Even the notion of "Just-My-Size Barbie" validates the horror inherent in this kind of film. Interestingly, the spate of these from the late '80s through the '90s corresponds with the organized manic cultural push for all of us to breed breed breed. Although a few films have also concurrently dabbled in the horror of brats, the intensity of the insistence that we breed and the current overvaluing of children, one would think, would bring about more horror than the smattering of bad seeds and Damians that we have seen recently. Perhaps these devil-doll and killer toys films function as a sort of displacement of that horror.
Read a fuller psychoanalysis by Dustin Acton here.
[Summaries of films below by Alisa Burns (Fall 2002); linked summaries by Dustin Acton (Fall 2006).]
The Devil Doll (1936)
Devil Doll (1963)
Macabre Serenade (1968)
Trilogy of Terror (1975) -- Dan Curtis' production with Karen Black in three stories, the third being a Richard Matheson story in which she is terrorized by a vicious African wooden doll.
Tourist Trap (1978)
Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)
Dolls (1986) -- waiting out a storm, chez evil doll-making couple.
Child's Play (1988)
The film begins with a chase between a cop and a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray that ends in a toy store where Charles is fatally wounded. Having mastered some sort of ancient Voodoo rather than dying Charles is able to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll. The film then skips to a young boy named Andy who desperately wants a Good Guy doll for his birthday, but to his disappointment his single mom can't afford it. Torn by her son's sadness and want for the doll Andy's mom buys the doll from a man on the street that gives her a good deal for it. Andy is ecstatic about his new best friend "Chucky," but Chucky reveals he isn't any regular doll pretty quickly by murdering the babysitter. Desperate to get out of the dolls body, Chucky tracks down his Voodoo teacher who informs him that the only body he can put himself into is that of the first person he told his secret, Andy the six year old little boy and if he waits too long he will be trapped in the dolls body forever. Chucky then sets out to find Andy leaving a trail of blood in his path as he becomes more and more human in the plastic body and more desperate to get out before it is too late. The film ends in a final showdown between Andy, his mother, the police officer who originally killed Chucky and Chucky who manages to survive multiple shot wounds, being burned to a crisp and beheaded before the withered remains stop moving and he is "dead."Puppet Master (1989)
The film starts out with an aged puppet master (Toulon) in a hotel hastily packing up a series of very peculiar puppets that each come equipped with their own mode of murder (knives, guns, hooks, etc.), seem to directly respond to their master, and move around without any strings. Hiding them securely within the walls of the hotel and promising to see them again he takes his own life before the Nazi officers (who are apparently after his secret) can get to him. The film then jumps forward to the year 1989 to the same hotel (The Bodega Bay Inn) where a group of six rather bizarre characters are assembled after having been psychically summoned by Neil Gallagher with whom they had been working to discover Ancient Egyptian techniques that bring life to non-living objects. Upon their arrival they are informed that Neil has passed away by his grieving widow whom the eventual "hero" of the film, Alex, develops an instant crush on. The group unfortunately decides to stay over night and one by one are brutally picked off by the puppets that Neil, with the aid of Toulon's old journal, had learned to reanimate, and was now using to bring himself back to life and to end the lives of his friends whom he did not want to share his power with. Neil is far too arrogant though and before he is able to fully succeed in his evil plans the puppets turn on him brutally killing him (it takes some real murdering to do in someone already dead). The film just kind of ends with that leaving the viewer somewhat confused and with the prospects of the multiple sequels that would eventually follow a very large spectrum of directions to go in order to follow up this first puppet play.Child's Play II (1990)
Damaged by the bad publicity Good Guys Toys Company suffered after a Good Guy Doll's apparent serial killing spree, the company decides that they must bring the alleged criminal doll back into prime form to see if anything is really wrong with it. With the aid of a new body Chucky resumes his murderous ways and search to track down Andy, the little boy who is the only body he can transfer his soul into before he is stuck in the doll body forever. Andy, since the first movie has been through some pretty rough times, his mother has been placed in a psychiatric ward for her claims of a killer doll and Andy is forced to move in with some new foster parents who are also housing a girl named Kyle that has a soft spot for Andy's situation. It doesn't take long for Chucky to track down Andy and several murders and attempts at stealing his soul later Chucky finally gets Andy where he wants him (the Good Guy Toy Company) and his able to perform the ceremony that will set him free from the doll's body. To his shock and dismay, however, it is too late and he is stuck in the dolls body forever. In a hysterically rage he sets out after Andy to murder him but with the aid of Kyle they turn Chucky into a disgusting blob of bloody plastic, once again putting an end to Chucky's reign of terror.Puppet Master II (1990)
Child's Play III (1991)
This film takes place several years after the last and Andy, the little boy from the first two films, is now a sixteen-year-old boy entering military school in hopes to find some direction. Still haunted by his nightmarish past Andy expresses great paranoia when he sees an ad on television announcing that the Good Guy Doll is back. The company had decided that despite two different incidences of murder sprees by one of their dolls they would go ahead and start making them again because it was their biggest hit and moneymaker. Adding Chucky's bloody plastic remains to the melting pot, left over from the last film, Chucky's soul is once again embodied in the Good Guy doll, hell bent on finding his "friend to the end," Andy. He somehow manages to mail himself to the military camp where a young recruit, Tyler, intercepts the package, wanting to keep the doll as his new best friend. Chucky quickly realizes that Tyler just might be an easier victim than Andy for a new body (apparently the rules have changed since the first film and he can transfer his soul into any body). Andy discovers Chucky's presence at the school after several brutal murders and it becomes a race between the two as to who will get to Tyler first. In the midst of the "War Games" practiced annually at the school, that Chucky decides to make a little more interesting by substituting the paint balls for real bullets, Andy and Chucky search through the forest in a game of cat and mouse. They all end up at the fair, conveniently located at the edge of the forest where Andy is able to save Tyler in the nick of time and throw Chuckyıs body into a huge fan where it is completely shredded.Demonic Toys (1991)
Dolly Dearest (1991)
Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)
This film takes place in Nazi Germany in the 1930s where Toulon is an acclaimed puppet master leaving peacefully with his beloved wife. Suspected of portraying Hitler negatively in his show, the Nazi police start investigating Toulon and discover that there is something "magical" about his puppets. Working on a way to reanimate soldiers killed in battle so they can continue fighting the main officer decides Toulon might be able to benefit their research and so they arrest him and kill his wife. Enraged by the murdering of his wife Toulon escapes with the aid of his puppets and vows to seek revenge on the officers who took her from him. This film provides a history for the puppets, revealing that they are all individuals who are Toulon's friends from the past and he keeps them alive with a special formula once used in Ancient Egypt. He makes a puppet of his wife that spits out leeches and also a puppet in the likeness of the sinister Nazi officer who killed her. With the aid of his puppets, Toulon seeks his revenge in a bloody massacre of those who caused him pain and his secret remains safe. This film leads well into the first of the series where it was never answered why the officers were after Toulon that resulted in him taking his own life.Puppet Master IV: When Bad Puppets Turn Good (1993)
Set in the early '90s this film takes a very different direction than that of the other films. The same puppets return once more but this time the main character is a young genius, Rick Myers, who is working in artificial intelligence research at the same hotel used in the first and second film (The Bodega Bay Inn). Far off in some fairly corny hell the ancient Egyptian pharaoh whose secrets allowed Toulon to animate his puppets discovers that technology with their research in A.I. might discover and pervert its power. To protect the ancient secrets he sends Totems through a portal to the hotel to put an end to Rick's and the other scientist's research. Luckily for Rick, Toulon's team of murderous puppets joins together against the demonic totems and save Rick from them. The puppets also bring to life Dicapitron, the puppet Toulon had created that allows him to come back and communicate with Rick about his secrets and how they must be in the right hands (Rick's) so that the power will not be used for bad purposes. Toulon from Dicapitron saves the day by finishing the evil totems off and proclaims Rick as the new puppet master.The Fear (1994) -- a homicidal mannequin.
Puppet Master V: The Final Chapter (1994)
This film takes off from the end of the last with the main character Rick, the new puppet master, trying to explain to the cops all the murders from the last film (naturally he comes off pretty crazy by claiming that puppets came to life and saved him when ancient totems sent from hell came after him). The cops let him go and he returns to his puppet friends to continue his research so he can discover and use the new technology of A.I. for good before it falls into the wrong hands. Furious from the death of all his Totems in the last film the ancient pharaoh leader decides to take matters into his own hands by coming through the portal to the hotel to kill Rick and the puppets. Once again with the aid of the trusty puppets and Toulon as Dicapitron they are able to defeat the evil pharaoh and Rick and his puppet friends are left to live happily ever after with the secret safe in the right hands.Bride of Chucky (1998)
Obsessed with her old boyfriend, Charles Lee Ray, a.k.a. Chucky, the gothic and deranged serial killer in her own right, Tiffany decides she must bring him back so that they can be together and have a fantasy Leave-It-To-Beaver life. Stealing the remains left after Chucky's last fatal death she sews him up and performs the ritual to reanimate him. Tiffany quickly realizes that Chucky isn't the guy she had in mind but before she can do anything about it he kills her and transfers her soul into a girl doll. The only way they can escape the doll bodies is to get the amulet that his original body had been buried with in a cemetery in New Jersey. Tiffany calls up the neighbor boy and offers him one thousand dollars if he will take a couple dolls of hers to New Jersey, and desperate for the money so he and his girlfriend can run away together, he accepts. They set out on the road trip and as Tiffany brings Chucky up to times with murder in the nineties they leave a trail of blood and the cops on the tail of their drivers who are being blamed for their crimes. A Bonnie and Clyde duo Tiffany and Chucky rediscover their love for one another, but it doesn't take long for the couple driving them to turn them against one another when it is pointed out to Tiffany that Chucky wont even wash a dish after she had slaved over a hot stove. They get to the cemetery despite numerous obstacles and just as Chucky has the amulet and is about to perform the ritual Tiffany, although burned to a crisp, turns on him and they are able to shoot Chucky and put an end to him once and for all in the grave of his real body. The couple they had tormented is let off to live happily ever after but the movie is not quite over. As the police officer is studying the remains of Tiffany's burnt plastic body she screams to life and a bloody baby pops out of her and attacks with razor teeth leaving for a potential next film staring Chucky Jr. [Pretty creepy. . . .]Curse of the Puppet Master (1998) -- Andre Toulon's puppets rebel against their new master, Dr. Magrew, who has been experimenting with human assistants.
Retro Puppet Master (1998) -- In the early days, Andre Toulon ran an avant-garde puppet theater in pre-WWI Paris and activated his puppets to save Ilsa from an ancient cult.
Puppet Master: The Legacy (2003)
Seed of Chucky (2004) -- Doll couple pursue star of film about them.
Gingerdead Man (2004)