We’re used to our villains coming in many forms: ghosts, zombies, aliens, red-blooded humans in need of vengeance, and even snowmen (hey, Jack Frost!).  It’s par for the course that each horror movie has a unique villain (or group of villains) on a similar mission: to make their victims pay, to traumatize them, and ultimately, to end their lives.

So what is it about dolls that terrifies us so much? From Talky Tina in a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone, to Chucky in Child’s Play and its sequels, and, most recently, to Annabelle in The Conjuring and the origin story devoted to her, dolls have been flat-out creeping us out for a long time.

There is an actual term for the fear of dolls, known as pediophobia. Sigmund Freud and other philosophers theorized that we are afraid of anything that could potentially come to life. Freud’s theory, in particular, is called “the uncanny.” Since dolls appear human-like but aren’t human, we are attracted to them until they become too lifelike, and then we’re subconsciously afraid of them.

She just wants to play.

However you may feel about Freud’s theory, dolls are also creepy because they’re toys for children, played with and put back on a shelf at night. Children are the epitome of innocence, but they give dolls a life, a voice, and a narrative. Freud wrote: “…children do not distinguish at all sharply between living and lifeless objects, and that they are especially fond of treating their dolls like live people… the idea of a ‘living doll’ excites no fear at all; the child had no fear of its doll coming to life, it may even have desired it.”

When on the shelf, a doll looks like it’s watching our every move. When you pick it up, it looks back at you with emotionless, lifeless eyes and a smile that won’t go away. You’re waiting for it to blink or move (don’t worry, that only happens when you’re fast asleep!) – no wonder the things are so terrifying. They make for perfect horror movie fodder.

The director of last year’s Annabelle, John Leonetti, had this to say: “As inanimate objects, they are just scary… Most dolls are emulating a human figure. But they’re missing one big thing, which is emotion. So they’re shells. It’s a natural psychological and justifiable vehicle for demons to take it over. If you look at a doll in its eyes, it just stares. That’s creepy. They’re hollow inside. That space needs to be filled.”

Sleep tight!



Filed Under:

About The Author

My cousin forced me to watch Child’s Play when I was around five years old, and I’ve loved horror movies ever since. I’ll watch anything (the gorier the better) but faint at the sight of blood in real life. Let’s be internet friends -- follow me on Twitter @mrstschinkel.