How Do You Make a Scary-Movie Doll?

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Photo: Warner Bros

It's Halloween, and with Annabelle still in theaters (and memories of The Conjuring forever haunting our dreams), we spoke with the creator of the titular doll, designer Tony Rosen, who crafted Annabelle and asked him: What makes a good scary doll?

Go for old.
Things that are old generally freak people out. “I think vintage things are generally the things that look the creepiest, things that look old, and the way things were designed back then," says Rosen. "They're not quite human-looking, but they have the resemblances that are close enough.”

Give it a backstory.
The makers of Annabelle (and The Conjuring) got lucky — they have a real-life origin story to work with: Annabelle comes from the history of an old Raggedy-Anne doll, one that you can still see at the Warren Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut. According to lore, the doll was purchased from a vintage store in the '70s as a gift to a girl named Donna. Donna and her roommate noticed that the doll was doing strange things — moving around and leaving notes — and called a medium, who told them that the doll was possessed by a deceased girl named Annabelle Higgins. The doll then attacked their friend Lou. The mediums, Ed and Lorraine Warren, agreed to take the doll with them. They doused her with holy water and stuck her in the (blessed) plastic casing where she still resides today. Yikes. "Some people find the Raggedy Ann doll scarier because she's just a regular item that's haunted, so she could be anywhere," says Rosen.

Don’t be afraid to get dirty.
Even if you can't start with something old doesn't mean you can't make it seem that way. An awesome "DIY Creepy Doll" tutorial at EPBOT explains how to get that "freshly-dug-up look":

All you need is watered down paint & maybe a little powder makeup. Use a spray bottle like this, filled with brown craft paint and water: Then give your doll a thorough spritzing/dousing, depending on how grungy you want her to look. Follow that up by grinding in some black or brown matte eyeshadow around the face, hands, and anywhere you want extra stains on the clothing. (I added a lot of black on the fingers and toes, like she's been outside digging.)

Focus on the smile ...
Is your doll smiling? Or does she have a neutral, "dead" look about her? Rosen recommends you go for a grin, but make it somewhat "off": "A sinister smile. Straight across. Not really upturned, to look too happy. Just a kind of creepy smile." But the trick is to make your doll scary without actually looking scary. Stay away from the American Horror Story clown model: "You don't want it to look specifically scary; you didn't want anything to look evil, just [have it] feel that way."

... and then the eyes.
"You just want it to look very contrasting," Tony explains. "The skin is a really pale kind of porcelain, and then the brighter red lips, and the dark, sunken eyes, and then the eyes be really bright. So the face kind of stands out."

Make sure it can move.
Your doll should be able to be posed in various creepy ways for maximum effectiveness. In The Conjuring, the Annabelle doll was mostly rigid, but for her starring turn in Annabelle, a new version had to be crafted so that she should turn and blink: "It's kind of built like a ventriloquist's doll ... Its head [was] on a swivel so it could turn around, and its eyes [could] move left and right." Your doll should reside in uncanny valley, almost ready to stand up on her own and saunter away.