October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the creepiest horror movie puppets is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Tiny pretend people. If their life comes from something other than a hand up their back, I want nothing to do with them. When they spring into being within a horror film, their supernatural scurrying sends shivers through my system in a fashion unlike any other scary movie jolt. They represent existence where there should be none, toys made for our pleasure who revolt against our mastery—puppets as symbols of our inevitable collapse from the top of the food chain. We must squash every doll today so they may not rise up tomorrow.
The Boo Crew, consisting of Chris Coffel, Rob Hunter, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, and myself, have assembled the usual suspects. Yes, Chucky will appear (but maybe not in the position you would think). However, we’re not ready to bow to the obvious marionettes either, and you’ll discover diabolical puppets you’ve probably not yet considered. This is good. We need to control the narrative. We can’t let these little scrabblers get the upper hand.
10. Dead of Night (1945)
Where would spooky puppets be if not for Hugo, the dummy strapped to the arm of ventriloquist Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) in the anthology film Dead of Night? “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” is the most celebrated segment in the anthology film, thanks in no small part to the one-two punch of Redgrave’s performance and the uncanny quality of Hugo. Redgrave does the heavy lifting tying his character into knots of anxiety, but it’s Hugo and his wooden grin and piercing voice that keeps surfacing the creeps over 80 years later. If it weren’t for Hugo, we would never have seen Cliff Robertson lose his marbles in The Twilight Zone episode “The Dummy,” nor would we have gotten arguably Anthony Hopkins’ best performance as the dual characters of Corky and Fats in Richard Attenborough’s Magic. (Jacob Trussell)
9. Child’s Play (1988)
What the hell? How is Chucky so far down this list? I really need to discuss this slight with the rest of my Boo Crew associates. This little Good Guy is the king of evil dolls as far as I’m concerned. He’s a vicious response to the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of the 1980s, taking the Garbage Pail Kids mockery one step further into the homicidal. Brad Dourif’s puppet-trapped serial killer pretends that he wants out of his circumstance and into the body of a real-live boy, but he’s never been happier in his work than he is here as the predatory Pinocchio. Child’s Play is a demented slasher that stands weirdly outside most horror movie franchises, but Chucky deserves the same respect as Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees. He may be small, but his body count is as equally impressive as those other killer cats. (Brad Gullickson)
8. Krampus (2015)
You’re going to find a lot of clown puppets on this list of the best horror movie puppets. Dolls that come to life are scary. Clowns are scary. Smash them together, and you’ve got pure nightmare fuel. Der Klown in Krampus doesn’t merely rely on his creepy state of being; he throws in a few added bits to deliver that zhuzh. One, he’s a Jack-in-the-Box, providing a boost of a surprise to an already terrifying encounter, which also transforms his torso into a tentacle of sorts. Two, his mouth doesn’t crack the usual smile; it splits vertically as well as horizontally. Jesus Christ, no thanks to that. Der Klown’s hard expression also implies a much more ferocious face beneath the one he’s presenting. He’s a puppet, but one built upon demonic flesh. There’s an evil heart that beats beneath that costume, proving his actions come with treacherous intention. (Brad Gullickson)
7. Saw (2004)
What’s the deal with Billy? The puppet only makes the loosest sense as the emissary for John Kramer’s life or death traps. Tobin Bell’s philosopher killer doesn’t really seem like the gothy clown type, but there’s some hidden part to his personality that birthed this horrendous doll, and after seven films and a few reboots, we still have never met that side of him. But that’s okay; we all deserve our mysterious affectations. Whatever inspires Kramer to build his traps is between him and his inevitable oblivion. Kramer is like the rest of us. He’s seen plenty of movies. He knows he needs his gimmick, and that’s Billy. (Brad Gullickson)
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Yes, there are a lot of creepily-made horror movie puppets on this list. But what about human puppets? Well, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors has them both, and it’s traumatizing, to say the least. First, Krueger transforms into one of the marionette puppets owned by Phillip, one of the patients at Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. It’s an impressive moment of stop-motion claymation that shows Krueger’s face slowly emerging from a lump of clay. Then, as he manifests into Phillip’s room, he slices open his wrists and legs, pulling out tendons to make Phillip one of his beloved puppets.
It’s an absolute hellish nightmare to watch Phillip be dragged down the hall by his body parts in the hands of the bladed villain. He screams in agony as he can do little to stop his fate. Krueger then throws Phillip off the roof of the hospital to make it look like a suicide. The kicker: the “puppet strings” are only in Phillip’s dreams, so no one can see what puppet master Krueger is doing to the poor boy. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
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