Monday, October 3, 2016

"Mastery of Dolls" by Whitney Williams (ENG 102: Fall 2016)

Two movies: Dead Silence (2007) and The Boy (2016). Both of these horror films exhibit a distressing performance of dolls. But why a doll in a horror movie? Why are they a perturbing sight? When did their aurora of innocence convert to one of dismay? To strike fear using a mere motionless prop, such as a doll, in a film may be dismissed as unpretentious, but when actually pondered, is perceived as a daunting task. The whole experience of petrifying an audience successfully is a process. Sly directors manipulate the viewer by a slow, torturous release of a doll’s actions and motives, thus causing one to be left to their own imagination…enough to launch one into the realm of fear (Goodman). Each movie struck fear from a different angle. Dead Silence slipped into a sensation of mystery shadowed by ghastly consequences, whereas The Boy assembled anticipation from an expectancy derived from the very commencement of the film. But how were these masterpieces carried out in such a magnificent form? We shall see…
Dolls are a trademark in history: a typical young female child’s play mate. Dated over 4,000 years old, the first dolls ever discovered were not exactly realistic, fashioned from rock, cloth, or straw. But around the 18-19th century, they became a staple in the household and a socially acceptable toy for young girls. Demonstrating an air of domesticity, accessories were fabricated to demonstrate suitable attire and lifestyles of a woman. At this point, their facial features had sprung to life, and so did the current complex emotions. How would one identify their emotions toward a doll? In 1877, The New York Times was the first to marque this sensation as “creeped out”. Naturally some might seek out the solution to this dilemma as diagnosing one with Pediophobia (the fear of dolls), but genuinely reflect on that for a second. A phobia is a pure utter surge of fear at the sight, or even the mention of whatever the subject of the phobia may be. Now if alarmed by the dolls in a film, does that mean you have Pediophobia? Surely not. Although some do indeed obtain this phobia, the rest of the world only struck with fear from a horror movie is not quite as extreme. As explained by Psychologist McAndrew in McRobbie’s “The History of Creepy Dolls”, the “creeped out” sensation pertains to our lack of judgement completion. Dolls register as a form of mimicry to individuals because of their palpable resemblance to us through our sense of facial recognition, though we are aware they are not actually human. Thus, this creates a jumble between mind and instinct. General social cues are held as an expectation to humans. If someone were standing too close, or perceived gawking repetitively, you would achieve a sense of wariness. In a way, we naturally hold dolls to the same expectation. Though they appear human, their glassy, unblinking eyes feel as if they pierce your soul, along with unease from their unremitting smile. Failing to meet social standards, we become unaware of their intentions (McRobbie). Are they dangerous?  What are they staring at? Why must they smile at me? Dolls no longer embrace the same reputation, and perhaps never will.
Directors have mastered probing deeper into the mystery and mastery of creating film with dolls, and how they grasp onto our vulnerability in order to toy with it to (odd enough) our satisfaction. Why dolls in a movie? The first horror film to represent a doll without its innocent form was released in the 1950’s. The film industry had just initiated a chain, a new subgenre of the horror realm. With the widespread stress of jobs, marriage, and family life only building, these movies provided child-like characters which were out of control. In turn, parents’ stress levels only built with the images of insane childlike characters now roaming in their imagination-only to remind them of their own (Nastasi). But since then, the doll fragment of the horror movie genre has evolved immensely. The already declared “creepy” lifeless doll is currently paired with several techniques put into seven steps (Riggio).
#1: Fear of Death. People often gain a sense of hopelessness from the scenes where a victim is slain (Riggio). Usually a victim provided in a way to where the audience gains an attachment, and subsequently, is dismayed by their demise (Calvo). Although these scenes can be horrific, some people build a tolerance to it, and they need much more to be frightened, which leads to the next point (Riggio).
#2: The Dark. Since we were children, there has always been a fear of the dark, a fear of the unknown. When unable to use our dominant sense, sight, we become vulnerable, incapable to keenly detect danger. Therefore, films will portray scenes either completely black, or nearly so in order to tease the viewer (Riggio).
#3: Crawly Things. This point demonstrates any scorpion, snake, or cockroach that made your skin crawl. Insects protruding from the eyes or mouths of dolls are seen time and time again for the effect of disgust and repulsion…and it surely does so (Riggio).
#4: Scary Places. Now this step certainly secedes the horror genre from any other. The venue for a set will incorporate step #2, a dark interior, and other rudiments causing discomfort, such as a dilapidating structure, an old creaking house, abandoned cottages, or sites that enclose a dark past (Riggio).
#5: Dismemberment. Most times, we are never granted the actual movements of the doll to view. Therefore, after a death like point #1 or dismemberment, it is often left to our imagination of how the feat took place…adding to the “creepiness” of the still doll’s presence (Riggio).
#6: Suspense. Probably the most common effect used, yet also the most effective (Riggio). Suspense can be captured among several forms such as perspective called “The Dark Voyeur.” This framing device presents a view that appears to be “the lurking villain” (in this case the doll). Viewed through bushes, from behind curtains, and within dark closets, this technique indicates man’s vulnerability, then grasps onto the false sense of security the viewer once had in the victim only to slashes it to slivers. They do not even notice! The doll is behind you! Look out! If anyone could survive the attack, it would have been the victim…but now they are lost. Now it has given the viewer a sense of hopelessness…once again (Calvo)!
#7: Audio. Horror films dramatize any sound such as a creaky door, when in reality they might not have even heard the door at all. It even dramatizes the silence. A dead, still, silence slices the atmosphere until hearts start to race. Then slow music eventually creeps its way into the scene. Soft at first. Then louder. And louder!  Everyone knows by this point that something is about to unfold! And BOOM! Shaken out of your seat, it was the most horrific event you have seen in your life! Why? Because they built the suspense with music deliberately building the tempo and volume (Riggio). Each distinct idea reinforces the next. Psychologically, we are impacted to a level of pure mastery. From this, it is no marvel that film makers may seize inanimate objects only to create a masterpiece that will momentarily annihilate our minds.

Dead Silence. The title itself, directed by James Wan, describes the nature of the villainous ventriloquist doll. Until the doll arrived into the lives of an innocent couple. The initial setting in the apartment exhibited itself as neutral, but when an unexpected package arrived concealing a doll, the camera leads you to a musty hallway. The neutral apartment is now led to appeal the same. This one scene shifts the atmosphere. Upon the unfastening of the package, the doll’s eyes, lifelike and thickly lined with black, stare penetratingly and purposefully-initiating a tone of dread and pessimism. Not much time elapses before people become anxious about the doll. The doll’s mouth opened on its own before their eyes, which led to the female partner insisting that it could surely not be alive to her husband. During the event of an attack, the doll, which is merely one out of 101, extracts sound out of the atmosphere. This dramatizes the atmosphere of the room-propelling it to a complete stillness-building the anticipation. Throughout the movie, this occurrence remains a staple in predicting the doll’s next attack. Whenever the eyes moved to creep on its prey, or its head rotates, the creek of the wood is exaggerated and effectively heard by the audience. Captivated by the rancorous spirit of the Mary Shaw, the dolls frighten innocent victims, threatened them not to scream or else they lose their tongues…and their life. Most people scream, especially women, therefore, a surge of hopelessness arises. Who could resist muttering a peep while a possessed doll launches their, moments before, lifeless body toward them. Nobody. Until this point, the only fatalities had been adults. But further on, a child, whom had once offended Mary Shaw and gone missing, was exposed assembled into a fleshy doll himself, which she also possessed. Already on edge, a viewer could not help but marvel and cringe. Dead Silence incorporated several tactics to disturb the mind of innocent viewers, and perhaps tainted them with a trace of regret from witnessing the flick.
            The delusional atmosphere of The Boy, directed by William Bell, causes ones to question themselves. Though first accused of as a pure demonstration of peer pressure and insanity, this masterpiece proves otherwise. The film resided in an ancient, dim-lit mansion. How erratic. From the opening, the original caretakers or “parents” raise an air of uncertainty from their questionable persona as they leave their “son” in the hands of a new caretaker while they wish to depart for a “vacation”. Fear of the unknown is relinquished through the expectations the parents present-the expectation that the “boy” is indeed alive and emotional, punishing those who do not abide by a list of requests. This doll’s abrupt movements and unexplainable disappearances contribute to the sense of no control to the victim as well as viewer. The appearance of the doll is quaint, frail, and peculiar. The white faced porcelain boy is dressed in a suit, and positioned in a proper posture, such as a high class citizen of another era. This doll led to more of a mystery then in Dead Silence. His passive aggressive nature provided an in depth sensation of unpredictability. Because the new caretaker did not believe the doll was alive, she did not complete tasks and left the doll to its own. If not pleased with a task, or if left incomplete, the doll would alter his position to be closer to his caretaker. Tears would fall from his face. Frazzled, the caretaker realizes this monstrosity’s ability and completes the list flawlessly until one day receiving a letter from the original caretakers that they would never return, due to suicide. Left alone at the mercy of a doll, this young caretaker lived in utter despair. The doll, though silent and not nearly as violent as regular horror films, is alarming from the mere air of dominance over the life of a human. The fact that this human could not control her own life, or live out her own desires, from the ambiguous fate she would witness.
            Horrific images fill our minds. We are left psychologically played and pleased from the revulsion we experienced just instants earlier. Though we are automatically anxious from dolls, aptitude is required to transmute our perception to the next level: horror. The Boy and Dead Silence are perfect demonstrations of this work. Dead Silence depicts a violent angle, with specimens of death and consequences of innocent patrons, whereas The Boy casts an ambiguous eagerness from mystery and passive aggressive deeds. Now cognizant of the explanations behind this fear, will it affect the level of apprehension during horror films with a doll base? I trust it will not. 

Works Cited
Calvo, A.D. “So You Want to Make a Horror Film? On Jump Scares and Other Basics of Fright” FILMMAKER (October 28, 2013):
Dead Silence. (USA. James Wan.) 2007.
Goodman, Jessica. “ ‘Annabelle’ Director Explains How To Make A Terrifying Horror Movie In 5 Steps.” The Huffington Post. (October 3, 2014):
McRobbie, Linda. “The History of Creepy Dolls.” (July 15, 2015):
Nastasi, Alison. “Why are there so many creepy kids, dolls, and clowns in horror movies?” Hopes and Fears:
Ph. D. Riggio, Ronald. “The Top Ten Things That Make Horror Movies Scary.” Psychology Today (October 21, 2014):

The Boy. (USA/Canada. William Brent Bell.) 2016.

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