Not only are they alive, but there are no strings attached!
In response to my recent blog about Archie Andrews, my friend Phil commented: "Lots of dummies (and dolls) in movies have a life of their own," going on to cite such examples as Dead of Night, Magic and (in the Hitchcock TV series) Riabouchinska. "What is it with these comedy turns," Phil asked, "that wants us to be scared of them?"
It was a question that got me thinking, not least because the 'technical adviser' on the ventriloquism sequence in the 1945 psycho-thriller, Dead of Night, was none other than Arthur Brough (left), father to Archie's guardian, Peter Brough.
Without question the most dramatic and disturbing sequence in this multi-segment portmanteau movie, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti and others, was that telling the story of ventriloquist Maxwell Frere and his ventriloquial dummy, Hugo Fitch - seen here to the right of Arthur Brough.
In an unforgettable performance by Michael Redgrave, the ventriloquist is seen degenerating into a state of utter insanity when his own personality is taken over by that of the terrifying, ever-smiling Hugo.
Despite only running for the length of a short-subject - and filmed in black and white! - this episode from Dead of Night runs rings of terror round the Technicolor, feature-length frights of Richard Attenborough's 1978 film of William Goldman's Magic.
Nevertheless, Magic, starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith is typical of the evil doll/toy movie of which there have been legion from early pictures such as Tod Browning's 1936 sci-fi creeper, The Devil Doll, through to the various ghastly goings-on in the slew of movies starring Chucky and friends.
So, where does this concept come from?
For as long as children have had toys they have been bringing them to life in their imagination: endowing their dolls, teddies, soldiers, cowboys and indians with personalities, visualising them having adventures and, indeed, even creating worlds for them to inhabit...
The idea that toys come alive is deeply ingrained in our psyche - if you doubt me, visit i used to believe, and see just how many people have recollections of childhood fantasies about their nursery companions coming alive after 'lights out' and going off to have adventures on their own, or plotting to attack them or, far more commonly, ganging up to protect them from whatever monsters lurked in the darkness.
Children's literature is full of tales of the secret lives of toys - such as Winnie-the-Pooh, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Indian in the Cupboard - and the highly successful Toy Story franchise is an obvious manifestation of the same phenomenon.
When we grow "to man's estate" (or simply get a bit older!) we are not only taught to "put away childish things", but we are also taught that giving imagined life to inanimate objects is - depending on your cultural beliefs - blasphemous or psychotic.
The crime of Prometheus was in usurping powers reserved for the gods of Olympus. Firstly, Prometheus made mortal men from the clay of the earth, then he stole the fire of the gods (the very source of creativity) and gave it to mankind so that they, too, might create...
Which is why when, in 1818, Mary Shelley wrote her celebrated novel about Victor Frankenstein and what (thanks to Moviedom) we now call his 'Monster', she titled the volume Frankensten; or, The Modern Prometheus.
Ventriloquism and puppetry are rouge artforms and their wooden players - the Cheeky Chappies and Mr Punches - have (despite the best endeavours of the most rabid moralists) somehow always escaped the axe long enough to amuse or, perhaps, terrify us with their wide eyes, rictus grins and simulated lifelikeness...
But however much we tolerate them, we still subconsciously wonder whether they aren't playing in a forbidden playground - reaching for the power of the gods - to breath life into a dummy and to make it talk with a voice thrown through the air.
Small wonder, I think, that so many stories have sprung up to feed on that fear and seize on the concept of a doll, dummy or puppet that, once brought to life, has (like human beings) "free will" and (again like human beings) is equally capable of going towards the dark as towards the light...
[Images: Pooh & Co by E H Shepard; Boris Karloff as Frankentein's creature (on a USA postage stamp) by Thomas Blackshear II; portrait of 'Mr Punch' © Brian Sibley, 2007, from the superb Punch and Judy show presented by the incomparable Professor Geoff Felix]