Mannequins are a strange obsession. I remember seeing an episode of "Hoarders" where this guy was so into collecting mannequins, he rented a separate apartment just to keep them all! They're also a recurring theme in horror flicks of all kinds. There's something unnerving about them, maybe because they're almost - but not entirely - realistic. Here's a list of six times mannequins crossed the line from benign retail accessory to shudder-inducing threat!
Scream Bloody Murder (1972) aka My Brother Has Bad Dreams
Originally released in November 1972, Robert Emery's Scream Bloody Murder was eventually retitled My Brother Has Bad Dreams, most likely to differentiate it from another, similar movie called Scream Bloody Murder released merely six weeks after Emery's film. This ultra low budget nightmare is a character-driven drama involving a brother and sister who are still coping with the years-prior murder of their mother at the hands of their father. Karl is the brother, a young man in his early 20s who still has the mind of a child. Dangerously disturbed ever since he witnessed the mother's murder, the film chronicles Karl's descent into total madness after sister Anna takes a lover, a young drifter named Tony. Karl's obsession with mannequins is one of the film's creepy through-lines; in one scene he smashes one with a fire poker, he sleeps with one he keeps hidden in his closet, and in the film's deliriously downbeat conclusion he 'escapes' with one on a motorcycle, only to meet a tragic end that has to be experienced to be believed.
Tourist Trap (1979)
Probably the first horror movie people think of when you start to talk mannequins, Tourist Trap is a very creepy movie about a group of friends on a road trip who are victimized when they stop at a rundown roadside attraction run by the slightly sinister Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors). The film makes an awkward but futile attempt to disguise the fact that Slausen is the villain, giving him a bizarre plaster doll mask to wear during the attack scenes, but this is way more than a slasher movie. Slausen is telekinetic, and has the habit of turning his victims into mannequins. It's never quite explained how this occurs, or whether the victims are really dead. One terrifying moment occurs when Slausen, while wearing the mask disguise, chases final girl Molly (Jocelyn Jones) with the disembodied mannequin head of her friend Woody. He holds it up to her and the mouth drops open, Woody's terrified voice emerging and begging her for help. This uncertainty becomes the very thing that gives Tourist Trap its impact, as any attempt to explain it all would have been silly. The film's final image, of an insane Molly 'escaping' with a car full of her mannequin friends, is ridiculously disturbing.
Notorious for its graphic violence, William Lustig's 1980 film Maniac also features a bizarre depiction of mannequins as surrogate companions for a deranged person, this time a serial killer who victimizes beautiful women. Villain in question Frank claims the scalps of his victims as trophies, each of them nailed to the head of a mannequin and displayed in Frank's claustrophobic New York apartment. The film's murder sequences are grueling, but one unforgettable moment comes at the conclusion, when the mannequins come to life and decapitate Frank in a bizarre hallucination sequence.
I Dismember Mama (1972) aka Poor Albert & Little Annie
Harrowing psychological thriller Poor Albert and Little Annie got a reissue a few years after its debut, under the more memorable title I Dismember Mama. Zooey Hall plays the film's lead character, a psychopath with mother issues, although he's no Norman Bates. Hall's character, Albert, acts out with murderous rage whenever he has the opportunity to attack a woman, but he develops a fascination for Annie (Geri "Fake Jan" Reischel), the young preteen daughter of one of his victims. Albert sees Annie as the one female who is untouched by the 'impurity' he finds in most women, and they share an idyllic day trip together. It ends badly, though, as any movie titled I Dismember Mama will. Albert winds up chasing Annie through a warehouse filled with mannequins, many of which are pre-decorated with garish makeup and flashy clothing. Reischel, who was about 12 years old when she filmed this movie, has a scene where she dons a mannequin's clothing, and imitates the exaggerated makeup, in order to disguise herself and hide from crazed Albert.
Lisa and the Devil (1973)
This arty horror tale represents what director Mario Bava chose to do after producer Alfred Leone gave him funding to create his dream project. The (very) loose plot finds a young woman named Lisa, played by Elke Sommer, caught in a dreamlike situation from which she cannot escape. Abandoned by her touring party in a strange country, Lisa encounters a man who seems to mistake her for someone he already knows. After accidentally killing him by pushing him down a stone staircase, Lisa later sees him again, this time as a mannequin carried by Telly Savalas. Confused and terrified by the experience, she seeks refuge in an opulent house presided over by butler Savalas, and containing a strange assortment of characters. But are they mannequins, too? Is she? This final realization predates movies like "The Sixth Sense", "The Others" and "Dead and Buried" by many years, but Bava's film is far more cryptic than those movies. In the most disturbing way, we know even less about what just occurred than we did when the movie began.
Don't Open The Door (1974) aka Don't Hang Up
An obsession with mannequins and dolls is one of the creepy elements of S.F. Brownrigg's Don't Hang Up. Amanda Post (Susan Bracken) visits the creepy 'museum' of collectibles that Claude Kearn (Larry O'Dwyer) keeps, many of which belong to Amanda's family. In desperate fear that she may reclaim the items, Claude makes a bizarre attempt to endear himself to her by showing her a weird tableau he created in an alcove of the museum: a mannequin dressed to resemble Amanda's deceased mother is seated at a dressing table, as if brushing her hair. When Amanda reacts in horror and anger instead of delight, Claude cannot understand why, so deep is he in his delusions. No mannequins come to life in this movie, but there is one moment where the killer switches places with a mannequin in order to surprise an unsuspecting victim.