Perusing the scant slate of recent horror films that have been hitting North American theaters in limited release (thanks to the pandemic), my eyes fell upon the following title the other day: Slaxx.
That title created a burst of recognition—a memory that I had first read about this movie at the beginning of 2019. Wasn’t this the one about the killer pair of blue jeans?
Turns out: Yep. It’s been a bit of a long road, but Slaxx, from director Elza Kephart, was just released in a limited capacity in Canadian theaters after making its debut as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival. It is indeed about a living, possessed pair of blue jeans that murders people, meaning that Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants references are obviously inescapable. In fact, the first trailer for Slaxx is even sillier than I was expecting, taking the premise quite literally—yep, that’s a pair of jeans dancing around and strangling folks. Observe.
It’s a proudly schlocky entry in a surprisingly prolific but niche horror subgenre: the “inanimate objects come to life and kill people” genre. These films have been around for quite a while—since the 1970s at least—and are clearly still with us today, in guises both humble and highbrow. In fact, our #1 horror film of 2019 qualifies in this niche genre as well: In Fabric is about (at least tangentially) a haunted dress that destroys people’s lives.
Seeing Slaxx come along, then, got me to wondering: How many other of these killer inanimate object movies are there? What about when we remove the plethora of living doll films, which include many entries such as Child’s Play, Small Soldiers, Magic, Dolly Dearest and others? Those films, and all the other horror flicks about objects made in a human image (dummies, mannequins, etc) coming to life, are practically their own subgenre, and using them here feels like cheating. What happens when we focus instead on the stranger examples of murderous inanimate objects in film? We’re talking killer beds, killer fridges, killer lamps and more. That’s when things get really absurd.
So in honor of Slaxx, here’s a dozen more films about inanimate objects that come to life and murder people, presented in chronological order.
1. Killdozer! (Jerry London, 1974)
A classic example of “exactly what it sounds like,” Killdozer! is a TV movie about a bulldozer that kills. That pretty much wraps up the synopsis, honestly—oh, you want more details? Well, it’s actually a bulldozer possessed by a mysterious alien force of some kind, which fell to Earth in a meteor in time immemorial. Let’s hope that the joy of piloting a bulldozer around and menacing 1970s TV stars was worth the wait for that alien entity. The film is a total dud, and is somehow even less compelling than the grainy trailer below would indicate, but if you really feel like this is something you need to seek out, the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube in shockingly high quality. Who took the time to do this, we may never know. Note: This film has nothing at all to do with the so-called “Killdozer rampage” of Colorado resident Marvin Heemeyer, who drove a similarly outfitted bulldozer on a path of destruction through the small town of Granby, Colo., in 2004.
2. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (George Berry, 1977)
Patton Oswalt immortalized Death Bed with an uproarious four-minute piece of stand-up during his second album, forever catapulting this terrible movie into horror film infamy—which is reason enough that you should really watch it at least once. The subtitle isn’t The Bed That Eats People as Oswalt believed; instead it’s the genuinely stupider and more vague The Bed That Eats. Although I suppose it is at least accurate, given that the evil, demon-possessed bed doesn’t only eat human beings, and instead absorbs just about anything placed upon it. There are a few amusing gags, such as the scene where the Death Bed actually gets indigestion before consuming a bottle of Pepto Bismol, but the majority is still a dull, ugly ’70s horror flick with zero budget. Watch it for the Death Bed, get your chuckles and get out.
3. Christine (John Carpenter, 1983)
It bears mentioning that Christine was by no means the first “killer car” film—there’s the simply titled The Car in 1977, at the very least—but it’s undoubtedly the best known, even today. A slam-bang action movie, Christine is all in good fun, and it’s enough to make you wish that John Carpenter had taken a whack at some of Stephen King’s other classics in the 1980s. As we wrote on this one previously in our ranking of every Stephen King movie adaptation:
Forget Trucks or Maximum Overdrive, Christine is the ultimate Stephen King “car comes to life to kill people” movie. The story centers on the spiffy Plymouth Fury of bullied nerd Arnie (Keith Gordon) taking sweet revenge on Arnie’s tormentors in increasingly creative ways. In one of them, the victim could have easily survived by climbing on the car, but we’ll give that one a Charlize Theron-in-Prometheus pass. Director John Carpenter’s take on King is full of the maestro’s trademark moves, such as a strict reliance on mood and tone over narrative substance, spectacular practical effects—the sequence where the car fixes itself is still impressive—and, of course, that raw synth score.
4. The Lift (Dick Maas, 1983)
The Lift is a zany fusion of “technology gone awry” science fiction and horror from The Netherlands, imagining what might occur if an elevator in an office building gained evil sentience. This involves computer chips built with organic materials, pulsing and growing into what are essentially elevator organs, which is exactly as bizarre as it sounds. Still, this has a very “American” 1980s horror feel to it, despite the European origins, feeling like it could be the lost sister film to Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall. How can you not love a tagline that reads: “Take the stairs. For god’s sake, take the stairs.”
Writer-director Dick Maas certainly seemed to love the concept, as he eventually remade it as a joint Dutch/USA production in 2001, retitled first Down and then The Shaft on DVD. That film loses much of the goofy ’80s charm, but it’s notable for being an early starring role for Naomi Watts, who would break through into stardom a year later with another foreign horror remake: The Ring.
5. Maximum Overdrive (Stephen King, 1986)
King’s own adaptation of his short story, “Trucks,” which sees electronic devices coming to life and an army of trucks threatening the lives of a bunch of thinly written morons huddled up inside a dingy gas station, is a film that’s far from a well-oiled machine. During the hilariously ill-advised trailer, Stephen King glares directly into the audience’s face and proclaims with laughable conviction, “I’m gonna scare the hell outta you!” Alas, the final product is an intentionally goofy horror/comedy that tries to be a balls-to-the-wall heavy metal gorefest without a single legitimate scare. Was King trolling the audience in the trailer, or was he, as he admitted later on, so high off his rocker on coke during the production that he couldn’t be held accountable for anything he did on any given day? The amateurishness of the production, be it the cartoonish performances or scenes that are so darkly shot that it becomes impossible to see what the hell is going on, is on full display at every turn. Yet it’s really hard to dismiss the zany energy of the whole enterprise. How can we ignore scenes such as an ATM calling a man (King cameo) an “asshole,” or a character being killed by soda machine projectiles, or the kick-ass “death by pinball machine”? —Oktay Ege Kozak
6. Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (Sandor Stern, 1989)
There aren’t many horror franchises that have contributed less value to the world than The Amityville Horror, which has somehow had no fewer than 11 entries to date. The sequels are all varying shades of terrible, but it’s also a case where even the original entry hasn’t held up particularly well, to the point that when you hear “Amityville” it’s now the schlocky sequels you think of first. It seems fitting, then, that not one but two of them centrally revolve around the “inanimate objects coming to life” trope, in both Amityville 4 and Amityville 6.
In The Evil Escapes, that living object might be the least naturally threatening item on this entire list: a floor lamp. Yes, this is an entire film about a possessed floor lamp, conveniently filled with evil solely due to the fact that it was taken from the Amityville horror house and transplanted to a new home. There, its evil takes root in a home, which leads to a bonanza of people being attacked by inanimate objects—electrical cords, windows, garbage disposals, you name it. Portraying a freaking lamp as the ultimate archfiend really takes the cake, however, and the sequence of trying to perform an exorcism on said lamp is predictably absurd in the extreme. Still, I supposed that’s better than blatantly ripping off Poltergeist in most of the other scenes.
7. Battle Heater (Jôji Iida, 1989)
This is a list full of crazy premises and even zanier executions of those premises, but I promise to you that none of them can touch Battle Heater for sheer WTF-factor. This little-known Japanese feature is a bit like a comedic transmutation of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man, liberally lifting concepts from any film it deems worthy. It’s the story of an apartment building menaced by a rogue kotatsu that comes to life and develops a taste for human blood. For those who have always existed in a world with central heating, a kotatsu is a cheap space heater built into a low table, which is central to many Japanese rooms. With a blanket draped over it, the idea is that you keep your legs under the blanket/table and near the heater in order to stay warm in a building lacking efficient heating. Of course, that also happens to make you easy prey when your kotatsu sprouts rows of fangs and begins crawling around.
Suffice to say, Battle Heater is absolute batshit craziness from start to finish—a deliriously good time, if you can get past the unrelentingly zany tone. It culminates in a battle ripped straight out of James Cameron’s Aliens, as the protagonist fashions a mech-style suit in order to engage the “battle heater” in one-on-one combat. Need I say more?
8. The Refrigerator (Nicholas Jacobs, 1991)
Another farce that is exactly what it sounds like from the title, The Refrigerator is like someone watched the “Zuul!” scene from Ghostbusters and thought, “That’s great, but it really could stand to be 90 minutes long.” The result is an obscure, jumbled mess of a film that plays like an Evil Dead-inspired horror comedy for at least part of its run, but then lapses into random bouts of self-seriousness that totally undermine the attempts at humor in its other sections. Grainy and clearly lacking in any kind of budget whatsoever, The Refrigerator was independently shot in New York over the course of no less than four years, before finally screening at film festivals in Germany and the U.S. in the early 1990s. Imagine spending such a long period of your life, toiling away on a passion project about a refrigerator that is also a portal to hell. Incredibly, this isn’t even the only haunted fridge movie out there either, as the Filipino horror anthology Shake, Rattle and Roll contains a segment about a killer fridge, which was eventually made into another feature just titled Fridge in 2012.
9. Amityville: It’s About Time (Tony Randel, 1992)
We’re sure you have fond memories of earlier in this list, when we described an Amityville Horror sequel structured entirely around the concept of a possessed, evil lamp. Well, who better than the director of Hellraiser 2, Tony Randel, to up the ante by bringing an EVIL CLOCK into play? Ah, that terrible subtitle is suddenly making a lot of sense, isn’t it?
This is practically the same exact concept as Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, wherein an item from the original Amityville Horror house (this time an ornate mantle clock) is brought into a new family’s home and immediately begins to wreak havoc. Time travel and possessions abound; it’s all boilerplate text for the series by this point. It does make you wish they had just leaned into this concept for every subsequent film, though—who could resist an installment about the possessed Amityville toilet, or a haunted hat rack held in the thrall of an ancient evil from beyond space and time?
10. The Mangler (Tobe Hooper, 1995)
The decline of Tobe Hooper’s commercial directing career was clearly in full swing by the time the Poltergeist helmer took on this low-budget adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “The Mangler” in 1995. It’s a bit sad to see, but the resulting film is fun in its own way—visually bombastic, as Hooper films like Lifeforce and The Funhouse so often were, but saddled with an incredibly silly plot that it manages to take too seriously. The fault likely lies in trying to adapt “The Mangler” in the first place—King’s original short story about an evil, haunted laundry press was about 10 pages long, and never meant to be enough content to base an entire feature film around. It’s just another entry in the long history of features made from King stories that simply didn’t deserve the 100-minute treatment, but genre fans will at least enjoy the presence of horror maestro Robert Englund and Ted Levine of The Silence of the Lambs, in addition to some slick visuals. But when you get right down to it, there was just no reason to bother making this adaptation, other than the hope to make a quick buck.
11. Rubber (Quentin Dupieux, 2010)
Trying to describe Rubber is almost entirely an exercise in futility. It is, suffice to say, utterly unlike every other film on this list, most of which are schlocky, straightforward horror sequels made as cash grabs or due to a dearth of ideas. Rubber, on the other hand, does indeed contain a living tire that rolls around, using its inexplicable psychokinesis powers to explode people’s heads, Scanners-style, but it couldn’t be further from the grindhouse exploitation aesthetic you’re no doubt imagining when you read that. Rather, Dupieux’s film is a bizarre satire of horror cinema and the very idea of traditional story structure, to the point that it contains a sort of Greek chorus of audience members within the film itself, observing the action and commenting on it, and eventually becoming involved in it. Truly, the film wants you to question the nature of stories told on screen in general.
Beyond that, though, trying to suss out the secret meaning of Rubber feels quite beside the point—it exists largely to confound, so you’re best off just being confused, and possibly delighted by its weirdness.
12. In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2019)
Peter Strickland is a cinematic aesthete, an artist who is both beguiled by and displays a mastery over the slightest and most ephemeral elements of production design, visuals, texture and sound in his films. In 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio, he first applied this degree of hyper-attention toward the psychological horror genre, setting his story within the world of film industry foley itself to provoke audience reflection on sound and the nature of reality. In 2019’s In Fabric, meanwhile, he once again returns to core influences that range from Italian giallo to 1970s European erotic thrillers, but suffuses them with a gauzy style that is all his own. His films are sumptuous experiences that stimulate every sense one can use to appreciate cinema.
In Fabric is one of those films where the premise could just as easily be applied toward a five-minute horror short as it could a feature film. You can say it in a couple words: “A haunted dress ruins people’s lives.” That sounds like source material easy to envision within the context of a cheesy horror anthology, like something from England’s Amicus Productions in the 1970s, but in Strickland’s hands it becomes the basis for a phantasmagorical descent into a certain, lushly appointed style of madness. In Strickland’s world, you’d end up stark raving mad in a room with padded walls, but they’d feel amazing to the touch. In Fabric deserves far more attention that it received last year.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre movie geek. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film writing.