From Chucky to Annabelle...the children’s toys making a killing at the box office

By AFP
Published: June 24, 2017
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PHOTO:FILE

PHOTO:FILE

Take away a vampire’s teeth and he’s just a Goth that can’t handle garlic. Wait for some decent cloud cover and your average werewolf is about as scary as Lassie.

But there is one enduring horror trope that can have grown men and women gnawing at their fingernails: the creepy, haunted child’s toy.

From malevolent teddy bears and possessed clowns to murderous porcelain dolls rocking menacingly in their chairs, these toys have become a multi-million dollar staple adored by fans and studio executives alike.

The killer toy resonates so profoundly because of the cognitive dissonance involved in the idea of a child’s cuddly toy going rogue, according to film experts. “There’s something very primal about absurdist fears, which is something I posit that most of us never completely grow out of,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, told AFP. “In a twisted way, that just makes it more fun for adults.”

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Annabelle: Creation, which has blown away critics and earned a 100% rating ahead of its summer release, is the latest example of a genre spanning more than 100 movies. But killer toys have been scaring theatergoers since Lionel Barrymore played cross-dressing fugitive selling life-like dolls that were actually shrunken humans in The Devil-Doll in 1936.

Child’s Play (1988) introduced perhaps the most famous evil doll of them all, Chucky – a crude, hard-drinking misogynist who went on to appear in four sequels and two straight-to-DVD movies.

After a fallow period, Australian filmmaker James Wan resurrected the creepy toy trope to huge success with Billy, the Jigsaw Killer’s puppet in Saw (2004) and its sequels, as well as in Dead Silence (2007).

His most significant contribution, however, has been Annabelle, a haunted porcelain doll first seen in The Conjuring (2013). Based on a real, supposedly haunted “Raggedy Ann” doll that can be visited in a museum in Connecticut, Annabelle is regarded by many as the creepiest doll in cinema history.

Annabelle, a commercially successful but critically unadmired spin-off, came out in 2014. Wan is the producer on the much more impressive origin story Annabelle: Creation, due out on August 11. The movie’s impressive latest trailer has increased optimism for a healthy $25-30 million domestic opening weekend.

Filmed over the summer of 2016 at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, the deliciously bloodcurdling prequel focuses on a doll-maker and his wife, whose daughter died 20 years earlier. Murder and mayhem ensue as they decide to open their home to girls from a shuttered orphanage, only to reawaken the doll-maker’s possessed creation.

“Annabelle just has such a rich history,” 36-year-old Swedish director David Sandberg said this week. “She’s based on a real doll, and James did such a good job setting her up in The Conjuring that people just associate her with evil.”

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