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Can Inanimate Objects Be Possessed Like in Five Nights at Freddy’s?
That depends on who you ask.
The possessed or haunted object (often anthropomorphic) is a mainstay of the horror genre, and for good reason. A doll or animatronic character has many of the features of a person but lacks the spark of life behind the eyes. When they move, they do so with too few points of articulation and a lack of emotion that raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
Characters like Chucky, or the collection of possessed robots in Five Nights at Freddy’s (in theaters and streaming on Peacock October 27) don’t have to explain why they’re frightening because it’s built right in. In the real world, people throughout history have claimed that all manner of objects become possessed by the spirits of the dead, demons, or other supernatural forces. But is there any evidence that objects can actually become haunted?
Can Objects Actually Become Haunted, like in Five Nights at Freddy's?
The Afterlife of Haunted Dolls
While Annabelle, an otherwise inconspicuous Raggedy Ann doll, has become a Hollywood horror darling in recent years, her story is ostensibly based on a real one. Annabelle’s original owners claim to have regularly found her in odd places where no one had left her, and the Warrens, paranormal investigators played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring franchise, claimed she was possessed by a demon.
Annabelle might enjoy the highest level of celebrity, but she’s far from the only haunted doll out there. There is a moderate trade in haunted dolls and other possessed objects in the dark corner stalls of the internet’s digital marketplaces. You can get your very own haunted doll on eBay for as little as $20.00, plus shipping.
Certainly, there are a whole bunch of people who buy into the idea of possessed objects or have at least decided to play along with the joke, but the history and study of haunted objects is a little less clear.
Haunted Objects Used to Be Way More Common
As spiritualism experienced a boon in the 1850s, reports of haunted objects went through the roof, but people didn’t necessarily interpret those events as hauntings. At the time, some people believed that objects could hold onto energy from previous experiences, perhaps even energy transmitted to them during manufacturing. As a result, you might purchase a new lamp only for it to jump off the mantle when you’re not watching.
While the notion of nebulous energies was gaining in popularity, ghosts were a popular explanation for these unexplained phenomena. In fact, at the time, haunted objects were the primary way in which ghosts interacted with the world of the living in the public consciousness. Only later, with innovations in photography, did the notion of semi-transparent humanoid specters take shape.
It shows that the way ghosts, poltergeists, spirits, demons, etc., present themselves isn’t consistent, but changes with the times. So, too, as animatronics became more widespread, the spirits that once haunted dolls jumped into plush-covered robots.
We Are the Real Haunted Toys
The trouble is that a haunted lamp, haunted doll, or haunted restaurant robot, just look like a lamp or a doll or a robot, unless they’re misbehaving. It becomes difficult then, to tell the difference between a malevolent object and an inanimate one. At present, the only evidence of haunted objects comes from the stories of the people who allegedly witnessed them. It’s not nothing, but it won’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.
Which isn’t to say that science has no answers. A 2022 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggests that objects can’t get haunted, but people can… sort of. Haunted People Syndrome is a proposed condition in which heightened somatic sensory sensitivity leads to an increase in experienced supernatural activity.
In essence, some people might be predisposed to interpret unexplained incidents as having supernatural origins. It’s not that you’re haunted, it’s just that your brain is convinced that you are, which from an end user perspective is the same thing. An internal origin might also explain why some people report hauntings even after ridding themselves of allegedly possessed objects or even changing residences. You can’t outrun a ghost if it’s coming from inside of you.
Of course, our armchair speculation will be cold comfort to Mike, the poor security guard in Five Nights at Freddy’s, in theaters and on Peacock October 27.