Underrated Killer Doll Movies to Watch After M3GAN

Chucky, Annabelle, and M3GAN are all pop stars, but dig deeper into cinema history and you'll find killer dolls for days.

Pin, Ghosthouse, The Doll Master, Dolls

You know Chucky and Annabelle and Brahms and M3GAN… but do you recall the least famous killer doll of all? Probably not, because then it would be more famous, but you should know more killer dolls! While those aforementioned characters tend to get all the attention, and if you’re reading Den of Geek then you’ve probably seen at least one of the 10,000 Puppet Master movies, there is still a veritable toy store full of pint-sized killers.

It’s not hard to see why. On the surface, there’s nothing particularly scary about dolls, even if they come to life. After all, they’re only a couple feet tall – most of us could boot the stupid things across the room before they could do any damage. But the best killer doll movies use that sense of safety to their advantage, building tension by putting the monster in the room with unsuspecting victims. 

As much as Chucky, The Twilight Zone’s Talky Tina, and creepy ventriloquist dolls such as Corky (Magic) and Slappy (Goosebumps) set the mold for the subgenre, lesser-known entries have their own unique and interesting takes. If you need some more killer doll stories in your collection, here are ten of the lesser-known best. 

Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night

Dead of Night

Perhaps the biggest knock against killer doll movies is that the best entries aren’t always killer doll movies, at least not entirely. Before the Chucky and Puppet Master franchises, the dolls were often entries in anthology movies. That’s the case with one of the earliest examples of the subgenre, “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” from the 1945 British movie Dead of Night. And as so often happens with these examples, the killer doll stories are the best parts of the movies. 

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Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti and written by John Baines, “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” doesn’t boast the same fancy special effects that you’d find in modern films. But it makes up for it with judicious use of the titular doll’s lifeless eyes. Told with the efficiency of the best Twilight Zone episodes (including the 1962 entry “The Dummy”), “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” squeezes a full-size helping of horror into a tiny, terrifying package.  

Trilogy of Terror Doll

Trilogy of Terror

Like Dead of Night, Trilogy of Terror is an anthology movie, this time featuring three adaptations of Richard Matheson stories, each starring Karen Black and directed by Dan Curtis for ABC television in 1975. While the first two entries live up to their tv movie expectations, the third, “Amelia”, transcends them. 

“Amelia” tells a claustrophobic tale about a woman hunted by a wooden figure inhabited by the spirit of a Zuni hunter (not the most culturally sensitive story). Thanks to Black’s committed performance, “Amelia” solves the biggest problem facing killer doll movies – convincing the audience that anyone would be scared by an attacker who could be easily punted across the room. But Black makes use of her isolated location to convince us that death could come at any second from the pint-sized pursuer. 



The idea of a Stuart Gordon-directed killer doll movie, produced by Charles Band and Brian Yuzna, certainly brings to mind all manner of ghoulish goodness. But Gordon takes a surprisingly subdued approach with 1987’s Dolls, which is more of a scary fairy tale than the director’s more famous collaborations with Band and Yuzna, Re-Animator and From Beyond.

Written by Ed Naha, Dolls starts with a familiar spooky premise where a stranded family seeks shelter in a nearby mansion. The owners Gabriel and Hilary (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason) seem kind enough, even giving young Judy (Carrie Lorraine) a doll from their extensive collection to replace her missing Teddy. But when the dolls seem to be involved in terrible accidents around the house, Judy’s father David (Ian Patrick Williams) realizes there’s more to these toys. Although less shocking than some of the others on this list, Dolls is an effective little fright flick that shows another side of the legendary director. 

Sammy Snyders in The Pit

The Pit

I am stretching my own criteria here, as The Pit isn’t solely a killer doll movie. Instead, it is a weird mishmash of genres, culminating in cheesy 80s Canadian goodness (although shot in Wisconsin, the Canada of the U.S.). It combines a killer doll (here in the form of a psychic teddy bear), a killer kid, and a creature feature for something wonderfully weird. 

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Sammy Snyders stars as Jamie, a pre-teen driven mad by lust and murder instructions from his teddy bear Teddy. To facilitate Jamie’s newly-developed homicidal tendencies, he’s found a pit full of prehistoric monsters he calls “Trogs,” who love nothing more than to tear apart any person who falls in their way. Under Teddy’s instruction, Jamie lures hapless victims into the pit, where they get mauled to death by the Trogs. Yeah, it’s not exactly the purest of killer doll stories, but how can you ignore such a lovable mess?

Silent Night Deadly Night 5

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker

You probably know Silent Night, Deadly Night as a seminal killer Santa movie, and its sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 as a seminal garbage day movie. But did you know that the third and fourth entries in the franchise have nothing to do with Christmas or slashers, and are about witches and bugs? Did you further know that the fifth entry is a Pinocchio riff starring Mickey Rooney (vocal critic of the original Silent Night, Deadly Night) as toymaker Joe Petto? And did you know that the fifth entry is co-written by the aforementioned Stuart Gordon collaborator Brian Yuzna, who directed the fourth entry? 

The fifth Silent Night, Deadly Night takes a hard turn from the previous four entries, telling a (relatively) sweeter story about a grieving father and his odd son Pino (see where this is going?). I mean, sure it has an army of killer toys and Pino assaulting a woman while begging him to be his mother, but given where the series began, that counts as sweetness. 



Once again, we have a movie that uses the Pinocchio story to lend some class to the trashy killer doll trope, but this time… it’s Canadian! Directed by Sandor Stern, Pin stars David Hewlett as Leon, a young man who was taught by his physician father (Terry O’Quinn) about the human body through a ventriloquist doll called Pin. Even more weird is Leon’s response to watching a nurse take sexual advantage of Pin, triggering in the boy a hatred of women and a belief that the doll is real. 

Not unlike The Pit, Pin follows a troubled lad whose murderous tendencies get filtered through his doll. But Stern strikes a surprisingly compelling mix between psychological complexity and outright trash. Even better, the movie features Jonathan Banks – yes, Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad – as the voice of Pin, making the visually disturbing humanoid even more unsettling. 

Maria Leonora Teresa

Maria Leonora Teresa

Given their inextricable association with children, it makes sense that so many killer doll movies threaten kids. But the 2014 Filipino movie Maria Leonora Teresa goes one step further by featuring dead kids. Lots of dead kids. Directed by Wenn V. Deramas, Maria Leonora Teresa stars Jodi Sta. Maria, Iza Calzado, and Zanjoe Marudo as three parents whose children die in a bus accident seemingly orchestrated by the specter of a burned boy. As a form of radical therapy, a psychologist (Cris Villanueva) presents the parents with dolls made to resemble the dead children, which they reluctantly accept. 

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As you can probably guess, the dolls quickly become tiny little murderers. But unless you’re familiar with Filipino cinema, you probably didn’t expect Maria Leonora Teresa to be so invested in the emotional side of the story. Deramas blends drama with horror to fully explore the fallout of losing one’s child. Rather than diminish the terror, this strong character work makes it all the more frightening when the movie goes into dark, and frankly ridiculous, directions.

The Doll Master

The Doll Master

Because so many killer doll stories involve possession by spirits, some of them can feel more like haunted house movies than slashers. That’s certainly the case for The Doll Master, a 2004 Korean horror movie directed by Jeong Yong-ki. The story of a motley group visiting a doll museum, The Doll Master is chock full of spooky atmosphere and apparitions that appear one minute and disappear the next. 

But rest assured, The Doll Master has plenty of killer doll goodness. The main setting is stuffed with toys that would terrify people even if there wasn’t a vengeful spirit stalking about. In one of the movie’s best scenes, a woman tries to find a bathroom stall that doesn’t have a weird-looking doll standing guard over the toilet. When nature’s calling forces her to pick one, she of course makes the wrong choice, leading to a fun and grisly kill scene. 

Pinata: Survival Island

Piñata: Survival Island

Piñata: Survival Island opens with seven minutes of voiceover explaining the history of the killer piñata. And then, it consists of thirty minutes of generic frat and sorority partying, in which Jamie Pressley and Nicholas Brendan flirt and fight with each other while participating in a Survivor-type game co-hosted by Garret Wang of Star Trek: Voyager

Yet, I am still calling Piñata underrated because once the titular doll gets involved, the movie becomes the best in early 2000s schlock. We’ve got terrible CG combined with pretty gnarly practical effects. We’ve got bare midriffs and frosted tips. We’ve got a plot about ugly Americans being destroyed by locals sick of our nonsense. It’s not particularly scary or well-acted, but it is trash. I mean, the piñata rips off a guy’s testicles. And really, that’s what killer doll movies are all about. 



For many, cinema’s quintessential scary doll is not Chucky or Annabelle, but that freaking clown at the end of Poltergeist. It’s certainly the most striking of the many wonderful haunts in Tobe Hooper’s Reagan-era terror, at least to Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who made a spooky clown the centerpiece of 1988’s Ghosthouse. Despite giving the movie the title La Casa 3, thus presenting itself as a sequel to Evil Dead and Evil Dead II (called La Casa in Italy), Lenzi was more interested in recreating the Poltergeist doll. 

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Ghosthouse stars Lara Wendell and Greg Scott as a couple investigating strange noises coming from an abandoned house, the site of a grisly murder that took the life of the family living there, including young Henrietta (Kristen Fougerousse). From that well-worn premise, Lenzi indulges in a grab bag of frights. But the most indelible of them involve Henrietta’s clown doll, which seems to be the center of the disturbance (and the source of an irritating lullaby that plays over and over and over throughout the film).