At least that’s what roboticist Gemma (Allison Williams) believes about her artificial intelligence-powered creation before the doll goes on a murderous rampage in the highly-anticipated new horror comedy M3GAN.
Produced by horror legends Jason Blum (Get Out, The Invisible Man, Sinister) and James Wan (creator of The Conjuring, Saw, and Insidious franchises), M3GAN generated major buzz ahead of its Jan. 6 release thanks to a savvy marketing campaign that turned its titular villain into an instant star on social media. As Twitter user Alex Abad-Santos put it, “M3GAN – a movie that completely understands the assignment of giving the people a bitchy murder doll.”
How creepy dolls became a horror phenomenon
United ArtistsAlex Vincent as Andy Barclay with Chucky in Child’s Play
Back in 1929, musical drama The Great Gabbo, while not a traditional fright flick, introduced audiences to a spooky ventriloquist dummy named Otto and his malicious owner Gabbo. The creepy doll subgenre of horror seems to have sprung from there, with 1945 horror anthology film Dead of Night featuring a segment titled “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” that relied on an even more sinister relationship between a puppeteer and his dummy.
“Most of the early scary doll movies primarily involved ventriloquist dummies,” says James Kendrick, an associate professor of film and digital media at Baylor University who’s an expert on horror. “The whole concept of a ventriloquist dummy is that it seems to have a life of its own. They move, they talk seemingly of their own accord. Although we know it’s all a performance by the ventriloquist, they’re ready-made to break free of that and become their own entity and have their own malevolent agenda.”
The disturbed ventriloquist-dummy duo became a staple of creepy doll film culture, popping up in movies like 1964’s Devil Doll, 1978’s Magic, and, starting in 2004, the Saw franchise. Who could forget the first time they saw Billy the Puppet roll up to one of Jigsaw’s death traps on his little tricycle?
As for when children’s possessed playthings came on the scene, following a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Living Doll,” the trope really took off in the ’80s. 1987’s Dolls saw an elderly couple trapping the spirits of not-so-nice visitors inside the titular toys. This was quickly followed by the introduction of perhaps the most famous killer doll of all time in 1988’s Child’s Play: the one and only Chucky. Notable entries to follow have included 2002’s May, 2014’s Annabelle, and 2016’s The Boy.
“Like a lot of topics in horror whether it’s zombies or vampires, [doll movies] tend to run in cycles,” Kendrick says. “You have one breakout film and then you have a whole bunch that try to capitalize on that.”
By playing off fears of AI turned sentient, M3GAN is a creepy doll movie for the modern age.
“AI is an interesting concept because AI is uncanny,” Kendrick says. “It’s intelligence that we recognize as kind of human, but not quite right. So if you put that into a doll, you now have the physical uncanniness of the doll combined with a psychological or intellectual uncanniness. The doll is essentially trying to replicate human behavior, but not quite getting it right.”
Why creepy dolls are so scary
Geoffrey Short—Universal PicturesViolet McGraw as Cady, M3GAN, and Allison Williams as Gemma in M3GAN