Of all the classic horror movie tropes, "killer doll" may seem like the least terrifying of the bunch, but the lasting legacies of Chucky and Annabelle tell a different story. For every laughable toy–cum–homicidal maniac (see: The Boy), there is probably at least one plastic predator whose face has kept you up at night. Don't believe us? Check out any one of these movies, which are all streaming on a device near you.
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"Living Doll" (1963)
OK, so we're cheating a bit here with "Living Doll," as it's a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone, and not a movie at all. Still, for many people Telly Savalas taking on Talky Tina—his stepdaughter's straight-shooting doll that doesn't hesitate to spit out lines like "You'll be sorry" and "I'm going to kill you"—was their introduction to the killer doll trope. Whereas many other titles within the subgenre recognize the ridiculousness of the setup and play toward that, "Living Doll" treats its antagonist as a seriously terrifying creature hanging out on the wing of a plane.
Where to stream it: Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix
Child's Play (1988)
Over the course of 31 years, "Good Guy" doll Chucky has appeared in eight features (including the recent reboot), a couple of short films, comic books, and videogames, and will be getting his own series in 2020. Yes, the premise has always been a little silly: A cherubic ginger doll is possessed by the soul of a serial killer. This is largely the reason why the series endures, since the creators haven't shied away from playing up the stupidity of it all. Like the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, the Child's Play movies have increasingly walked the line between horror and black comedy, with Chucky as well known for his biting one-liners as his penchant for bloodshed. But the original entry, created by Don Mancini and directed by Fright Night's Tom Holland (no, not that Tom Holland), is as close to straight horror as you'll get. And undoubtedly the franchise's best. (Bride of Chucky, which sees Jennifer Tilly's Tiffany matching wits with Brad Dourif as Chucky, is also a fun watch, mostly for its audacious scenery-chewing.)
Where to stream it: Amazon Prime, Hulu
Puppet Master (1989)
The late '80s was a heyday for killer doll movies. Just one year after Child's Play came into the world, Charles Band's Puppet Master arrived on the scene. It's the story of a puppet collector who uses an ancient Egyptian spell to bring his specimens to life. But not all of them like the way they're being treated, so they flee the scene and go on a murderous rampage. Nazis are involved. The film scores points for both its creepy puppets and its nerve to bring Hitler into the story. Thirty years later, there are an impressive 13 installments in the series.
Where to stream it: Tubi
The Conjuring (2013)
If you think of The Conjuring as more of a haunted house movie, you'd be right. The first film in the popular franchise largely centers around the real-life work of husband-and-wife paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who are asked to help a family determine the source of increasingly violent supernatural happenings in their Rhode Island farmhouse. But this is also the movie that gave audiences their first glimpse of Annabelle, the genuinely terrifying doll who ended up with a spinoff franchise all her own (most recently with Annabelle Comes Home).
Where to stream it: Netflix, HBO Go
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Like any horror franchise, the Annabelle movies have had their ups and downs. While Annabelle Comes Home is doing well both at the box office and with critics, Annabelle: Creation has so far been the best of the bunch. Which isn't to say that it's not without its flaws (there are the requisite jump scares and other cheap thrills), but it's an interesting origin story nonetheless. After losing their daughter Annabelle in a tragic car accident, Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) turn their home into an orphanage in order to help young children in need and hopefully heal some of their own personal wounds. But all hell breaks loose—literally—when a demonic spirit invites itself to take up residence in the home too. Then it eventually possesses one of the young girls and takes her deadly show on the road.
Where to stream it: Amazon Video, iTunes, YouTube
Tobe Hooper's classic horror film (or was it Steven Spielberg's? That's a question for another article) taught us to be afraid of, well, pretty much everything, including televisions, trees, fried chicken, and fancy housing developments. But it also served as a stark reminder that clown dolls are utterly terrifying. Particularly when they're oversized and have a tendency to hide under beds and/or attempt to choke you to death. No matter how many times you've seen the movie, if you don't get a lump in your throat every time poor Robbie (Oliver Robins) looks under that damn bed, you might want to check that you have a pulse.
Where to stream it: Netflix
Trilogy of Terror (1975)
In many ways, Trilogy of Terror is better than anyone might expect. Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis directed this made-for-TV anthology, which stars Oscar nominee Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces) in three unrelated tales penned by Richard Matheson. They certainly saved for the best for last. "Amelia," the final segment, plays more like a one-woman show in which Black spends half an hour being chased around her apartment by a tiny, spear-wielding Zuni "fetish doll" she bought for her character's anthropologist boyfriend. The blood-thirsty antagonist barely reaches above her ankles, which is part of what makes him so scary. But the real star here is Black, who ups the theatrics to an 11 in a way that is both campy and creepy. While the movie was originally supposed to air in prime time, many television stations across the country—fearing fainthearted viewers—pushed its debut time into an late-night spot instead.
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Where to stream it: Amazon Prime
Whether they're wreaking havoc or yukking it up, there's something inherently unnerving about ventriloquist dummies (aka figures). Even more so when you're a struggling magician (Anthony Hopkins) whose mental instability causes some confusion about whether it's you or your dummy calling the shots in your romantic life. Much like Trilogy of Terror, Magic is one of the rare killer doll films that comes with an A-list pedigree: Richard Attenborough directed the film from a William Goldman screenplay (based on a William Goldman novel), with Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, and Burgess Meredith starring. Fun fact: Hopkins was pretty terrified of Fats the dummy, who was made in his likeness. So much so that when he took it home to practice and prepare for shooting, he ended up calling the doll's creator in the middle of the night and asking him to come take it away before he disposed of it himself.
Where to stream it: Amazon Video
Cult director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) is behind the camera on this underrated '80s horror flick that sees a thunderstorm force two groups of strangers to spend the night at the home of Gabriel and Hilary Hartwick (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason), a seemingly lovely dollmaker and his wife who have what might be the largest collection of creepy dolls ever assembled on film. Over the course of the evening, however, it's revealed that witchcraft has played a part in creating these dolls, who have minds of their own and have been programmed to believe that kids (not adults) are their friends and that childhood should be protected at all costs. In a way, it's like a horror movie version of Toy Story, in that growing up and forgetting about the toys you loved as a kid is the real tragedy—only in this case, it comes with deadly repercussions.
Where to stream it: Amazon Prime