If this were behind my attic wall, I’d run away from the house. Screaming.

Are you kidding me with this? There’s scary and creepy, and then there’s this, which gave me nightmares. I don’t do well with talking dolls. I purposely never watched the Chucky movies, I avoided Teddy Ruxpin as a child, and the “Talking Tina” episode of the Twilight Zone is one of the scariest. Maggie is a sickly orphan and sent to live with unknown relatives. Very Secret Garden, right? She’s sent to live at a boarding school owned by two sisters, except no one is at the school anymore. So creepy red flag number one.

Maggie starts hearing voices that no one else can hear, and she and everyone else thinks she is crazy. As Hermione Granger would say, “Hearing voices is never a good sign.” Til one day she finds a hidden attic where there are dolls that are walking and talking. Instead of running away, arms flailing, she starts to hang out with the dolls, who are an older couple with a dog. See cover. They have fun time adventures, which include a picnic with wood pieces serving as bread and butter. Through the love of the dolls, she learns to love and opens up to others more.Turns out the dolls are haunted and animated by the ghosts of a dead couple that used to live in the house. Or something.

Then one day her aunts find the room and as soon as they are seen, the dolls fall down dead and don’t move. For days. So not only do you have walking and talking dolls, but now you have dead corpse dolls. Eventually the dolls come back to life and all is well and everyone lives happily ever after. Yikes.

There are only a few things that really scared me as a child. They were:

  • this book
  • Large Marge showing Pee Wee what the people who fell off the top of the Empire State building in a truck looked like as they were pulled out of the wreckage
  • the corpse of the dead kid in Stand By Me
  • Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” video
  • Talking Heads “Blind” video )you can’t find it online- thank god
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62 thoughts on “If this were behind my attic wall, I’d run away from the house. Screaming.

  1. You know what scared me as a child? Public service announcements from Concerned Children’s Advertisers (basically a Canadian anti-drug propaganda machine for kids). They always played the darkest images with the most omnious music in the background, and a little whispery voice telling us how drugs would rot our brains. I still lie awake some nights thinking about them.

  2. Word. This book was beyond bizarre. The only thing that compares is another Cassedy title, Lucie Babbidge’s House. It’s the same idea, only with dollhouse dolls, instead of normal-sized ones.

  3. Oh my god. I used to have a Pamela doll that would shut herself off by saying “Good-bye” if you didn’t keep talking to her. That scared the hell out of my father one night and he threw that bad boy away!

    Do kids read scary books these days? I don’t consider Harry Potter or even Twilight scary. I’m talking “this book-was published by scholastic and I bought it at a book fair and just having it in the same room at night is enough to give me nightmares” scary? you know, books that still haunt you at say 28 years old?

  4. I looooove this book. And also the Dollhouse Murders.

    I don’t remember ever being seriously creeped out by either, although I read them both many times as a small child. But today, I can’t read books that are too brutal. Creepy talking dolls? Fine. Rape scenes? Nothing doing.

  5. I was thinking about this book the other day because the dog’s head gets cracked and they put furniture polish on it. Don’t know why that detail has stuck with me.

    And the talking dolls don’t disturb me as much as the effin’ clown from Poltergeist — and clowns in general.

  6. Oh, I LOVED this book – I got it in 4th grade as a reading prize, and still have that copy. It never scared me, either – which is weird, because I was easily scared. (The Dollhouse Murders kept me up for months.)

  7. I loved this book too! I don’t remember being scared of it either, but I don’t scare easily. I brought it to school to be read aloud to my class in fifth grade. It didn’t even occur to me that it might scare the other kids, ha ha.

  8. when I was a kid my older brother told me a story about dolls killing you in your sleep. Took me about 8 years to get over that.

  9. Never read this one, but LOVED The Dollhouse Murders. I think I got it secondhand, and I read that sucker over and over.

    What else scared me as a child? Two words: Unsolved Mysteries. I still have trouble watching the revamped version.

  10. I always kind of dug the talking dolls thing. I loved this book and the Dollhouse Murders. I’m with one of the above posters…Unsolved Mysteries scared the crap out of me. My brother and I used to turn the lights out and watch it and scare ourselves stupid. Then I’d have to sleep on the floor of his room or he’d sleep on the floor of my room….and we were like 11 and 13 years old. Way too old to be sleeping in the same room!

  11. Oh wow, that book sounds super creepy. Talking dolls, yikes!

    I was really scared of my cabbage patch kid because there was a story on the news about how this girl’s doll came to life and started flying around the room and attacking her, saying ‘you didn’t tuck me in’. The family tried to get rid of it by burning it on the barbeque, but it came back! I’m now thinking it wasn’t real news.

  12. OMG, I was just trying to remember the title of this book a few days ago! It thoroughly creeped me out, but I still felt compelled to read it over and over. Didn’t Maggie’s uncle die at the end and become a doll himself? *shudder* I also vaguely remember her having an imaginary backwoods friend who she’d make fun of for not knowing how water faucets work. Healthy child, that Maggie.

    What continues to perplex me is why they drew her looking like a sickly ghost on the cover—especially since the book makes a point of describing how her appearance improved after she became friends with the dolls. The first time I read this book I kept waiting for her to die and become a ghost because of the cover.

    I’m also with the above posters about how scared I was of Unsolved Mysteries. I used to watch it with my hands covering my eyes for probably half of every episode. The Halloween specials about ghosts were the worst.

  13. “Behind the Attic Wall” was one of my favorite re-reads growing up. I still have a copy somewhere. “Wait ‘Til Helen Comes” and “The Dollhouse Murders” were the books that nearly made me crap myself. Especially “Wait ‘Til Helen Comes”. Because that ghost was freakin’ NUTS.

  14. The Large Marge face was the scariest!

    Also scary – the Nothing AND that damn gigantic turtle in Neverending Story. Oh, and the masked government people in E.T.

  15. Oh, current creepy kids books are Coraline and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Super creepy reads, even as an adult. Not scary, per se, but creepy – especially Coraline.

  16. Aaw! I loved this book! I’ve re-read it a billion times, and I actually just bought a copy of it for my 11-year-old niece. I still tear up, thinking about how she finds the doll walking-stick at the end…

  17. The thing that scared me most when I was a kid was Gremlins… it came out when I was three. That shit is traumatizing to a 3 year old who has lots of stuffed animals.

  18. i read this book a bunch of times as a child. i had totally blocked out the trauma until i saw the cover on your blog post today. how terrifying. it’s all coming back to me. the worst was the dark, desolate hopelessness and loss that Maggie felt. and i remember thinking the dolls were sort of judgmental and mean. i need to re-read this.

  19. “Are you afraid of the Dark” used to really scare me. Especially the episode where the main character(a girl)spent the summer with her cousin/aunt and next door to their house was an abandonded house haunted by a creepy ghost girl who died in the house as a child. The scene where the main character is walking through the house and the ghost girl is slowy walking towards her while saying “help me” freaks me out to this day.

  20. OO OO OOO OOO! Remember Watcher in the Woods? Where the girl is in the house of mirrors and the blond girl with the blindfold appears? Yikes!

    “Narek” is Karen spelled backwards.

  21. I loved this book. Read it over and over…The scary thing is I watched PeeWee Herman movie awhile ago and the Large Marge moment still creeped me out.

  22. I’ll join in the chorus of people who were scared to death of “The Dollhouse Murders.” What sort of loonies thought these were good for children?

  23. OMG, Sarah, is that the episode where “Help Me” appears backward on the wall because the girl is WRITING IT FROM BEHIND THE MIRROR?! Good God, that episode was terrifying. I watched the heck out of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” though — and was always scared, lol. (My favorite episode was when they got stuck in a “pinball game” that was played out in a closed mall. At the end they think they won and they go to the escalator to ride home, and at the top rolls a huge pinball ball — it was awesome.)

    I must have read this book as a child because looking at the cover gave me a shudder. I have apparently repressed the memory, though, thank goodness.

  24. The Dollhouse Murders freak me out, I used to cover my eyes during Chucky, and when I went to bed at night, I used to turn my dolls to face the wall so they couldn’t watch me while I slept. Do you think boys faced the same doll traumas we do?

    IHW, you wouldn’t have wanted to attend a sleepover with me. Knowing that no one else had seen WATCHER IN THE WOODS, I brought it over to my 7th grade sleepover (at my friend’s creepy 19th century-built house with creaky wood floors and darkened glass windows and no adults home).

    Bette Davis’ bug eyes can still freak me out.

    Oh, and I used to play Pee Wee’s Large Marge bit over and over and over on VHS ’cause I’m masochistic like that.

    • I adore Bette Davis and loved The Watcher In The Woods but dolls (and clowns) totally freak me out thanks to a little incident that happened when I was about five or six years old. Basically, my babysitter’s boyfriend pulled the heads off several of my dolls and stuck them under my pillow. Since the a-hole didn’t mention this to my baby sitter, it was a reeeally unpleasant surprise for both of us — for me when I found the miscellaneous heads and for her when I screamed so loudly that the next door neighbors came running to see what had happened and she got busted for having an unauthorized visitor. Served her right for dating such a dickwad. ;)

  25. I was such a coward (and still am) that the scariest I ever managed were those “Point Horror” books. One in particular called The Lifeguard by Richie Tankersley Cusick made me scared to go to the beach ever again. Even the cover was frightening – the lifeguard was wearing mirror sunglasses, which are a whole creepy phenomenon unto themselves.

    Also, the Genesis reference pleases me. Thanks to my dad’s music taste, that band was my musical upbringing!

  26. Watcher in the Woods! I watched that IN class in like the 4th grade. That was such a freaky movie.

    Another thing that creeped me out was the opening credits of Tales From The Darkside. I never watched a episode…I couldn’t make it past the intro. God I just looked it up on youtube and I still couldn’t watch it!

  27. Margie–I was the same way with the opening credits of The Twilight Zone. When it played on Nick at Nite, I’d have to shut off the TV right away!

  28. Large Marge seriously freaked my shit out too. But I think it will always be a distant second to the scene in E.T. where E.T. gets sick and turns white and pops out of the body bag that the evil government agents have zipped him into.

  29. Watcher in the Woods STILL scares the shit out of me.

    I started reading “What Eric Knew” (which I seem to recall is by James Howe, who wrote the Bunnicula books), and part way through I got so scared I threw the book in my closet, and then refused to go into my closet. My mom had to go get the book and return it to the library. I think I was in 3rd grade at the time. I am still scared to try to read that book.

  30. Love it, love it, love it. Watcher in the Woods was so scary, and I am so happy for the flashback of the Dollhouse Murders. Riveting! Oh, I hope you do a recap of that!

  31. part of me thought i had imagined this book. i’m relieved to discover that it actually did exist and isn’t just some strange, shadowy, creepy dream i had as a child.

  32. I agree with the posters that said this book confused them. I was never quite sure if the dolls were real, or just some weird figment of Maggie’s imagination after hearing about the school’s former owners. Whatever the case, this family had every mental illness under the sun – her aunts had OCD something fierce (this book taught me the meaning of the word ‘unhygenic’), Maggie was either clinically depressed or perhaps schizophrenic, and her uncle was just a plain ol’ creep loon.

    I remember her backwoods imaginary friend too.

  33. OMG I was just thinking about this book today! I wanted to post a “Lost and Found” because all I remembered was one of the creepy doll’s names. I remember this book both confused and scared the hell out of me, and I was the kid who read Friday the 13th novels when I was 11.

  34. Watcher in the Woods has always and will always freak me out. I still can’t believe that a) my mom let me watch it and b) that it’s a disney movie.

    I loved this book when I was a kid, but it didn’t scare me. The book that frightened me to no end? After the Bomb – a lovely story of what would happen if a nuclear bomb fell on Los Angeles in 1985. Yes, it’s a YA book and it kept me up at night for years, fearing that every plane that flew over head was going to drop a bomb on me…

  35. I totally remember this book!! This post made me laugh several times – so glad I found your website. I too stayed away from the Chuckie movies until I was in college.

  36. I remember this book! It was one of my favorites growing up. :D

    I remember also reading “Wait ‘Til Helen Comes”, “The Dollhouse Murders” (wasn’t that the one where two people were murdered and the dolls moved into the same places the people who were murdered were in and the aunt and someone else was hiding in the closet?)and “Footsteps On The Stairs”.

    I feel like going to Ebay now and finding all of them (except for F.O.T.S. because I still have my copy). :)

  37. I read “The Secret Room Downstairs” shortly before I read this book, and they were always linked in my head as stories about secret areas with creepy people from the past, but at least “Secret Room” had human ghosts instead of doll ghosts. There was a dollhouse, though.
    Thanks for refreshing my memory.

  38. Bookharlot: You should go back and try to finish “What Eric Knew,” it doesn’t end up how one would think.

    I love/d “Behind the Attic Wall,” thought it was one of the best YA ghost books out there. The Dollhouse Murders was scary, though, and Ghost Cat scared me as well.

  39. I am actually reading this book again for the tenth time,I first read it when I was 13 and now 18,this book never creeped me out because unlike Chucky,these dolls were not murderous freaks and I found them quite funny and amusing . They also showed Maggie what no one else in her life showed her which was love and acceptance for who she was. In the end when Uncle Morris was a doll,I wasn’t freaked out,I was sort of sad and happy at the same time.I think this is a good book if you aren’t freaked by talking dolls,haunted rooms and whatnot. Though the way Ms.Cassidy writes the haunting is poignant and sad and the ending is bittersweet. Also in the end Maggie does end up with a loving foster family so it all turns out all right in the end.

  40. I lOVE this book! You may think its creepy and thats how you think of it. But (1 your not supposed to OVER think it (2 its a kids book, kids have this cool,new thing, its called imaginations. Let them use it (3 my opinion that i love book (4 SYLVIA CASSEDY ROXS MY SOCKS OFF

  41. When I first read this book as a kid I admit I was a bit put off by the talking dolls. One day I worked up the courage to finish the book and I have to say to this day it is still ingrained in my mind as one of my most beloved childhood novels that I read.

    I am looking forward to re-reading it again soon.

  42. I read this on the plane flying home after a summer with my dad when I was about eight, and I found it confusing and disturbing–and incredibly sad. The aunts are so old and odd, and Maggie is really a heinous little creep; I always got depressed when she destroyed the baby doll they bought her in an effort to be nice. The dolls are nice and all, but then Uncle Morris dies, which is sad, and Maggie gets rejected by the aunts again–but that’s okay because a “real” family adopts her. So weird. I wonder whether I still have a copy around here …

  43. that large marge scene really scared me. i saw it when i was about 4. now im ten. by the way i remembered her with a yellow face and yellow wiggling lines coming out

  44. My favorite character in Behind The Attic Wall was Uncle Morris, but I was a strange child.

    The Dollhouse Murders was in the Scholastic Book Fair selection this past spring! Third and fourth-graders thought it sounded great, although most of them looked at me like I was nuts when I shared that I read it at their age.

  45. I completely forgot about this book. It scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Now I realize why, at the ripe ol’ age of 30, I’m completely terrified of dolls!

  46. I actually liked this book and I wish I still had it,I also liked Lucie Babbidges House ,but it did confuse,I wasn’t sure what was real and what was fake

  47. Aww, I did a book report on this one in the 6th grade! It’s basically “The Secret Garden with less whimsical magic and more creepy”. Also the aunts were douches and it’s no wonder Maggie had to turn to ghost dolls for comfort.

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