What is a Creepy Doll?
What is a Creepy Doll?
Creepy, as defined by Encarta, is anything unsettling because it causes fear, disgust, or uneasiness. It is something or even someone repellent because of annoying, unpleasant, or disturbing qualities. So what is the essence of a creepy doll? How does an object that's intended to be played with or displayed in a Grandma's curio cabinet earn the distinction of being creepy? What is the essence of a creepy doll?
In my experience with creepy dolls, I've noticed two distinct categories: dolls that have been deconstructed or designed to be creepy and dolls that are creepy by default.
The first category isn't quite as interesting to me since the creepy doll that's been manipulated by an artist in order to achieve creepiness loses some of its creepiness in the process. The designed-to-be-creepy doll is the bastion of Goth art students and little brothers who put G.I. Joe's head on Barbie's body. Sometimes this genre even becomes art and art is rarely as creepy as things that just happen to exist in the everyday. Hans Bellmer's dolls, for instance, are so aesthetically pleasing that they'll never scare the shit out of you the way an American Girl Doll sizing you up from under a Christmas tree might. In the designed-to-be-creepy category, you'll find dolls with their eyes plucked out, their limbs removed and their heads shaved, but rarely will you ever feel the deep-rotted unease you might experience in the presence of dolls that simply are creepy to begin with.
Dolls that are creepy to begin with are rarely, if ever, intended to be creepy. Mostly they're designed to be adorable, to be cute, to be loved – but then – something goes horribly wrong in the process and when all is said and done, they make your arm hairs stand on end. This is the stuff that horror films are made of.
For this type of doll to be seen as creepy, a small part of you has to believe that doll could come to life and speak to you, come after you or possibly even kill you. (Though the simple act of it coming alive would be terrifying enough to begin with.) This is why ventriloquist's dummies are always creepy (because they are designed to speak) and why Barbie will never be truly creepy. She is so unrealistic what with her giant bust, teeny waist and little pointed feet, which she can't even stand on, that it's hard to believe she could ever spring to life. And if she did come to life, she wouldn't be able to get very far since she's only able to stand up with the help of a pole up her ass. (This in itself is kind of creepy, but does not a creepy doll make.)
Herein we find one of the most important aspects of doll creepiness: realism. My favorite genre of creepy doll is the completely realistic newborn doll: the type you think might have a soft spot on its head. The web site collectiblestoday.com specializes in this category, selling dolls that are "exquisitely handcrafted with RealTouch™ vinyl skin" and "incredible details that make her look So Truly Real®." The site appeals to consumers to "delight in her hand-applied hair and hold her hand-painted fingernails and toenails in the palm of your hand as she captures your heart." I actually find this just a notch less creepy than Real Dolls, the "world's finest love dolls" in that it attempts to fill some void in the lives of people who are not satisfied with actual human beings who can walk and talk! Also, more than a little sad in that I imagine the buyers are terribly lonely.
Another, less recognized form of creepy doll is the doll imbued with magical powers (or at least rumored to be.) This type of creepy doll first started to gain worldwide recognition as a TV Star in the '70s, first when a tiki doll brought bad luck to the Brady Bunch on their Hawaii vacation and then again when a butcher-knife wielding Zuni doll chased Karen Black on ABC in 1975. The message was clear: Don't mess around with dolls from cultures you don't understand. I'm actually convinced this message was propaganda perpetuated by Mattel to sell more Barbies.
That said, talking, walking, killing dolls have always been part of film and television from Talking Tina in Poltergeist to that nutty ventriloquist's dummy in Magic with Anthony Hopkins. But NONE of these creatures ever scared me half as much as my trip to the American Girl Doll store last Christmas shopping season. For *some* reason my niece has taken a liking to these horribly overpriced, possibly possessed, buck-toothed, beady eyed EVIL beings. And everyone in the store just goes around shopping pretending like the dolls aren't coming alive after store hours and PLOTTING TO KILL US ALL. The store caters to this sense of "they might actually come alive" fear by featuring a café where you can have lunch with your doll and a salon where you can have your doll's hair done. One section even has American Girl Doll wheelchairs and crutches. That place gave me the kind of chills I've only ever gotten upon seeing flying water bugs and silverfish. I bought a doll outfit and got the hell out of there as fast as possible.
The only time I've ever been more terrified of a doll is when a neighbor of mine who was moving out gave me a talking Ernie doll clad in footie pajamas that sang "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." I never saw my neighbor again and for some reason the doll would suddenly start singing every night. This was only vaguely creepy until I found out that said neighbor had left the city and gone on a bloody rampage wherein he attempted to kill his family. (He only succeeded in killing himself.) When I learned of this, I threw Ernie in a garbage bag and ran him down the 6 flights of my stairs to the garbage room where I disposed of him. He was singing the whole time. I wish I were making this story up and maybe it's just a bit too dark for a yuk-filled essay on creepy dolls, but it's true.
Creepy and true. Ernie. Who would've thought?
The bottom line here is that a doll can only be truly creepy on accident. If it goes out of its way to look human but isn't, then it's creepy.