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Attack of the Killer Dolls

Terrifying toys, fatal figurines, and demonic dolls – VIFF Centre opens a toy chest of horrors for film freaks just in time for Halloween.

by Maggie McPhee

‘Tis Halloween in the Year of Barbie, and VIFF Centre is dredging up the dark side of dolls. Their Killer Dolls series, which opens Friday October 27, showcases five features and one short that are guaranteed to make you hide your teddy in the closet. Better yet, bring that teddy with you — they’re giving away popcorn to any moviegoers with toys in tow. 

The program opens with Dario Argento’s seminal 1975 giallo, Deep Red, a joy to watch for the first or fifteenth time, and the perfect atmospheric horror to get you in the Halloween mood. Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987) drops you back in that atmosphere with a heartfelt haunted house movie set in an antique-ridden Victorian mansion. (We covered Argento and Gordon’s connection to Barbie earlier this year

And what would this experience be without Chucky, that red-headed, dirty-mouthed, bloodthirsty doll of infamy? The Killer Dolls series gives the celebrity his dues, with not one but two films in his honour. Witness where it all began — Child’s Play (Tom Holland, 1988) — and another major milestone in the franchise — Bride of Chucky (Ronny Yu, 1998). Cheer on the two-foot tyrant as he maniacally murders people for some 10 odd years. 

Dolls are always creepy, even as the times and technologies change. M3GAN (Gerard Johnson, 2022) is the latest model in tiny terror, an AI-powered humanoid robot designed to befriend an orphaned child. She sings, she dances, and she slays, literally. On Sunday October 29, Daria Kashcheeva’s 2023 short Electra will precede M3GAN. 

“That these symbols of comfort and innocence should reveal themselves as menacing, violent mischief-makers taps into deep-rooted nightmares about the precarity of the family and the world beyond,” says VIFF Centre’s year round programmer Tom Charity. “But there’s also something inherently campy and ridiculous about these diminutive devils as icons of terror, which allows us to enjoy these movies on two levels, the anxious inner child vying with an ironic adult sensibility.”

Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987)

VIFF Centre is pulling out all the stops, even installing an artwork by Ran Zhou, a multimedia artist based in Vancouver, constructed out of dolls and covered with blood-red paint. They’re taking things beyond the screen, immersing audiences in a world of macabre miniatures. Revive your inner child this Halloween, the one that was scared of basically everything. 

If the series leaves you craving more deranged dolls, RANGE can recommend a few ways to keep your twisted tea party going: Tourist Trap (David Schmoeller, 1979), a terrifying and visually resplendent horror set in a wax-museum; Dolly Dearest (Maria Lease, 1991), a rare slasher directed by a woman; Tales From the Hood (Rusty Cundieff, 1995), an anthology horror film updating the Tales From The Crypt formula with the very real threats of police brutality, child abuse, and racist politicians; and The Boy (William Brent Bell, 2016), a contemporary take on the genre that exploits the very paranoia housed within our imaginations. 

Killer Dolls runs Oct 27 to 29 at the VIFF Centre (1181 Seymour St, Vancouver) | TICKETS & INFO