That Doll Is Creepy

Why do people differ so much about dolls? Love dolls, hate dolls. Treasure my doll, creeped out by your doll.


There are some who find all dolls creepy. Pick up a doll couture magazine in the store and watch people back away slowly.  Those who experience extreme, life-altering anxiety around dolls could have pediophobia. Porcelain dolls and dolls that move and talk can be particularly fearsome. Automatonophobia extends to the life-altering fear of human-like figures such as ventriloquist dummies or wax sculptures.

There are many, on the other hand, who are utterly devoted to their own dolls, yet quickly recoil from others that strike them as creepy. Why? Do some dolls seem too good to be true? Is a wide-eyed, placid exterior a perfect foil for the evil that lurks below? Or is it the dolls who look slightly odd who instill the most fear?

Dolls have certainly earned their creepy stripes in horror films. Is foul-mouthed Chucky – with his slash-scarred face, orange hair and bulbous eyes – the most famous doll villain? Given that doll Chucky used to be a serial killer with a knack for spells, perhaps he taps into an underlying fear that the bad dolls are more than happy to take over our human souls.

On screen, wicked dolls will quickly identify and exploit each family’s unique weakness. One family member may suspect the doll, but that person is usually the black sheep. No one would believe Twilight Zone Stepfather Erich when he tried to warn them about Talky Tina.  She might have had kind whispers for the others, but she saved her real feelings for him.

“My name is Talky Tina and I don’t think I like you.”

When he threw her against the wall, Talky Tina came back with a warning.

“My name is Talky Tina and you’ll be sorry.”

The more crazed Erich became in his quest to destroy Tina – fire, a vice – the more savage her messages became.

“My name is Talky Tina and I’m going to kill you.”

Most creepy, perhaps, are the doppelganger dolls with the almost-realistic expressions and eyes and limbs that move.  In the TV pilot of R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, the villainous Lilly D doll frames the real Lilly for household damages, brainwashes the unstable mother then invades the real Lilly’s body, leaving her in the plastic doll carcass to rot in the trash.

Thank goodness for Lilly’s suspicious brother who puts things right. None of this would have happened, though, if the greedy toy store executives had listened to the warnings of the mad doll-maker, cursing the world from her room of plastic heads and limbs. Destroy the Doll. She had even scratched it on the back of Lilly D’s head before the suits covered her warnings with doll paint. Destroy the Doll.

Chucky, Tina and Lilly D are undeniably evil, it just takes awhile for everyone to notice. Some perceived doll creepiness, however, is purely in the eye of the beholder. When I was in the attic – so, clearly, the setting didn’t help – I was excited to unearth my two most beloved childhood dolls: Baby Secret and Tanya.

“Look what I found!” I clomped down to show my husband and daughter.

Though Tanya looks more like Little Bo Peep than me, she is life-size and her pre-arthritic limbs do creak around.  Baby Secret – still reeling from an impromptu crew cut – wears a red onesie and is kind enough to tell you a secret if you pull the cord in her back.

“Do you want to hear a secret?” she used to whisper before letting me in on her latest gossip.  Secret is getting on. Perhaps she’s lost some teeth or started drinking, but now you can’t really make out what she’s saying. Pull her cord and she starts hissing in parseltongue.

Though I’ll always look on Tanya and Baby Secret with fondness, my family are unmoved. “Creepy.”  “Just creepy.”


Header Photo: Aimee Vogelsang


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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton