This is an article about madness and the supernatural. It is about dolls in passing. The main doll, which helps frame this article, is Hugo from the ventriloquist segment of the excellent Dead of Night (1945). Yes we also mention Annabelle and Chucky. But Dead of Night is the timeless classic of the supernatural and madness and it ends with a recurring dream. To watch the film over again is like watching the nightmare of the main character over and over again. Of course it is a cult movie.
But when it comes to dolls, especially a ventriloquist doll, we project our personalities upon the doll. We call them names, we put them through adventures and sometimes we speak for them. Sounds mad, doesn’t it? Where dreams and madness mix, is that the supernatural? Or does the supernatural exist on this planet in reality – does it sometimes cross over into reality from the other side? Aren’t we all just a little bit psychic? Or mad?!
And movies… can we project our personality upon them… or do they project their reality into us. Does Annabelle scare us because it is really a supernatural toy, or do we want to believe in the dream of the movie?
After viewing the new Annabelle Comes Home (2019) I am glad The Conjuring universe is improving or has improved after the indifference of The Nun (2018) and the slightly better Curse of the Weeping Woman AKA The Curse of La Liorana (2019). It remains for me that The Conjuring 2 (2016) is the scariest of the lot on the big screen. The new Annabelle, which basically uses the Warren’s house as the setting for most of the movie, is an improvement on Annabel: Creation (2017) and much better than the original Annabelle (2014) movie which I watched again recently and found disappointing. Creation, however, holds up well.
There is a hint of a good ghost in Annabel Comes Home. While Judy is at school, she looks in passing at the bust of the late Father Michael Morrisey (my father’s name is Michael). Then, later in the movie, we see his ghost briefly. I don’t think he is meant to be a bad ghost in the movie but maybe I have to watch it again. The Warren’s only child, young Judy, who is a dead ringer as an older version of my five-year-old niece (my mother’s name is Judy by the way), is babysat by Mary Ellen, while her parents go away. Never mind that the house is full of supernatural paraphernalia, which are locked away – for good reason. Of course one of Mary Ellen’s friends wants to get a good look at the stuff that’s locked away and gets the girls to roller-skate around the block while she has a good stickybeak. Of course Annabelle is down there in a glass case – made of chapel glass to contain the evil – and soon she is set free much to the horror of the girls upon their return. There is a boy involved in the plot, who looks like a young Justin Bieber (1994-), and who wants to woo Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen by the way is a ringer for my niece’s older half sister and Judy and Mary Ellen get along in Annabel Comes Home like half-sisters. My older neice/Mary Ellen was also in love with a young Justin Bieber.
All the mythos seems to point to my family – especially when, in the room that contains all the damned items, a typewriter starts typing: “Miss Me?”. My father’s initials are M.E. But then again so does Mary Ellen. Now M.E. is very close to my neice/Judy and the whole movie seems to point to life without M.E. for my niece/Judy and my mother/Judy. This, if anything, shows the movie has depth and essence. Fortunately, should M.E. die, which eventually he will, hopefully much later, my niece will have pictures/a bust to remember “Father Michael” by – but she may be too young for proper memories. Since they get along beautifully, he will be a good ghost in her life – just like Father Michael. Pity the girls in Annabelle Comes Home for the bad ghosts, including one of a woman in a wedding dress who floats/runs around with a knife after what must have been the disappointment of not getting married. But that’s another story… Anyway the Warrens are a united front when it comes to parenting. Let’s keep it that way.
Call me paranoid, or mad, but in this case I can project my family onto this movie, as the script and the film is so well written and made. In my and my father’s case, we can both rest in peace, it would appear. “Miss me?” on the typewriter to me means I haven’t written anything! Or my grandfather’s typewriter in the cupboard upstairs! I miss him. It would appear Annabelle Comes Home can be viewed by my niece, in the future, should she become a horror fan. So it should age well. Whether the Conjuring universe movies can be enjoyed, especially in terms of scares, on a second viewing or more, especially on the small screen, remains to be seen for me and may depend on the individual. Can we all project our lives onto some of the movies we watch? Do some movies reflect our lives if we look deeply into them? Perhaps the good ones do. Like a doll, they can reflect our personalities. They can have an imagined inner life. Or is this all sounding a bit mad like the ventriloquist in Dead of Night?
Anyway, Annabel Comes Home isn’t particularly scary – I’m pretty jaded these days and it takes a lot to scare – although I had a ghostly experience while housesitting last year – after having seen The Conjuring 2. I woke up about three in the morning in pitch darkness and felt a heavy weight holding me down. I couldn’t move. It felt like there was one or two people holding me down upon my back. I didn’t react in case they did something violent. Feeling genuinely scared I waited until the weight lifted and then I could move. It was then I heard a voice coming from the doorway which said, much in the same voice of Bill in The Conjuring 2: “I’ll make a man of you!”. Then it was gone. I am getting goose-flesh as I write this now. I got out of bed and went to the front door to check it was locked and nobody had come inside. It was locked. I slept with the hall light on for the rest of the night. And for the rest of my stay alone in that house! The dog I was looking after slept peacefully. So there it is, a ghostly experience, and a scary one at that. It is said that South Australia, where this happened, is full of ghosts from the past, especially near the river, which leads to the ocean in that suburb.
Just look at the movie The Dreaming, which features the ghosts of early nineteenth century whalers in South Australia. I discuss it in an article on Wayne Groom. That the ghostly voice was similar to Bill in The Conjuring 2 makes me wonder if it was a case of being on the threshold of a dream. But that heavy weight and that resonating voice!?
There is another element of Annabel Comes Home which should be mentioned and that is the quick snippet on the television screen from the seventies horror show Circle of Fear AKA Ghost Story (1973). The clip is from the episode Doorway to Death and features Leif Garrett (1961-) as a child and his sister Dawn Lyn (1963-). The episode is set in San Francisco and tells of a family who moves into an apartment house. The kids become acquainted with “the man upstairs” who lives behind a bedroom door in a Narnia-like world where there is a log cabin covered in snow. He has an axe and is chopping wood as the snow falls. The kids befriend him until it becomes clear “the man upstairs” is not a very nice person and chopped up his wife. In fact, the man wants to take the children’s older sister (Susan Dey, 1952-) and brick her up in the closet of the upstairs apartment.
Written by Jimmy Sangster (1927-2011 no info), writer of many a British horror movie, who helped produced the Circle of Fear series, it is an odd episode of the closet in San Francisco. It is just, the door, which hides this man, hides a murderer and not a lover of men or women. That is his secret. After saving their sister from being bricked up in the closet, the family decides it probably is best they leave the apartment building and Leif’s younger sister says: “I don’t like him anymore” which is hardly surprising! The episode ends with the door to the bedroom shutting and the secret of the murderer to be discovered by someone else. Circle of Fear has some good episodes, with some good stars, and taken in context is worth a look. It was produced, incidentally, by William Castle, whose horror movies The House on Haunted Hill (1958) and 13 Ghosts (1960), are popular black and white horror fare. In the Doorway to Death episode the horror of the supernatural and the hidden “real” are blended into one. A further link to the Circle of Fear clip of Leif Garrett and his sister in that episode is the movie they made together the following year entitled the Devil Times Five. This is a semi-cult item from 1974. Also entitled Peopletoys, the film tells of a group of five children who are being transported by mini-bus to a secure location. When it crashes, we find these children, also in a snowy mountain location, are really sociopaths and psychopaths. They go to a nearby house where some unsuspecting adults take them in. Of course it is going to end badly for the adults. The premise is one that could be used today to great effect, and while Devil Times Five is marred by reshoots (Leif wears a wig in some scenes), the overall effect of the movie is slightly disturbing although it is by no means a classic. The final line, however, is: “Don’t worry, we’re going to have some brand new toys soon!,” says the kids’ ringleader as they get bored with the bodies of the dead adults. The dead are nothing more than “Peopletoys”.
So here the perversity of playing with dolls is taken to its extreme with the children playing with bodies as if they are mere dolls. With its slow motion killing scenes inspired by The Wild Bunch (1969), or just used to pad the running time, Devil Times Five has a doll link albeit one that is totally real and not supernatural based.
Back to more Devil Dolls and the new Chucky movie reinvents the mythos of the Child’s Play story/stories. Instead of the supernatural spirit of a serial killer possessing a doll, we have a plain old personalised yet futuristic toy, which has had its morals removed from its software. All due to bad quality control in a Vietnam toy sweatshop. Anyway, Andy in this movie receives his new doll, which has software that imprints itself onto its new owner, and Chucky really does love Andy – he would kill to protect him! But Andy isn’t impressed by Chucky’s antisocial behaviour and locks him in the closet one night. Chucky doesn’t like being locked away alone in the closet and so he turns bitter and twisted even against Andy. And so it goes on… The movie is quite good and there is a high gore factor –including a scene where a face has been ripped off and placed on a watermelon. There is a bit of a subplot to that one. I won’t go into it as both Annabel Comes Home and Child’s Play are worth a look. They are heaps better than a lot of the direct to the small screen rubbish that has come out over the years. The last of the Chucky movies before this, the Cult of Chucky (2017), was reasonable and far darker than the black comedies that the Chucky movies eventually became.
To look briefly at other dolls in movies and the latest addition to The Puppet Master franchise is better than the previous three. Subtitled The Littlest Reich, the latest one is set in the present day, disposing of the World War Two setting of the last few, which sadly were not very good. The Littlest Reich though is a bit of a return to form for the Puppet Master movies – if they ever had any form that is – as the dolls start killing people at a small Puppet Master convention, albeit a fictional one, where “original” merchandise come to life.
Clear winner in cult terms of the Devil Doll genre are the British 1945 film Dead of Night I mentioned earlier, which introduced the modern day horror anthology. The final segment features a disturbed ventriloquist and his doll and the bizarre relationship which ends up in attempted murder and madness. Michael Redgrave’s performance in that movie is exceptional. The dialogue between dummy and master, or dummy as the master is riveting. Try and see it for this segment alone. If you don’t like old black and white movies then avoid it. The concept was taken further with Anthony Hopkins in the film Magic (1978) with a doll named Fats. Murder and madness ensues and the film isn’t as bad as its reputation given to it by critics. There is another ventriloquist doll movie made in Britain in the early 1960s entitled Devil Doll (1964). The doll in this movie is names Hugo – which was also the name of the doll in Dead of Night. This movie is more about voodoo rites and souls being trapped inside the body of dolls. It gets better with an extra viewing or two.
However, what remains my favourite doll movie of all time, would have to be director Stuart Gordon’s underrated Dolls (1987). Gordon is of course responsible for the classic Re-animator (1985) movie. Dolls, tells of a group of people who gather for shelter in an old mansion owned by an elderly couple who have a massive collection of dolls. Little do a couple of punks who have come to stay know, that the dolls come to life and kill those who don’t really like dolls – or who want to rob the old couple.
Coming in at under 80 minutes and shot in Italy, it stars the late Stephen Lee (1955-2014 heart attack) and, as the elderly couple, Guy Rolfe (1911-2003 no info) known for the Puppet Master movies and Hilary Mason (1917-2006 no info). I don’t know, it’s just a cult movie, and after you check it out, you may want to check it out again. It captures all of the old dark house in a thunderstorm atmosphere with some neatly drawn characters. It is low budget and that may hurt for some people but what they achieved under the circumstances is great.
So am I just a little bit mad for having dreamt up a ghost that sounded like Bill in The Conjuring 2? Am I just paranoid for projecting my family onto Annabelle Comes Home? Perhaps writer/director Gary Dauberman (no info) has come up with something special. He also co-wrote It and the upcoming sequel or part two. He is, from what I hear, a Christian.
I did have a G.I. Joe doll once. He got buried with full honours, I kid you not, and placed under a brick as a slab, back when I was about ten years old. He had recently got run over by a train on the railway line next to our house after being chewed by our dog. Poor bugger!
It was about then I started to read horror novels, graduating from Tintin, including a bit later, The Amityville Horror, in our big, old rundown house. I didn’t really believe in ghosts back then, or haunted houses – the book still gave me shivers though, enough to question the fact. But now I’m not so sure! Are we just a little bit psychic some of us? Some much more than others! Do other people, perhaps evil, project their thoughts upon us, as if we are dolls as we sleep? To make us feel bad? And do they live in this reality or in the next realm? They live, it seems, somewhere. I still sleep with the light on in the hallway, mainly so I don’t trip over. But, hopefully, with the odd prayer, I can rest in peace. In the Dead of Night. With no recurring dream of Hugo/Chucky/Annabelle and the supernatural.