Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Doll by Josh Webster

The Doll
by Josh Webster
1986 Zebra

For all the Zebra horror I've collected, this is the first I've read.  My main reference for evil dolls is the Twilight Zone Talking Tina episode, which this cribs a bit from, though mainly it draws from The Corsican Brothers.

A single mom working for a large corporation comes to a small logging town after a takeover, bringing us most of the way to a Hallmark romance.  She has twin daughters, Gretchen and Mary.  Gretchen gets a doll from her estranged father, a doll patterned after Cabbage Patch, though imbued with spiritual forces by an Aztec priestess who works for the doll company for reasons not quite explained.

Gretchen and Mary have a psychic connection causing each to suffer the other's injury.  Gretchen finds she can link her doll, also named Mary, into the triad, so that her sister suffers when the doll does, voodoo style.

Before we go to far this direction, Gretchen runs away from home and ends up drowning in a well and eaten by rats.  The doll is found with her corpse, it does a little bit of the Talking Tina routine by showing up in strange places, but very quickly we find that Gretchen's soul entered the doll, and she manages to swap with her sister, taking over her body.

The priestess tracks down the doll, feeling the psychic pain, kidnaps Gretchen/Mary, tortures her by peeling her skin off until Gretchen agrees to abandon the body, and is shot by the police.  The priestess is 100% the villain of the piece, selling dolls with psychic powers and being utterly baffled that a child would do anything to hurt their sibling.  Gretchen was just a little moody, and gets eaten by rats and tortured for it.

But mostly it's the mom dealing with chauvinism at work and starting to date again. This is a dull, dull, dull book.  We're halfway through before there's any hint this was supposed to be a horror novel, and every time an horrific or supernatural element is introduced, Webster pulls back and changes gears. I swear these Zebra authors had a bet with each other how little horror they could include and still get cool cover.

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