Tuesday, October 26, 2021

When Dolls Cross the Line From Cute to Terrifying!

Isla de las Munecas or "Island of the Dolls" (popularly coined "Doll Island") is a thing of horror for many. Why would an island filled with dolls for decades, laid to waste by the elements and neglect, be terrifying? Well, let me introduce you to its most unsettling beginnings.

Doll Island

Don Julian Santana was unhappy with city life and moved to an island on a canalway south of Mexico City for peace and quiet. It was there that the legend begins and takes on a life that is animated enough to bring the dead to life.

Don reported that a little girl had drowned in the canal 50 years ago and he believed her spirit to be troubled and haunting his little island. 

He said that he was out one day when he saw a doll floating in the canal and scooped it out, hanging it up on a tree near the drowning spot to make the girl eternally happy so she would not haunt and scare him. 

He then became consumed with finding more and more dolls, fishing them out of the canal, sorting through trash bins, and even bartering until he had, over the decades, covered the island with dolls. 

There are many legends about the dolls moving, opening and closing their eyes on their own. It is said to come alive after dark. In fact, "Destination Truth" and "Ghost Adventures" have both done episodes from the island. 

Ironically, in 2001 Don was found drowned in supposedly the same spot in the canal as the little girl. 

People believe that the dolls killed him. The island since then has become a thing of fear for locals and visitors. To some, it is considered the creepiest place in Mexico and to others, the entire world


Barbie, GI Joe, Lego people, baby dolls, wax figures, mannequins, marionettes, ventriloquist dolls, clown dolls, porcelain dolls, Victorian Era dolls, robots, stuffed toy dolls....

Pediophobia is fear of dolls, but that is just a subcategory of fear of human figures - automatonophobia. Facsimiles of innocent babies, full-grown humans, clowns, and the like are unsettling for most. As humans, we are trained from the time we are a baby to locate the faces in the crowd and find our people. We mirror others expressions and they mirror back, but dolls have only one eternal expression - 

Dolls inspire terror, but why not? They seem like innocent facsimiles that children have given voices to. For that very reason, they have an inspired life within, one that a child placed there. 

The dolls stare blankly, sometimes their eyes open and close. In fact, there is a diagnostic characteristic for neurologists called "doll's eyes." They look to see if the eyes move with head movements or stay fixed to see if there might be brainstem injury.

The fixed facial expressions, the voices we tend to give them - all make dolls seem to have a sinister puppet master behind those plastic eyes....

Uncanny Valley 

(Wikipedia) The "uncanny valley" hypothesis holds that when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's life-likeness. This hypothesis was created by a robot-maker, Masahiro Mori.

Basically, it is the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting. 

Have you ever seen a wax museum figure of say, Princess Di, but there’s something just a little bit off about the proportions of expression that makes it just wrong.


If this has put you in the mood for creepy dolls, here's some movies to satisfy - 

*Descriptions from IMDB, my favorite movie facts site.

Poltergeist (1982)
A family's home is haunted by a host of ghosts. A clown doll.
Saw (2004)
Two men awaken in the secure lair of a killer who forces them to play a deadly game that will determine life or death. A ventriloquist doll.
Child's Play (1988)
A single mother gives her son a much sought after doll for his birthday, only to discover that it is possessed by the soul of a serial killer. A toy doll.
Magic (1978)
A ventriloquist is at the mercy of his vicious dummy while he tries to renew a romance with his high school sweetheart. A ventriloquist doll.
Pin (1988)
A doctor has a lifelike, anatomically-correct medical dummy, with muscles and organs visible through its clear skin, named Pin (after Pinocchio). Via ventriloquism, Pin explains bodily functions in a way kids can relate to. When the over-strict doctor and his wife are killed in a car crash, his son (Leon) transfers his alter-ego into Pin, whom he always believed was alive. He starts using Pin as an excuse to over-protect his sister (Ursula) from admirers and deflect unwanted intrusions, even to the extent of committing murder. An anatomy mannequin.
Fear (1996)
When Nicole met David; handsome, charming, affectionate, he was everything. It seemed perfect, but soon she sees that David has a darker side. And his adoration turns to obsession, their dream into a nightmare, and her love into fear. A cigar store dummy.
Dead Silence (2007)
A widower returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife's murder, which may be linked to the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist. Ventriloquist doll(s).
Tourist Trap (1979)
A group of young friends stranded at a secluded roadside museum are stalked by the owner of the place, who has the power to control his collection of mannequins. Mannequins.
Waxwork  (1988) A wax museum owner uses his horror exhibits to unleash evil on the world.
Devil Doll (1964)
An evil hyponotist/ventriloquist plots to gain an heiress' millions. Ventriloquist doll.
Death Doll (1989)
Disaster follows a couple that uses a fortune teller machine. Fortune teller doll

Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Three bizarre horror stories all of which star Karen Black in four different roles playing tormented women. Small tribal doll.
Dolls (1987)
A group of people stop by a mansion during a storm and discover two magical toy makers, and their haunted collection of dolls. Children's dolls.
The Conjuring (2013)
Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Child's doll.
Annabelle (2014)
A couple begins to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists. Child's doll.

And, let's not forget Talky Tina -

How to make dolls creepy

This inherent terror is part of the basis of many past Halloween displays I've made - 

The doll ahead above, I aged myself. I painted her face a kind of chalky deep brown, almost a mauve-brown. Then when it was dry, I put on crackle medium and when that was dry, I put on an ivory and some blush cheeks. When it cracked, the old dark color showed through. Doll heads are super cheap if you buy baby dolls in secondhand stores and Goodwill and such. You can take and alter them many ways, even removing their eyes and putting a glow stick or battery operated tea candle inside. You can string them on Xmas lighting for a very macabre effect - 

When lined up in windows, these dolls can be very creepy on Halloween. Of all the displays I've ever done, more kids stop to look at mannequins and dolls that are aged, creepy, and have mood lighting on them or flashing lightning. Sometimes, the kids forgot to ring the doorbell for candy. It's even creepier if one of the mannequins is you in a costume and you move at just the right time....

Don't forget ventriloquist dolls, they are always creepy! Here's my sidekick, Dale the Doll (has a Dall the Doll Fan Club on Facebook) 

Here is where I took a simple unpainted mannequin head from online (found it on Amazon for cheap). And then, I did some paint magic with her to make her look vintage and aged and abandoned - 

This was one of my favorite pieces of work. It took many layer to get all the subtle but creepy effects and when it was done, I rubbed her down with a black aging glaze and then rubbed it off, so the glaze just left a stain and seeped into the cracks. It does a wonder for aging things! You could probably do something similar with one part black paint to three parts water. 

I am likely going to be selling her in an etsy shop I am opening up called MadamCurio. I want to do more mannequin parts for horror props and possibly some arms and legs to hang on the wall for a "ghost coming out of the wall" effect, as well as Ouija art, spiritualist vintage looking art, ghost mirrors and more. I will share on here when the shop opens. 

This doll above, I found in a bunch of abandoned trash near abandoned trailers in the desert. I chopped her hair off, dirtied her up and put her inside this bird cage I also found.

In fact, the Halloween display in the above photo, I put the dolls in front of a shed where I projected a movie. Here's the creepy doll movie I used  - Brothers Quay "Street of Crocodiles"

About the island

now, dress him - 

I'd keep this guy dressed and standing near the bar all year-round or change his costume to Santa, vampire, bunny ears, Uncle Sam top hat - depending on the holiday!

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