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Dolls that Go Bump in the Night

There’s a commercial airing these days for a package-delivery company, where a whole family is held at bay, outside their home, afraid to go inside because of a mechanical clown doll. I was watching that recently with a friend, who remarked offhandedly, “Yeah, dolls are scary.”

I was surprised to hear that because, to me, dolls are a repository of wishes, hopes, dreams and ambitions. They become the outward embodiments of our inner desires, a physical emblem of our better selves.

So, I was taken aback to hear that dolls are considered to be scary. (Clowns, I can understand, but dolls!) Through the years, there have been loads of movies where dolls are forces of evil and are the agents of destruction and chaos. Off the top of my head, I can rattle off all the Chucky franchise entries, Stuart Gordon’s DOLLS from 1987, Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror, Magic, and almost every other Twilight Zone or Night Gallery episode. I’ve seen all of these flicks, and have always been amused by them, not alarmed. It’s hard to believe that anybody can find a doll frightening or fierce.

What is it about a doll that can make some people want to cuddle and coo, while other people are recoiling and running for the hills? How come dolls have such power—whether for good or evil, to put it quite bluntly, that they can make strong men cry?

I asked a whole bunch of my friends—from antiques dealers to detectives, retired teachers to casino dealers, investment bankers to bartenders (yes, I hang with an eclectic group), and the consensus was . . .  drum roll . . . dolls are scary!
Almost all of the people I spoke to, in my nonscientific poll, thought that dolls had the potential to wreak havoc (I’m not kidding you). They didn’t find this menacing nature in teddy bears, which is odd, since a teddy bear is a shrunk-down version of an actual carnivorous, fanged, clawed and mountainous mammal. For some reason, the scaled-down version of a human is foreboding and haunting, whereas it’s cute and comical when it comes to critters.

I spoke at length about this with two of my friends, who understandably want to remain anonymous. One of them is in law enforcement; the other works for the government. These are both educated and well-respected members of their community, and they both told me how they RESPECT the fact that I can work in a home surrounded by so many dolls and figurines.

“I couldn’t get anything done with all of those eyes looking at me,” my friend the detective said.

“I would think they are breathing down my neck,” chimed in my pal the revenue agent.
How fascinating that the realm of dolls—so reflective of make-believe and merriment for me—is akin to a battlefield to these two seasoned pros. They honestly feel that my workday must be horrific surrounded by painted-on and glass eyes.
They are so wrong. For a doll collector, a doll is always a source of pleasure and delight. Even if its subject matter is dark or adult, it still equals a soaring triumph of the artist and her medium. I could never walk a beat like a cop or land an airplane like a pilot, but I never thought I was being courageous because I can sit and type in the face of plastic faces.

Doll collectors everywhere, take heart. You are a force to be reckoned with, and just be aware, your “army” of dolls may rise up one day to salute you. Just make sure your friends are prepared for that surge.

Photo Captions
It's understandable that Virginie Ropars' Scarlet Heart  (top) might make your heart and pulse race faster. But what about one of Casie Brabham's adorable Bebe Babies (above)? A bunch of my friends are paralyzed with fright from the mere look of a doll!

Horror movies, like
DOLLS (right), have given dolls a bad rap.

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Hmmmm.. yes, dolls represent people...but to me they're frozen people, and that's what make them scary to me. Of course, others might say the deep-freeze is more like a deep peace!
Pune D. , May 15, 2010
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Great piece, Stephanie. You are tapping into the culture of dolls that we live with here in the USA. Would be interesting to delve into the (cultural) history of dolls in other cultures. I bet you might find some scary stuff in Haiti, some tribal African histories, and even South American/Indian takes on dolls.

Then there are Tim Burton's masterpieces that can haunt even adults who have inquisitive minds (Nightmare before Christmas, Corpse Bride, James and the Giant Peach).

Of course the scariest doll of all is....Ken.

Ken


Ken Hamik , May 09, 2010
...
Television was responsible for implanting the negative stereotyping about dolls into my mind when I was a child. Any doll which remotely resembles "Talking Tina" makes me shudder. Fortunately not so with the "wholesome" Barbie and "cool" Bratz dolls.
Nicholas Grasso , May 08, 2010
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smilies/shocked.gif People are really frightened of dolls! There are much worse things to be scared of. I think people find little shrunk down people to be weird. I think Stephen King wrote about it in IT. A killer clown doll--that was very scary indeed.
Marlene Dunne , May 08, 2010
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And on a latger scale....who could forget My Living Doll(with julie newmar) and Mannequin (with kim cattrall) It is like Land of the Giants from a doll perspective!
patricia park , May 08, 2010 | url
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Voodoo dolls are scary. That makes sense. I know some people are freaked out by real-looking dolls, like reborn babies. I blame it on horror movies. I don't know why they make dolls out to be bad. They make cats out to be bad too. Strange.
Bette P , May 08, 2010

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