If horror films are to be believed, every car and toaster on the planet is just waiting for the chance to kill all humans—the moment our unassuming stuff becomes sentient, our houses are filled with nigh unstoppable death machines.
I’ve gathered five of my favorite schlocky horror movies starring lethal inanimate objects, listed in no particular order, and with a few caveats: no dolls or haunted houses! Both have enough examples to constitute their own subgenres, and would take over the whole list if I included them. Plus? Creepy Dolls are probably real, and I do not need to wake up to some hollow-eyed Chatty Cathy standing at the foot of my bed with a knife….
Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (1977)
Like many people, I first heard about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats via Patton Oswalt’s weirdly inspirational (and VERY NSFW) stand up routine. I feel I should point out that “Death Bed” is a slight misnomer—it should probably be called “Digestion Bed: The Bed That Uses Diabolical Yellow Gastric Juices To Slowly Absorb You”—but even I wouldn’t see that movie.
Death Bed becomes possessed because of a demonic rape/murder incident, then it traps Art Nouveau illustrator Aubrey Beardsley in a painting inside its room, and then it consumes a series of hapless young people who try to use it as a clandestine make out spot. Poor Beardsley narrates, all the while trying to make contact with one of the modern teens so they can exorcise the Death Bed and free him from his hell.
I’m not going to pretend there’s any higher meaning to Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats does exactly what it says on the tin, or the bedpost, or whatever. But I guess you could say that in a lot of horror there’s a disturbing conflation of “rape” and “love” and then later a weird conflation between consensual sex and death. It’s there! Look at it, if you want!
Sometimes even I hit the bottom of my analysis reserves, OK?
The Refrigerator (1991)
What if I told you that a ridiculous exploitation movie called The Refrigerator was a subversive domestic horror nigh on par with Rosemary’s Baby?
Or at least, that it’s a lot closer to Rosemary’s Baby than I had any right to expect. I bought The Refrigerator for $1 at a video store’s going out of business sale, and as I put it into my old, old VCR (most of this sentence is obsolete so far, wow) I was like, “This’ll be a fun way to kill Friday night,” but I was wrong! Because while, yes, there is some excellent REFRIGERATOR IS ALSO A PORTAL TO HELL action, there’s also a sympathetic woman trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship with a shortsighted, toxic guy.
She tries to make her marriage work, and balance her emotional life with her dream of being an actor, while her already-shitty husband is driven ever more evil by his proximity to the Evil Refrigerator. Things get even darker than you would expect, until a kind, sensitive plumber shows up, with a warning about the couple’s kitchen appliances. Finally the woman begins to see a life beyond the tiny, gaslit world she’s been trapped in.
Also the Evil Refrigerator keeps eating people.
Killer Condom (1996)
I’ll admit that I hit play on Killer Condom because the titular condom was designed by H.R. Giger. I’ll further admit that my entire thought process was: “Holy shit, I have got to see a demonic condom designed by H.R. Giger.” But then movie turned out to be… pretty good?
This is a German film, shot in New York, based on a subversive Italian comic book, and distributed by Troma. The plot follows an anachronistically 1940’s-style hardboiled cop who is (A) named Luigi Mackeroni and (B) openly gay. After he’s transferred from Sicily to Manhattan (???), he’s grievously wounded by the Killer Condom, and has to hunt it down before it strikes again—all the while talking to the audience in a weary monologue filled with existential dread and musings on mortality. It’s slowly revealed that the film’s villain is a conservative would-be religious leader, and the whole movie is actually about the importance of equality and sexual freedom in the face of the AIDs crisis. It’s great! …In a B-movie-that-stars-a-condom-designed-by-H.-R.- Giger kind of way.
The Mangler (1995)
The Mangler is born of Stephen King’s hard-won understanding of working class horror. “The Mangler” is a nickname for a type of laundry press that’s actually called a “mangle,” which Stephen King used during one of the many jobs he held before Carrie made him rich. The short story the film is based on (included in his collection Night Shift, which also gave us “Trucks”—more on that one below) is as much about the drudgery of a poorly-paid manual labor gig as it is supernatural shenanigans.
The film tweaks the story a little: the titular Mangler is possessed by a demon that can only be sated through the sacrifice of virginal teenage girls, so while The Mangler mangles people of all genders and sexual proclivities, its evil is tied inextricably into the crossroads of female innocence and sexuality. After one woman cuts herself on it, and a second woman spills antacid on it, the combination of human blood and nightshade awakens its dark heart. As in the story, a botched exorcism (possibly my favorite phrase in the English language) leads to The Mangler ripping free of its Laundromat and roaming the streets in search of blood.
Maximum Overdrive (1996)
I have a soft spot in my heart for Maximum Overdrive, because watching it at a very young age expanded my vocabulary in ways that I explore to this day. But please understand, this is a terrible film. A loose adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Trucks,” the film expanded the original premise to posit that nearly all electrical appliances, cars, ATMs, neon signs, etc. became sentient and really, really, pissed at humanity. Maximum Overdrive was both King’s directorial debut and his final directorial effort, and was also a pretty low point for Emilio Estevez, semi trucks, and steamrollers.
Earth passes through the tail of a comet, and there’s a UFO maybe (???) and this for some reason brings all of our machines to full, bristling life, and they haaaaaate us. The film opens with an ATM calling a cameo-ing Stephen King an asshole, and runs through the great philosophical questions like, “What if my electric knife wanted to kill me? What if…. a roadside gas pump wanted to kill me? What if…. a bulldozer wanted to kill me?
It also features Yeardley Smith, who went on to voice Lisa Simpson, screaming the line: “CURTIS! Don’t you make me a widow on my weddin’ night! CUUUURTIIIIIIS!” to her co-star John Short, who plays Curtis. If I’m remembering correctly, this line was repeated at least 7,000 times before the end of the film. Sometimes I hear it, on those nights when sleep eludes me and I stare into the dark contemplating every life decision I’ve ever made.
So these are my five favorites—do you have any preferred possessed inanimate objects? Tell me about them before my keyboard exacts its terrible vengeance!