Support Us!
Powered by
Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!



Thursday, January 5, 2023

Small Evils: ’80s Horror Books ‘The Doll’ and ‘The Haunted Dollhouse’ [Buried in a Book]

Dolls will never go out of fashion as a child’s toy, but in horror literature, they reached their peak somewhere in the 1980s. There was no quicker way to convey unease by illustrating a creepy doll on a book cover, though on many occasions a doll wasn’t even a crucial part of the story. These toys were typically put on display as a visual shortcut for childhood terror and the loss of innocence. The two books in this edition of Buried in a Book, however, are not misleading their readers; they both deliver on their promise of doll horror.

Dell’s Twilight: Where Darkness Begins and Bantam’s Dark Forces were published around the same time. Despite each series having supernatural leanings, there was little overlap in content. One exception, albeit a meager one, is Twilight’s The Haunted Dollhouse (1984) and Dark Force’s The Doll (1983). Both books indeed feature toys of terror wreaking havoc on teenagers’ lives, but the stories’ designs and executions are completely different.

The plot of Rex Sparger’s The Doll will sound familiar: someone stumbles upon an attractive antique, and once acquired, that person undergoes a total shift in personality. For Cassie Craig, the curse of choice is a unique doll she discovers at a state fair. The protagonist didn’t go looking for trouble when she first traveled to the fair for an annual doll contest; she initially wanted to be more than runner-up like in previous years. Yet when she saw the blue-eyed, strawberry-blonde doll as a prize at a dart-game booth, Cassie was intent on adding it to her collection.

Cassie’s mother passed away sometime ago. While her father is patient, kind and supportive, he’s also not a mother. It’s clear something is lacking in Cassie’s life, hence the dolls she collects and puts on display. Perhaps these feminine objects help fill a void left behind by Mrs. Craig. Or maybe it’s the dolls that prevent Cassie from growing up and moving on from her mother’s death. Whatever the reason, that vulnerability is why Cassie becomes prey to the porcelain predator at the fair. 

With one flick of her wrist, Cassie injures her boyfriend Jack’s competition at the dart game; she sees to it that the only other competitor walks away with a dart-related injury and no doll. That subconscious act of devilry is the first sign of the doll’s influence on Cassie. And after she obtains the object of her obsession, Cassie becomes distant and mean. The doll also starts to change in appearance, gradually resembling its new owner. The darkness isn’t just limited to Cassie; a horse is spooked to the point of serious injury (and euthanasia) and Jack is set ablaze when he tries to save his girlfriend from the doll’s grasp.

Dark Forces books had a habit of being concerned with unholy horrors. The Doll is no exception, seeing as the solution to Cassie’s possession is exorcism. In the last act, a medium brings Cassie to a reverend, who goes through religious hoops to save the teen from the demonic doll (whose name Luci is likely short for Lucifer). The Satanic Panic began a few years before this book was published, so it’s no shocker that The Doll is a symptom of said movement.


Susan Blake’s The Haunted Dollhouse is more straightforward and lacks a moral agenda. Here a teenager moves to Pride Harbor with her mother after they inherited The Towers, a Victorian mansion once owned by a great-uncle. Jessica Ryan’s mother continues with the original plan of converting the coastal property into a bed-and-breakfast, and during the process, the mother and daughter uncover a scale model of The Towers, hidden away in the attic with loads of old furniture. Mrs. Ryan is excited about the find, but the locals are unsettled. They know all about the dark history of the mansion.

Nothing makes a teenage main character more distrustful of strangers, as well as more tuned into the harshness of the world, than a dead parent. Jessica hasn’t fully recovered from losing her father, and she’s not entirely on board about this B&B business. On top of that is the sinking feeling something isn’t right about Great-Uncle Harold’s last residence, or the people he hired to fix it up. Specifically Roger, the young antiquer who has come to help repair The Towers along with his uncle. He gives off bad vibes, and Jessica’s right to be wary of him. Like clockwork in these books, though, the new girl finds a new beau; the handsome and considerate Josh swoops in to save Jessica on more than one occasion.

One doll isn’t responsible for the goings-on at The Towers. In fact no doll is scurrying around, causing mischief underneath everyone’s noses. This story instead uses the idea of a miniature affecting its real-world counterpart. What happens in the dollhouse happens in The Towers. From a growing pool of blood appearing in Jessica’s bedroom to a guest’s injury, the dollhouse causes, foretells or reflects unfortunate events inside the mansion. Yes, it’s a common enough trope, but there’s no denying its effectiveness. As critical/cultural theorist and writer Mark Fisher wrote in The Weird and the Eerie, approaching the “eerie” is understanding the “existence of agency.” Dollhouses are about being in control of a universe, but what if the tables were turned, and it turned out that we were the ones “being watched by an entity that has not yet revealed itself?” For this reason, miniatures have an unparalleled ability to unnerve.

Susan Blake was primarily a romance author, but her one dip into horror is a satisfying, if not simple read. Her tale of a malicious medium whose wicked legacy lives on inside a dollhouse is entertaining and nicely composed. It wouldn’t be long before other authors of this same era turned to dolls and dollhouses when looking for new sources of frights.

There was a time when the young-adult section of bookstores was overflowing with horror and suspense. These books were easily identified by their flashy fonts and garish cover art. This notable subgenre of YA fiction thrived in the ’80s, peaked in the ’90s, and then finally came to an end in the early ’00s. YA horror of this kind is indeed a thing of the past, but the stories live on at Buried in a Book. This recurring column reflects on the nostalgic novels still haunting readers decades later.


The post Small Evils: ’80s Horror Books ‘The Doll’ and ‘The Haunted Dollhouse’ [Buried in a Book] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!