Jun 28, 2013

13 Inanimate Objects That Love Murder

Article By: Ben Raphael Sher

In modern society, people love things.  Where would we be without our IPhones, our laptops, our crockpots, our coffee, our doll collections (don't laugh. Marie Osmond built an entire empire on it)?  What would we do if, one day, they turned on us?  For decades, horror films have been preying on these anxious questions.  Here are 13 of the most delightful examples of that.

1. Zuni Fetish Doll (Trilogy of Terror - 1975)

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No list of movies about inanimate objects that kill would be complete without a movie about living, killer dolls.  Manipulative ventriloquist dummies terrorized Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night (1945) and Ann Margaret and Anthony Hopkins in Magic (1975), a possessed “My Buddy” lookalike sent poor Dinah Manoff out a window in Child’s Play (1989). Yes, killer dolls are as ubiquitous in movies as bad Phil Collins theme songs. The final segment of the Dan Curtis TV movie Trilogy of Terror, titled “Amelia,” terrorized an entire generation of children.  In it, Karen Black plays a single woman who, possibly in an effort to deal with her overbearing mother, brings home a Zuni fetish doll (!) after a shopping trip.  Apparently unfazed by an attached scroll announcing that the doll contains the spirit of a Zuni hunter named “He Who Kills,” Amelia puts it on the coffee table and goes to prepare dinner.  A half hour of unrelenting stress follows, as the Zuni doll comes to life and chases Amelia with a knife, mercilessly trying to kill her and surpassing all of her efforts to drown, beat, cook (!!) or otherwise contain him. 


2. Shower Nozzle (Witchtrap - 1989)

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A group of psychics, demonologists, and detectives (played by a company of remarkably inanimate actors, plus the brilliant Linnea Quigley) come to exorcise a gothic mansion that is haunted by the ghost of an elderly Satanist.  He hopes to walk among the living once again, with help from a ritual involving human sacrifices.  They encounter a host of inanimate objects that kill, including a gun that shoots itself, a speeding car without a driver, and an axe and shovel that fly.  However, in the film’s highlight, a haunted shower nozzle stabs Linnea Quigley repeatedly in the neck while she bathes.  Norman Bates wishes that he could come up with such innovations.

For your enjoyment, here is the trailer in Spanish, just because it makes a weird movie weirder.



3. Mannequins (Tourist Trap - 1979)

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Mannequins are reliable standbys in the genre, but they’ve rarely killed as effectively as in the underrated Tourist Trap.  A group of friends (including Charlie’s Angels Tanya Roberts) find themselves stuck at an abandoned gas station/souvenir shop/wax museum after a tire blowout.  They are terrorized by wax statues that not only kill, but also have telekinetic powers that allow them to make other inanimate objects fly at people.  As if that wasn’t enough to turn these people off from every watching the 1987 Kim Cattral gem Mannequin, they also become the hostages of Davey, the controller of the mannequins.  He lives in the basement of the tourist trap, looks like Mitt Romney, and wears a Patsy Cline mask made of human flesh.  This might sound like a laugh riot, but it’s actually genuinely creepy, with beautiful cinematography by Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (son of the legendary Old Hollywood director, Josef von Sternberg!) and a haunting score by Pino Donaggio.  Also, while wax statue jokes about Tanya Roberts’ acting seem inevitable, she gives a surprisingly likable and sensitive performance.


4. Bed (Death Bed: The Bed That Eats - 1977)

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People in horror movies are always getting killed for having sex, but usually not by the bed.  In this oddly avant-garde horror epic (notable for its achievement in crimped hair, as seen above), various random fools keep trying to sleep, have sex, play cards, or have picnics on a bed that hungrily consumes everything from people to fried chicken and wine.  Meanwhile, an artist trapped in a painting across from the bed tries to warn the victims, without success.  Death Bed, rather uniquely, gives its killer inanimate object several lengthy “origin story” montages, which include failed demon love affairs, lesbianism, sexual rejuvenation experiments by doctors, and a political assassination.  You’ll never take a nap on a stranger’s furniture again.


5. Braces (Poltergeist II: The Other Side - 1986)


Good lord, braces are such a drag!  They keep you from getting dates, they hurt, they trap food, make it impossible to brush your teeth and also sometimes kill.  After the first Poltergeist, audience were left with numerous lingering questions, not the least of which was "Will the Freelings decide to get Robbie’s buckteeth fixed?” The answer is yes, but haunted spirits end up possessing the poor kid's braces (being a teen sucks!). They encase Robbie’s entire body and even plug themselves into a sparking electrical socket!  The endlessly heroic Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson rescue Robbie, but later they confront flying chainsaw, a mop that turns into a demon, a toy telephone that contacts the dead, and a wicked one-eyed tequila worm.  It is no wonder that, by Poltergeist III, the Freelings inconsiderately forced Nancy Allen, Tom Skeritt, and Lara Flynn Boyle to adopt Carol Ann.


6. Swimming Pool (The Legacy - 1978)

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Swimming pools were a huge source of anxiety in the 1960s and 1970s.  In The Graduate and Valley of the Dolls, the swimming pool represents the pinnacle of mainstream culture’s soulless decadence.  It is no wonder then that, in the 1970s and 1980s, swimming pools in horror movies took on homicidal tendencies.   One of the best swimming pool death scene takes place in the otherwise relatively uneventful 1978 prestige horror film The Legacy, starring Katharine Ross and Roger Daltrey!  A multi-millionaire lures a group of people, "...a million-dollar prostitute, a star-maker, a nation-killer, a woman whose lust runs cold as graveyard snow," to his mansion to collect “an inheritance.”  Naturally, one by one, they die.  Maria goes swimming in the mansion’s grand indoor pool and finds herself trapped underwater by an invisible force.  Murdered by her desire for the accoutrements of wealth!


7. A Tree (The Guardian - 1990)

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If you live in Los Angeles, you know not to trust any trees not of the palm variety. Allan and Molly Sheridan, the yuppie protagonists of The Guardian, are not so wise.  They move into a fabulous modern house with a deep East coast forest in their backyard, and pay the price.  Their Brookstone Beautiful lifestyles go awry when Molly, a new mother, decides to go back to work (never a good idea for a woman in a horror movie in the early ‘90s).  They hire Camilla, a sexy British nanny who, unbeknownst to them, is one of those evil druids you always hear about.  Before long, she’s seducing Allan and trying to sacrifice their baby to a gigantic old topiary, which gains its energy from the flesh and blood of children, and then displays their faces on its trunk!  There are multiple killer trees in horror movies, the most famous being the rapist tree from The Evil Dead (1980). But Camilla’s tree of worship is so delightfully weird.  Eating yuppie babies is just so, well, subversive.



8. Dessert (The Stuff - 1985)

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Frozen yogurt is scary and dangerous.  Listen, it is!  It lures you in with its promises of active cultures and fattening dessert taste with few calories, and before you know it it’s ruling your life with cravings, beckoning you to the magic spigots for another hit every afternoon at 3.  You do what it says.  If you don't believe it, watch The Stuff, in which a new frozen dessert becomes a national sensation before consuming the minds of all who eat it.  Eventually, innocent families are turned into Stuffies and the confection threatens to destroy all who try to defy it.  Watching it in the 1980s was almost enough to curb suburbia's TCBY addiction.  Almost.



9. Refrigerator (The Refrigerator - 1991)

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“No survivors.  Only leftovers,” states the tagline of this 1991 opus about a couple who has major problems keeping their perishables fresh.  Eileen and Steve Bateman move into a squalid apartment in an impoverished neighborhood in New York City.  Its only luxury is, you guessed it, a refrigerator.  Before you can say “Trader Joe’s Sushi,” the refrigerator, which turns out to be a portal to hell, begins transporting the couple’s visitors. Given it's NYC, they’re still really lucky that their unit came with a refrigerator.




10. VHS (The Ring - 2002)

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Anybody who ever collected VHS cassettes knows that unlabelled tapes are thrilling and terrifying at the same time.  You never know what you’re going to find when you pop them into the VCR.  An old episode of USA Up All Night?  Your fifth birthday party?  Your older brother’s fetish porn?  Or an avant-garde montage of a mysterious ring, fingers in a box, and a woman brushing her hair in the mirror that will ultimately lead to your death at the hands of a young goth girl?  This is, of course, what the victims of Ringu, and its 2002 remake The Ring, find.  In the American remake, Rachel (played by Naomi Watts), finds the evil tape on the same shelf as an old VHS copy of Steel Magnolias!  You can just never be certain when and where a VHS tape will lead you to terrifying peril, which probably explains the current popularity of streaming video services.  As if those are so safe.

Here's the video everyone watches, we hope you don't die!




11. Masks (Halloween III: Season of the Witch - 1982)

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Halloween III: Season of the Witch became immediately notorious for abandoning Michael Myers and replacing him with the evil CEO of a toy-manufacturing corporation.  However, in recent years, the film has developed a cult following because of its delicious weirdness, its fantastic electronic score, and its rich depiction of Autumnal magic.  An alcoholic doctor and a beautiful feminist investigate the death of her father, a toy salesman murdered in his hospital bed by a robotic man, who then exploded in the parking lot.  It seems that the salesman became endangered when he began to investigate new Halloween masks released by the Silver Shamrock Corporation, which has become hugely popular thanks to their unspeakably catchy TV commercials.  The couple goes to the Silver Shamrock Factory in Santa Mira, CA, and discover that the head of the factory is planning the biggest trick of all:  On Halloween night, all children wearing Silver Shamrock masks will be drawn to and hypnotized by a Silver Shamrock TV special.  It will make the masks convert their heads into a gaggle of worms and killer snakes.  Some had the same reaction to The Paul Lynde Halloween Special of 1976. 




12. Soda Machine (Maximum Overdrive - 1986)

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Stephen King’s sole directorial enterprise is one of the more grandiose “inanimate objects that kill” films.  In it, a comet flies over the earth, making all of our machines homicidal.  A group of people, led by Emilio Estevez, gets trapped in a truck stop with a bunch of killer 18-wheelers.  However, the 18-wheelers are nothing compared to a soda machine that goes berserk, spewing out cans of cola in an effort to kill an entire Little League team.  The NYC Department of Health would have been wise to use this scene as part of their anti-soda ad campaign in 2009!


13. A Plymouth (Christine - 1983)

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Men and their cars.  It seems like women, or at least stereotypical women on TV, complain about this obsessive relationship all the time.  Christine validates their concerns.  Arnie Cunningham, a cute nerd, buys Christine, a run-down 1958 Plymouth Fury, and decides to nurse her back to health.  He restores her faded parts with almost erotic precision.  She gives him confidence that he has not had before, and occasionally runs over his enemies while blasting oldies (Christine has tremendous taste in music.  Many hipsters would date her because of this).  Soon his best friend and girlfriend find him withdrawing into his new relationship, and not acting like himself.  It seems that Christine’s former owner, who loved Christine and only Christine, has possessed Arnie.  They try to save him, but can only do so if he and Christine don’t kill them first.  Christine is, in fact, a touching and fearless portrayal of co-dependence.  It’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the 1980s


Honorable mention must go to the 2011 film Rubber (about a killer tire), The Mangler (about a shirt folding machine), The Lift (about an elevator) and Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man.

Ben Raphael Sher is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, where he also teaches.  His work has appeared in FangoriaLeonard Maltin's Movie Guide, and Back Stage. You can read more of his work here.


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