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Above: This not so innocent little prop is a real scream.
Dolls. They’re just…creepy. Dolls have been used in movies and literature to send a chill down the spine. And they’re uber-popular a Halloween costumes – especially the “broken doll” variety.
But why? Aren’t dolls supposed to be lovable…huggable…cute?
There’s something about a doll that’s almost – but not quite – human. Perhaps it’s what’s termed the uncanny valley effect: they’re real-looking (sort of), yet they’re frozen, staring eternally at something we ourselves can’t quite see.
This year, go spine-chilling with your decor and creep up a doll as a Halloween prop. Here’s how to create a skin-crawling Halloween doll on the cheap.
Finding a Victim … Er, Doll as Your Prop Base
If you don’t have an old doll around, hunt for one at the Goodwill, Salvation Army, a local yard sale or thrift shop. Ebay can offer steals, too.
Remember: the worse condition the doll is in, the better. Missing limbs or off-kilter eyes really amp the creep factor, but any wear and tear will add to the eeriness of your prop.
Clothing and Hair Tips
- Come on – really get your claws into this one! Ruffle your doll’s hair. For curly doll hair, a hairbrush is perfect for creating huge, awful-looking frizz.
- Get his/her clothes a little messy. For instance, a cute boy’s doll vest that’s off one arm and hanging is a great “haunted doll” look. A girl doll in a sweet sundress that’s tattered and a bit dirty is definitely high on the creepiness scale. One item missing can be the perfect touch, i.e. one missing patent leather shoe or one pants leg torn off.
- In my example, the doll arrived without clothes (an ebay bargain). I felt the contrast between the stuffed and sewn body and the plastic limbs gave the doll an older feel, adding to the haunted effect, so I left her undressed.
- If your doll’s hair is dyed into the plastic or painted on, paint over it in dramatic black. Use a flat rather than a glossy paint. After the paint has dried, chip it here and there with a fingernail.
- Remove some of the hair if it’s sewn in. Take a chunk out of one side or rip the hairline back a quarter inch. This effect is extremely spooky. Or go the opposite route and make the hair super-cute – the weird contrast amps up the horror factor. In my example, I put my doll’s frizzy locks into two little-girl ponytails.
- If you’ll be removing any limbs from your doll, do so now, before painting and altering the rest of the doll. Keep the body part as you can use it later if you wish.
Head and Face Tips
- Roll the eyes back in the head if you can. (Not all eyes will roll without force and some are painted on.) Or poke one out. Eew! …and awesome.
- Another option is the “possessed eye”: using acrylics, paint the entire iris and conjunctiva in white or very light gray.
- It’s all about the paleness. Using acrylics, paint your doll’s body light gray or white get a ghastly effect. For a mottled appearance, dot the paint lightly onto your doll’s face and limbs with a dry sponge. (In my example, I mixed very light blue with orange to get a sickly medium gray, “old porcelain”/undead pallor.) I found the paint dried very quickly, allowing me to do the front of the doll and then flip her over to paint the back without my mixed paint drying out. Don’t worry about a few streaks; they give a cracked porcelain, antiqued appearance.
- Blood red lips and/or black eyebrows will contrast with unnaturally pale skin, so keep the lips unpainted when you’re paling up the rest of your doll. Draw eyebrows on with magic marker or very thin streaks of paint, or paint just one eyebrow on.
- Altered dolls are scary without any blood at all, but you’re free to add a bit of gore if you’re so inclined. Use faux blood, paint, ketchup (which dries very dark and blood-like on fabric) or red gel icing that dries. Go ahead and smear it around a bit. Smearing in the form of four fingers, as if someone bloody had grabbed the doll, is perfect.
- If you’ll be “bloodying up” a plastic body part, make sure you’re using paint that will dry completely on plastic.
- Add accessories if you’d like. A mini knife or similar object in the hand of a mauled baby doll is very scary (expect trick-or-treaters to back slllllllowly out of your driveway). Or have her hold an old, tarnished object, such as a broken costume necklace, in one undead hand.
- Add touches that go with the theme of your doll or your display. For instance, make Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein’s baby by drawing hatched stitch marks across your doll’s forehead. Glue small wooden painted pieces on either side of his neck. Or scrawl “help me, Mama” on a torn piece of paper and place it in her clutching fists. Paint notches across her lips to give the impression that her lips have been stitched closed by some unholy hand. (I added blue bride-of-Frankenstein streaks on both sides of my doll’s hair and added one creepy streak to each ponytail.) Your creativity is what will really make this prop special.
Enjoy making your prop – and sweet dreams.