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Dolls. Everyone has played with at least one in their lifetime, and many enjoy collecting them well into adulthood. However, there's something a bit... upsetting about a large collection of dolls. Maybe they're a bit too human, or how they lay so deathly still in their pretty dresses, with their glassy unblinking eyes... Brrr!
Which is why just about every Horror, suspense and mystery series that runs for long enough will have a doll-themed episode. This episode will inevitably be incredibly creepy and unusually upsetting. If the show is already terrifying, then this episode will inevitably one-up itself. This may have to do with the perversion of childhood innocence, though many people think dolls are just inherently creepy.
This trope tends to manifest in a number of common ways, many of which can combine with each other:
- The dolls are being made to replicate/replace a lost loved one, such as a child, a spouse or a sibling.
- The dolls are made from human components, dead or otherwise.
- The dollmaker is obsessed with dolls for some reason, and has taken to preferring them over humans. Maybe even wishing humans were more like dolls.
- The dolls are possessed by a malevolent spirit, Ridiculously-Human Robots or have otherwise become animated/alive and actively malevolent.
The dollmaker or collector will usually be a madman or woman who has taken a shine to the protagonists either as "something" to add to their collection, potential parts for their latest creation, or threats to themselves and their beloved collection, making them try to capture or kill them.
Anime & Manga
- Hell Girl is already a damned depressing show, considering it's a series of case studies in vengeance, malice and pretty much all of the evil in the world. Therefore, one must appreciate how utterly disturbing the doll-themed episode must be to stand out.
- One Sailor Moon episode had a doll-themed Monster of the Week and the episode was all about dolls. It introduced a girl from a family of famous dollmakers. One of her creations gets enchanted by Nephrite and turns into a Creepy Doll; under its influence, the girl becomes obsessed with her work on other dolls to the point when she generates enough energy for Nephrite to collect.
- Witch Hunter Robin has a witch with MPD, whose other personalities manifest themselves through her collection of dolls. She holds conversations with them, and telekinetically controls them to kill people whom she believes have wronged her. She's killed, but one of the dolls is unaccounted for. So, killer doll on the loose in Japan.
- The first Yu-Gi-Oh! anime series has Ridley Sheldon, a Duel Monsters player with a doll-themed deck, who has a bunch of life-sized dolls standing outside his home as if at a party, and also uses a puppet to impersonate the school nurse.
- In season 2 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Judai also dueled a doll possessed by the spirit of a ripped-up card, using a doll-themed deck.
- Godchild, by Kaori Yuki, has one, featuring an Evil Cripple Living Doll Collector who wanted to add Merryweather to her collection.
- Bixlow of Fairy Tail uses Living Doll Magic, in that he owns 5 dolls inhabited by human souls. He uses these for attacks. Not only that but he can posses any doll in case one of them gets damaged.
- Episode 11 of Ghost Stories focuses on a Creepy Doll named Mary who stalks and tries to kill the main character Satsuki.
- Episodes 11 and 12 of the Black Butler anime. The manga has a circus troupe with ball-jointed orthopedic limbs, so they look somewhat like steampunk dollish cyborgs.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has this in one of the interlude episodes, related to Asuka's backstory. Her mother Kyoko went crazy and recognized a doll resembling Asuka as her daughter. Later on, Kyoko hung herself and the doll - with five-year old Asuka finding the body first. No wonder the poor girl is so screwed up...
- It gets even better: the main reason Asuka hates Rei so much is that she reminds her of a doll. Asuka also regards Unit 02 as her doll which is ironic, considering whose soul is in the core.
- Rebuild 2.0 has a scene on Asuka playing with a hand puppet resembling herself. While essentially a re-do which may not neccessarily reflect the original doll's creepy history, it's fueling one of the new series's many Epileptic Trees.
- In the Sabrina arc in the first season of Pokémon, there was an episode where she used her psychic powers to turn the protagonists into small, living dolls. Also, the green-haired doll she has isn't a doll; it's the childlike spirit her mind and body rejected as she grew older and become more obsessed with exercising her psychic abilities.
- In another episode, Misty became obsessed about winning a series of collectible dolls.
- Ghost Hunt has a case called "The Doll House". It's suitably creepy.
- Fullmetal Alchemist has an episode about a man who makes dolls of his "dead" lover and sacrifices girls to try and put his lover's soul into the doll.
- In one chapter of Ghost Sweeper Mikami (both, manga and anime), a possessed doll starts attacking a little girl whose doll had gone missing. It turns out it was all the doing of Mikami's old doll (which got animated thanks to Mikami's spiritual powers) and had started to fell alone. Somehow subverted, with the fact that at the end, the little girl's doll is the one that helps everyone to defeat Mikami's doll
- One story in Ranma ½ involves a cursed doll that Ranma knocks over while the Tendos and Saotomes stay at an inn. The doll swaps bodies with Akane and tries to take vengence on Ranma, while Akane accidentally scares other guests with living doll antics. ("The Doll is doing calenstetics!!")
- One episode of Kirby of the Stars was actually about King Dedede ordering thousands of dolls shaped like him, and move whenever he moves so he can torture his subjects. At the end of the episode, Kirby swallows up one of said dolls, and as a result King Dedede is literally flung high up into outer space, and is last seen orbiting a planet shaped like him!
- Actually played for laughs in an episode of Slayers Next. Lina and the gang search for the Claire Bible in a tower filled with magically animated dolls. Hilarity Ensues even as the party is slowly transformed into dolls.
- Squid Girl, usually rather light and fluffy, featured an episode about an old doll recovered from a storage shed, toward which it seemed to mysteriously move by itself, overnight. It's revealed that that's a feature of the doll: it and it's counterpart, still in the shed, automatically rotate to face each other via magnets. Probably.
- Archie Comics did it, in a story where Veronica inherited a doll from her misanthropic great aunt; it was called Lucifera, and caused mischief around the house, and was only destroyed when Jughead's dog Hot Dog ate it.
- Zatanna had a Demonic Dummy issue, where she was revealed to have a crippling phobia of puppets.
- The Charlton Comics version of The Six Million Dollar Man featured an issue "guest starring" the then-popular Kenner Steve Austin action figure, which is featured in the story as a bionic voodoo doll; anything done to the doll inexplicably happens to Steve.
- One of the most famous films about this trope: Childs Play.
- May. She decides to make friends rather literally.
- Poltergeist. A large clown doll figures prominently in one scare scene.
- Dead Silence. Contains just about every scary doll trope.
- Air Doll is about an inflatable sex doll who becomes sentient.
- Naturally there's a horror flick called simply Dolls.
- The "puppets" in the Puppet Master horror series are really more examples of this trope.
- In Coraline, the Beldame sends dolls into the house to spy on the children.
- The Cell.
- In the first Tales To Give You Goosebumps collection, the short story "Broken Dolls" features an old woman who turns people into dolls with "dolly jelly".
Live Action TV
- Angel: the evil puppets on "Smile Time"
- And the episode earlier that season where there's a necromancer who used to buy bodies from Wolfram & Hart's grave robbing department and use them to create a scene of an old-fashioned tea party.
- And the spinoff comic Spike: Shadow Puppets, featuring the return of the Smile Time puppets.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Ventriloquist's Dummy that is really alive. Subverted in that he's a good guy.
- There's another Buffy example, in the Season 8 comics. This time, Dawn is transformed into a porcelain doll by a curse from her ex-boyfriend (whom she cheated on) and found by a well-meaning but absolutely loco dollmaker.
- There's also Drusilla's dolls, though they're creepy mostly by virtue of the fact that they're owned and (apparently) loved by a creature like Drusilla.
- Dollhouse: The show's name and the fact that the concept revolves around Blank Slate humans referred to as dolls aside, there was the episode where a serial killer collected women who look like his relatives, drugged them with paralytics, dressed them up and 'played pretend'.
- An episode of Law and Order SVU had a criminal who kidnapped children to play with his doll collection. Unfortunately, while he didn't plan to hurt them, he suffered from some degree of (maternal abuse induced) psychosis and having them damaged was a Berserk Button...
- Medium has an episode where Alison dreams she and her family are dolls.
- Stargate SG-1 had the "200" episode which included the pilot redone with Team America marionettes.
- Wizards of Waverly Place has an episode where action figures come to life.
- Also there's an episode where Alex shrinks herself and a little girl thinks she's an actual doll and plays with her.
- The X-Files episode "Chinga".
- This is obscure and perhaps not belonging here, but one of the early Waltons episodes — or maybe the pilot — has a bit where Elizabeth gets a doll from a church gift giveaway, and it is used and cracked in the face and freaks her out.
- Criminal Minds has an episode about a cracked unsub who abducts women, chemically paralyzes them, and dresses them up as living dolls. It's even called "The Uncanny Valley."
- The Supernatural episode Playthings had a little girl who lived in a hotel and had a large antique doll collection. Individual dolls were being positioned to mimic someone hanging themselves or breaking their neck ... after which, of course, someone would hang themselves or break their neck). Sam and Dean pretended to be antique dealers, and needed to get access to the dolls. Dean got a lot of fun by telling the girl's mother that Sam just loved dolls and had a huge collection of his own, so could she please let Sam take a look?
- And then there was that season 5 episode where Castiel got turned into an action figure...
- Also, the episode Provenance, which featured a doll whose hair was made from the hair of a dead girl.
- Night Gallery had an episode simply called... "The Doll"
- In Are You Afraid of the Dark? the episodes "Crimson Clown" and "Dollmaker" were doll episodes.
- The Ur example is the third segment of the 1975 made-for-TV movie Trilogy of Terror. Entitled "Amelia", it's better known as "the one with the doll" by anyone mentally scarred by it. There's worse fare on TV now, but at the time (when most homes didn't even have movie channels on their TV) it was joltingly more intense than anything normally found flipping around the TV dial, plus it had the whole "animated doll chasing Karen Black around with a butcher knife and razor sharp teeth" angle. * shudder* Can be watched here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1pnFLT_k5A
- The 1961 Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders" features a pair of tiny, doll-like aliens terrorizing an almost-silent woman living alone in a remote farmhouse. Who turn out to be NASA astronauts landed on a planet of giants...and attacking one of them for some reason. There are a number of other Twilight Zone episodes featuring scary dolls or people as dolls. In particular, the 1963 episode "Living Doll" features a talking doll that says both "My name is Talky Tina, and I love you." and "My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you."
- There's also "The Collection", which actually makes the dolls sympathetic and the little girl incredibly creepy.
- Seinfeld had a rare comedic Doll Episode (though, still kinda creepy). In one episode George Costanza is dating a woman with a rather large doll collection, and her favorite doll happens to look exactly like his mother. Hilarity Ensues as for the rest of the episode whenever the doll is around George hears the nagging voice of his mother in his head and starts to believe the doll is speaking to him.
- At the end of the episode, his father sees the doll and also imagines it speaking to him. He briefly argues with it as if it were his actual wife, then he pulls its head off.
- Don't forget Mr. Marbles.
- Kamen Rider Double has the two-parter "The P's Game", which is Played for Laughs (and tears) rather than screams. Akiko encounters a doll that she sees as a real girl, but when the doll starts killing people Akiko is the one implicated. Eventually the Monster of the Week is revealed to be a childrens' book author who is killing the critics who panned his latest book, which was dedicated to his deceased daughter. The doll, which belonged to the girl, "tells" Akiko that she doesn't want her father to cry anymore, and she relates this to the man after Double defeats him.
- Ghost Whisperer has an episode involving a haunted dollhouse.
- There was a CSI: NY episode about the owner of a doll hospital being murdered. The opening featured a creepy scene of the hospital filled with broken dolls, various doll limbs and eyeballs, and actual blood from the murder. It was enough to make the person who found the body run screaming.
- Amazing Stories, "The Doll" (without much of the creepiness usual for this trope). A man buys a doll for his niece in a little shop. It turns out later that the shopkeeper uses the doll to help the man finding his true love, and it works.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Girl in the Fireplace" the main antagonists are life-size clockwork dolls seeking to disassemble Madame de Pompadour and use her body to fix their spaceship. Since Steven Moffat wrote the episode, terror ensues.
- In the classic series, The Master had a weapon called a Tissue Compression Eliminator which would shrink people down into doll-sized versions of themselves, killing them in the process.
- Mark Gatiss's episode 'Night Terrors' had an alien Reality Warper kid who couldn't control his powersaccidentally creating a nightmarish realm populated by giant dolls that turned other people into doll version of themselves.
- In one episode of Charmed, the villain is a man who shrinks people and turns them into porcelain figurines.
- The Middleman had one episode featuring Vlad Tepes' very own ventriloquist dummy Little Vladdie, who naturally comes to life and obsesses some of the cast.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch had an episode with an evil doll
- In season 7 of "Desperate Housewives" Gaby grows attached to a doll who bears a close resemblance to Grace, her long lost daughter who was switched at birth with Juanita.
- At one point in Final Fantasy IV, you have to stop a group of dolls, separated into Calco and Brina, who also later combine into a giant one, Calcobrina, from taking a Plot Coupon. Many people see it as Nightmare Fuel and it also counts as That One Boss.
- However, Calcobrina can be avoided entirely if you kill the Calco and Brina dolls quickly enough.
- In the each of the Shadow Hearts games, there is always an optional "Doll House" dungeon. While not necessarily difficult (though they can be), they are pretty much guaranteed to make you feel depressed or give you nightmares. The only somewhat-exception is in the second game, when Gepetto gets to learn that Cornelia was with him all along. Still completely screwed up, though.
- In Fatal Frame 2, you meet the ghost of a girl whose sister was killed as part of the Crimson Butterfly ritual. Her father, a skilled dollmaker, made her a doll that looks exactly like her deceased sister. At first the girl is overjoyed at "getting her sister back." However, things quickly start going downhill when the doll starts getting a little too realistic...
- Blood Omen has a section of gameplay wherein Kain must journey to the mansion of a dollmaker named Elzevir, who has stolen the soul of the king's daughter and trapped it in a doll. Needless to say, the whole place is full of creep-tastic enemies like vicious attack dolls and murderous teddy bears.
- Robotrek features a chapter whose principal antagonist is a possessed doll.
- In a homage to the aforementioned Childs Play, Zombies Ate My Neighbors features evil dolls as enemies.
- The Tails Doll. A series of joke urban legends even formed around it, it was so creepy to the fan base.
- The quest All That Remains in Dragon Age II, in which a mad blood mage kidnaps women and grafts parts of them together to recreate his deceased wife. His latest victim is Hawke's mother.
- In Silent Hill Homecoming Dr. Fitch's daughter Scarlet loved dolls. She was sacrificed to the "Gods" by her father. When Alex visits Dr. Fitch he finds that Scarlet is missing and only her doll is left. Suddenly the doll becomes a giant creepy spider-like monster, with long limbs and a fragile exoskeleton seeming to be made of porcelain.
- The plot of The Seventh Guest centers around this trope since children's souls are turned into dolls by an evil toymaker.
- Drowtales brings us a variant on case #2 that crosses the line about seven or eight times into the realm of unrelenting horror. You see, one of the characters likes collecting playmates... and then removing their eyes, the bones in their limbs, their tongues and their teeth so that she can play with them whenever she likes. And you can sometimes still hear them breathing hard, as though they were trying to scream.
- The Simpsons: the season four Treehouse of Horror ("Treehouse of Horror III", production code 9F04, for you rabid fans) where Homer gets Bart a cursed Krusty doll from a Chinese man's curio shop filled with cursed and weird objects from around the world. That's bad.
- And the doll wasn't even cursed, despite coming from an occult curio shop run by a strange Chinese man. The doll had a "good/evil" switch on its back that someone flipped on "evil".
- Noximilian the Clockmaker has a clockwork replica of his long lost family, significant in that his whole life goal revolves around getting his family back. It's simultaneously heartbreaking and downright terrifying.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes: "A Present for Jez", where a reprogrammed mechanical doll tries to take over Miseryville.
- One episode of Word Girl was actually about Mr. Big forcing everyone to buy thousands of Word Girl dolls that can control their minds.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Puppetmaster", Sokka finds a cupboard of puppets in their innkeeper's cupboard. This foreshadows the puppet-related waterbending skill that Katara learns from the innkeeper by the end of the episode.