LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Take away a vampire’s teeth and he’s just a goth that can’t handle garlic. Wait for some decent cloud cover and your average werewolf is about as scary as Lassie.
But there is one enduring horror trope that can have grown men and women gnawing at their fingernails when things go bump in the night: the creepy, haunted child’s toy.
From malevolent teddy bears and possessed clowns to murderous porcelain dolls rocking menacingly in their chairs, these evil characters have become a multi-million dollar staple adored by fans and studio executives alike.
The killer toy resonates so profoundly because of the cognitive dissonance involved in the idea of a child’s cuddly toy going rogue, according to film experts.
"There’s something very primal about absurdist fears, which is something I posit that most of us never completely grow out of," Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at film industry number cruncher Boxoffice.com, told AFP.
"In a twisted way, that just makes it more fun for adults when it comes to these types of movies."
"Annabelle: Creation," which has blown away critics and earned a 100 percent rating on reviews website Rotten Tomatoes ahead of its summer release, is the latest example of a genre spanning more than 100 movies.
But killer toys have been scaring the bejesus out of theatergoers since Lionel Barrymore played a cross-dressing fugitive selling life-like dolls that were actually shrunken humans in "The Devil-Doll" in 1936.
"Child’s Play" (1988) introduced perhaps the most famous evil doll of them all, Chucky -- a crude, hard-drinking misogynist who went on to appear in four theatrical sequels and two straight-to-DVD movies.
After a fallow period, Australian filmmaker James Wan resurrected the creepy toy trope to huge success with Billy, the Jigsaw Killer’s puppet in "Saw" (2004) and its sequels, as well as in "Dead Silence" (2007).
His most significant contribution, however, has been Annabelle, a haunted porcelain doll first seen in "The Conjuring" (2013).
Based on a real, supposedly haunted "Raggedy Ann" doll that can be visited in a museum in Connecticut, Annabelle -- an altogether darker prospect than Chucky -- is regarded by many as the creepiest doll in cinema history.
"Annabelle," a commercially successful but critically unadmired spin-off, came out in 2014.
Wan is the producer on the much more impressive origin story "Annabelle: Creation," due out on August 11.
Boxoffice.com says the movie’s impressive latest trailer has increased optimism for a healthy $25-30 million domestic opening weekend.
"It looks like a film that could help out what’s initially been thought of as a very mixed August slate of releases," Robbins told AFP.
Filmed over the summer of 2016 at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, the deliciously bloodcurdling prequel focuses on a dollmaker and his wife, whose daughter died 20 years earlier.
Murder and mayhem ensue as they decide to open their home to several girls from a shuttered orphanage, only to reawaken the doll maker’s possessed creation.
"Annabelle just has such a rich history," 36-year-old Swedish director David Sandberg told reporters at a preview screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival this week.
"She’s based on a real doll, and James did such a good job setting her up in ‘The Conjuring’ that people just associate her with evil."
Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia, who plays the dollmaker, said he chose not to get to know the movie’s talented young female cast -- led by Lulu Wilson, 11, and 15-year-old co-star Talitha Bateman -- so that he "could be extra creepy" on set.
"I always like implied violence as opposed to seeing a sword go through someone’s head, and this has a lot of implied violence that is way scarier," he told reporters on the red carpet.
"For me the best part was going to work and just scaring these kids every day."