Posted by Jason Sizemore on Dec 20, 2012 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 0 comments
By Jessica Nelson
As the gift-giving holidays arrive, I honestly can’t think of better fictional characters to discuss than dangerous toys. The sky is dark, lights twinkle around windows and weigh down the boughs of the Christmas or Yule tree. Perhaps the menorah adorns a table near a window, instead (although, I should mention I believe this year, Hanukkah ends just before this will post). It’s cold outside, maybe even snowy. People are relaxing by the fire or snuggled into bed under layers of cozy, warm blankets, and the kids are having their fabled sugar-plum dreams.
There are most likely a number of gifts awaiting giving tucked under your tree, or hidden away in a closet somewhere. If there are kids in your home, their rooms are likely already fairly well-stocked with toys, and the brightly wrapped gifts probably contain a few more. What did you get for the kids in your life this year? Any dolls? Toy soldiers? Action figures? Puppets? Are they bent over double, squished uncomfortably into a square box for easy wrapping? Are they lying there in bubble packs, muscles bulging, eyes unblinking and blank?
Aside from the 80s rock band of the same name, dangerous toys are usually dolls or doll-like (with a few exceptions) toys which have been possessed by evil spirits or which have been cursed by some dark magic. They appear in books such as Daniel Ransom’s Toys in the Attic and Tick Tock, by Dean Koontz. The former features boys in an orphanage who are gifted with tin soldiers before they mysteriously disappear without a trace. The latter features a found rag doll, with something deeply sinister inside.
Many television shows have also featured killer toys. The Twilight Zone had a number of episodes revolving around dolls or ventriloquist dummies, and The X-Files had one that involved a doll, as well. The X-Files episode, titled “Chinga,” was originally written by Stephen King, then rewritten by Chris Carter, creator of the series, to make it flow more like the usual X-Files episodes. “Chinga’
The most prolific format for dangerous or killer toys, though, seems to be film. Although the killer duck from The Nightmare Before Christmas is more likely to make us laugh than be fearful, most movies featuring killer toys are both delightfully cheesy and wonderfully creepy, all at once. From the puppets hidden away in the walls of the hotel in Puppet Master to the huge, toothy clown doll that pulls little Robbie Freeling under the bed in Poltergeist, most killer toys in movies are the stuff nightmares and lifelong phobias are made of.
The killer toy most probably think of first and foremost, is Chucky, from the 1988 movie, Child’s Play. In Child’s Play, serial killer Charles Lee Ray transfers his soul into the body of a Good Guy Doll before he dies. This doll is later sold to the mother of a six year old boy named Andy, who is overjoyed about his new doll, Chucky. Things turn a bit sideways once dear old Chucky kills the babysitter, though, and when Charles Lee Ray learns he can only transfer his soul into the first person he reveals his secret to, little Andy isn’t so happy to see him anymore. Child’s Play has spawned four sequels so far, with a fifth planned to go straight to video.
My personal favorite killer toy movie is 1987′s Dolls. In Dolls, a mixed group of people take shelter from a violent storm at a big, beautiful house owned by two elderly toy makers. The house is stuffed full of painstakingly handcrafted dolls and puppets, and the elderly couple make the strangers at home for the night. But as the night wears on, the strangers discover the dolls used to be people just like them, flawed and jaded, sometimes even criminal, who were killed by the elderly couple and imprisoned in the bodies of the various toys. Now, they come to claim more of their own, but leave two of this group to live: the innocent young girl named Judy and a man named Ralph, so young at heart as to be nearly a child, himself.
I think Dolls is my favorite because it does a great job of underscoring what it is that really ‘gets’ us as far as dangerous toys are concerned. Toys are made for children and those so young at heart as to still be able to give a great deal of real love to an inanimate object as if it were a living, breathing thing. It takes a certain sort of person to give a toy proper anthropomorphic respect, as did the two survivors of Dolls (though it should be noted that poor Ralph nearly failed for fear). As we grow, we are told we should put away childish things. We’re taught we should grow up, and act our age. When we listen to these admonitions, we let the children inside us wither and die, often becoming jaded, fearful, and bitter. Some of us struggle to find the balance between pretending to be respectable, responsible grown-ups and continuing to nurture that simple purity.
Toys – especially dolls and other toys with faces- recall the days when we didn’t have to fight so hard to cling to our innocence. Their very existence is based on our human need for comfort and protection from vulnerability. We remember when we so easily imbued these things with human characteristics, and we slip back into that mindset so easily – if we ever left it, as some of us never really do – and it makes it so easy to imagine that these situations could really happen. When we hug our rag dolls and teddy bears so close to our hearts, knowing only their love can catch our tears and heal our fears, what could be more terrifying than the thought that those sole guardians of our hearts could someday turn on us? And after loving them so strongly and so completely, how could we ever hurt them, even if it meant our lives?
Well, you have fun thinking about that as you remember how you squeezed that teddy bear into that tiny little box so it was easier to wrap. When you poke your head in to check on little Johnny or Jane tonight, try not to notice all those glittering little eyes staring out from the rows of stuffed animals piled at the end of the bed, and if you step on that little plastic army guy that was left in the middle of the floor, don’t worry – he totally didn’t skewer you with his bayonet on purpose. That would just be silly.
Jessica Nelson is a writer who found out the hard way that she’s a city girl at heart. She currently resides in the Twin Cities metro area with her husband and two daughters. Visit her on the web at http://allwaysunmended.com.