncanny (which, to grossly oversimplify, describes the familiar rendered strange); living dolls play on this idea in a number of ways, because they are vaguely human in appearance but assumed to lack human characteristics (most specifically, consciousness). There’s also the subversive idea of perverting or defiling the innocent — these kinds of horror movies work on our assumption that children’s toys should provide comfort and joy. These baseline fears are reconfigured in different ways by different films. I think the Chucky series is well-aware of all of these underlying anxieties, but it uses the possessed doll motif to various narrative and tension-building ends in all of its entries.