As a self-appointed fan of true pop culture (more specifically when it comes to television and movies), I thought long and hard about all the shows and films I’ve seen with a dangerous doll. There’s no way I could possibly recall them all, but among the ones I remember are:
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1978 film starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Ann Margaret
To this day the trailer is still a little scary.
A ventriloquist makes decisions that don’t meet with the doll’s approval.
Caesar and Me
Twilight Zone episode where the doll has its own agenda.
Twilight Zone episode with the doll and its owner questioning who’s really in control.
Read My Lips
Friday the 13th -The Series episode where the doll comes to life, sending the ventriloquist on specified errands.
2007 film starring Donnie Wahlberg, Ryan Kwanten, and Amber Valletta
The legend of a murdered ventriloquist whose presence still looms over the town.
2014 Horror film
A doll is a conduit for ultimate evil.
At least two sequels
1988 Horror film
During a voodoo ritual, a serial killer transfers his soul into the doll, and horror hijinks ensue.
And of course, there are the Puppet Master films as well.
M3GAN vs Talky Tina
But watching M3GAN, on several occasions, made me think of one of the scariest dolls I’ve ever seen on television: Talky Tina. She is from a Twilight Zone episode called “Living Doll” and is so legendary that the SyFy network always includes this episode in its Twilight Zone marathons.
So, after seeing M3GAN and the director’s creative production techniques more than once, and after seeing Talky Tina several times, I asked myself. Which one is scarier?
Here are my categories and observations:
M3GAN: From the moment she malfunctioned during testing, and her mouth was stuck in a permanent smirk, you knew this would be entertaining. Let’s not forget about her eye movements during the film. Bravo to the puppeteers.
Talky Tina: She had only one thing going for her, and that’s the slow opening of her eyelids whenever the doll was picked up. Neither her eyes nor her mouth ever moved. The special effects hadn’t come that far along yet.
M3GAN: Um, hello? The doll galloped on all fours like a bobcat chasing its prey. She slowly stalked the CEO while wielding a large blade. She physically assaulted and held down her creator. For goodness sakes, she danced…. giving millions of TikTok fans new moves. She did more, but either way this is a no-brainer.
Talky Tina: Her head only moved left and right. Her arms only moved forward and downward. These were indicators that she was about to open her eyelids and say something. Again, special effects hadn’t come that far along yet. Still, they did the best they could do with what little they had, and it worked.
M3GAN: This titanium robot’s voice box goes back and forth from sounding like a giddy 11-year-old to questioning her creator about death, to warning a bully with “This is where you run,” before chasing him down…..and she sings. Yes, she sings. I laughed out loud in the theater. Heck, we ALL did. Her artificial intelligence, of course, gives her the ability to get progressively smarter with every minute, using technology to tap into building systems, start and drive vehicles, and take over a Bluetooth home device. Of course, she has considerably more dialogue…. but it’s not necessarily scary. It’s more in the categories of suspenseful and funny.
Talky Tina: She has very few lines, but her timing and tone are delivered impeccably well. She needs only one sentence to bond with the girl, and only one sentence to make her stepfather wonder what in the heck is going on. Imagine (as a child) your favorite doll or action figure slowly opening its eyes, with its porcelain smile, and softly saying “I’m going to kill you.” If you’re one of many people who would freak out, then join the club. Later, she goes tit for tat with the stepfather, but with so few lines, and that porcelain smile that never moves. Even in this digital world of computer animation, this still works…and it’s freaky. You spend the entire episode wondering what YOU would do if it was happening to YOU. And the ending? A simple porcelain smile warning to the girl’s mother, who responds with only the perfect expression of fear.
Winner: Talky Tina
M3GAN: How many shots can you get of a killer doll looking deranged, murderous, unhinged, angry, determined, or psychotic? In the case of M3GAN (or Chucky), the answer is: Infinite. The puppeteers had a helluva time with this. Bravo! But…. Talky Tina’s production team repeatedly evoked the same fear and emotion in audiences with just one expression….one shot…. the close-up. At one point, while watching one of the heroes take what I believe was a chainsaw to M3GAN’s face, the first thing I thought of was “This exact shot has been done before.” Telly Savalas (yes, from Kojak) took a chainsaw to Talky Tina’s face which elicited one of her few lines: “I can take it if you can.” Whether the shot in M3GAN was a salute to Talky Tina or not, I don’t know. If so, then again, bravo. If not, then the puppeteers should go watch the Living Doll episode of TZ.
Talky Tina: First, it’s in black and white. Historically, colors suggest brightness and happiness. Black and white is automatically associated with the horror genre dating as far back as the 1922 silent horror film ‘Nosferatu’. Second, because special f/x and animation weren’t up to today’s standards, the production team was doing more, with less: No expressions, no eye movements, no dancing, no chase scenes, no weapons used, no singing, no physical strength, and yet at least one person was killed.
Winner: Talky Tina
M3GAN: Every eye, leg, hand, foot, mouth movement came with mechanical and at times industrial audio edited in. Did it add to the film? Absolutely, in entertainment value. In some cases, it made the film even funnier. Just imagine what we’ll hear in a sequel.
Talky Tina: With the exceptions of winding up Talky Tina, her voice (provided by June Foray, the voice of Rocky from Rocky & Bullwinkle), and occasional music, there were no mechanical sounds. At one point, Savalas’ character tries to burn her, but Tina keeps blowing out the flame from the torch. We never once hear the blowing sound. Regardless, that’s the last thing we’re thinking of when watching this doll sweetly cackle in the face of her future victim. Once again, they achieved more with less.
Winner: Talky Tina
The votes are in!
M3GAN is extremely entertaining. So much in fact, that many celebrities are impersonating her on television. Millennials who binge stream are not only copying her dance moves on Tiktok, but also comparing those moves to Wednesday’s infamous choreography on HER Hulu show. Even Saturday Night Live has gotten into the act with a parody insinuating the newfound friendships between M3GAN and the LBGTQ+ community. The rest of the world confirms M3GAN’s high entertainment value.
But is she as scary as Talky Tina? Nope. Not even close.
This is only my opinion.
Watch and decide for yourself.
Season 5, Episode 6
Original Airdate: Nov.1, 1963
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Erik Blue watches entirely too much television and too many movies. His careers include the music, television, and Higher Education. He loves intelligent conversation and despises disrespect.
Join the conversation
Excellent review. I got through this entire article and don’t feel like the movie M3gan has been spoiled for me, as I have not seen it yet. I completely agree that less is more, when it comes to the otherwise inanimate object jumping to life. Case in point, my vote for best version of spooky/horror doll will always go to the little Zuni warrior fetish doll in the 1975 film Trilogy of Terror.
What about the Zulu Doll from Trilogy of Terror, when I say they when I was about 18 it scared the crap out of me, especially with the little hand with the knife going under the door