Monday, July 23, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Dollhouses

A dollhouse is a toy home, a house constructed in detailed, intricate miniature.  In some instances, a dollhouse has also been described, interestingly, as an “idealized interior,” suggesting that it reflects the maker’s view of a perfect world or dream world.

In cult television history, we’ve seen many weird and scary dollhouses that reflect either a vision of perfection or, alternatively, a vision of terror. 

One of the most memorable and emotionally-resonant such stories is “Miniature,” a fourth season Twilight Zone episode about a timid man named Charley (Robert Duvall), who becomes intrigued by the lives he sees unfolding inside a museum’s dollhouse.  Lonely and isolated, Charley begins to identify with the beautiful female “doll” he sees in danger inside the house, and finally escapes the real world to be with her and protect her. 

An evil grandpa used another highly-detailed dollhouse as a tool of vengeance in “House of Evil,” an episode of Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972).  Here, the dollhouse represents the home of an endangered family, and “cookie” voodoo dolls represent the denizens.  

The grandpa moves the dolls around the dollhouse and shows his mute granddaughter (Jodie Foster) how to do the same.  Before long, murder and arson result from his efforts.

In many episodes of cult television history, the dollhouse has become the (usually temporary) “home” for unlucky characters trapped in a world of giants.  This was the case in the fifth season Twilight Zone episode “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” the Super Friends’ segment “The World’s Deadliest Game” and an early episode of Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants, titled “Ghost Town.”  The fear embodied in all these episodes is of becoming the plaything for a giant, capricious, alien child.  If memory serves, a Marvel Micronauts comic book featured a similar story, with the protagonists from the Microverse trapped on Earth, in a young girl's dollhouse.

In 2009, Joss Whedon created a genre series called Dollhouse, in which memory-wiped “dolls” – very attractive amnesiac men and women -- become the “programmable” playthings of the rich and powerful.  

The dollhouse itself is the central facility in L.A., a place of apparent leisure and recreation and welcoming browns and reds and wood surfaces…but really a gilded cage.  In keeping with the dollhouse motif, the “attic” of this facility is a place of horrors, where troublesome dolls are stored away.


  1. Anonymous7:11 PM

    As children in the '70s my older sister had a dollhouse that was her favorite toy then. Myself being a boy at the time, I naturally put it to good use by flying reconnaissance flights with my Mattel Eagle 1 Transporter over it when she was playing with it with her girl friends.
    Sibling fun.


    1. Hi SGB:

      Oh my goodness, that experience sounds familiar. My older sister also had a very elaborate dollhouse, and I would have these adventures where the Alphans would find it as a kind of haunted house in space. Very creepy (and fun stuff...). I'm sure my sister didn't appreciate it too much.

      As you say, good "sibling fun!"