“The Boy,” which opens Friday, resurrects one of the movies’ creepiest conceits: A bereaved family treats a life-size doll as its living son.
In this horror outing, the belated discovery is made by Greta (Lauren Cohan), an American who has come to this rural English household to be the nanny for an 8-year-old boy.
But that child actually died two decades earlier and the family’s coping mechanism is, well it’s a stretch.
Greta quickly learns that as nanny she must abide by very strict rules that must never, ever be broken.
Yet what creeps her — and hopefully the audience — out is the growing realization that, hey, could that doll, maybe, be real?
“The Boy” follows an esteemed (and often profitable) cinematic tradition.
“Pinocchio,” Carlos Collodi’s 1883 Italian fairy tale of a woodcarver’s creation come to life, started it all.
That’s because Walt Disney’s 1940 animated version became an instant classic with its Oscar-winning song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and its musing on mortality and morality.
When benevolence switched to evil as a cinematic theme, possessed dolls took their place in the horror genre. A few standouts include:
- ”Devil Doll”:
- Ah, the old evil hypnotist trick! This 1964 stylish scarer features Hugo, the possessed dummy.
- A 1987 frightfest in which folks take refuge in a mansion during a storm (Who does that?) and meet two magical toy makers, who naturally have a collection of haunted dolls.
- ”Child’s Play”
- started a franchise in 1988 with the tale of a single mom buying her son a much-wanted doll. Oops, it’s possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. The one, the only, Chucky. “Child’s Play” spawned two sequels before Chucky took over with the 1998 “Bride of Chucky” followed by “Seed of Chucky” and “Curse of Chucky.”
- This 2014 spinoff from “The Conjuring” offers a backstory to that haunted vintage doll. It’s not a pretty one, what with the satanic cult and the murder and the demon-summoning.
- ”Living Doll”:
- Although this 1963 “Twilight Zone” episode was on the small screen, we can’t omit “Talky Tina,” who menaced Telly Savalas to an early grave.
- ”Trilogy of Terror”:
- A classic made-for-TV movie from 1975, starring Karen Black (of “Airport 1975” and “Five Easy Pieces” fame) and a Zuni fetish doll with razor sharp teeth. It was also handy with a knife, and although small, did some serious damage.