A gaudy snooker table tried to kill me once. Or at least was hell-bent on maiming me. I had never assembled a snooker table before, but my dad bought one out of the blue. So, I took it upon myself to put the thing together. The pieces were splayed on the floor and I got to work putting the many screws into the many holes. I did this barefoot—it was early in the morning and I was too pumped to put any slippers or socks on. The disassembled snooker table didn’t look evil. But it hid evil well.
Then, it happened. I backed my foot onto a screw. Flinching in pain, I bought my other foot down onto another screw. Both feet in agony, I clutched the wounds and attempted to hop away in a fashion that almost defied gravity. I, of course, tripped doing this, banging my head on the wall, and my hand slammed down on yet another screw. Once I finished assembling the table (wrong at first), I wasn’t in the mood to play; I was content enough to have survived its malice.
But sometimes, people don’t get that lucky, particularly when it comes to horror films—more particularly when it comes to horror films where the killer is an inanimate object.
When I come across a horror where its titular killer is a fridge, I tend to think the worst. However, I want to go on a journey, and take you with me, in search of a gem or two. I think there’s something in them: taking a household appliance and turning it bloodthirsty. We are in an age of smart horror films and smart devices, so the two could make for a match made in hell.
So, sit back on your sofa (after checking for a row of teeth) and try to relax as we explore if this schlocky-at-first-glance subgenre holds any merits.
Killer Inanimate Object: A recliner
I see this movie poster and I’m immediately left to think that I will be entertained. I’m in for a schlocky ride, the likes of which I can converse about greatly with a bunch of friends. That’s my takeaway from bad, good films. Underneath all the sins it commits in cinema artistry, lies a self-awareness and example of a crew who had the best time making it.
This, sadly, is not the case here. Killer Sofa (2019) opens with a Hoodoo ritual of some sort, followed almost immediately by a less-than-graphic leg getting cut off. No sign of any unusual armchair, but it’s quickly learned that the recliner (the film fails to call it a sofa) is being possessed. It ends up belonging to Francesca (Piimio Mei), our female lead, who does a less than tepid job of carrying us through the film. As well as a rotten recliner, Francessca also deals with a largely untapped plot point where all men find her irresistible. It fits nowhere and nicely exemplifies what I think is the movie’s biggest mistake: congested narrative.
The movie attempts to balance two plots in one. The first concerns the owner of an occult shop, who touches the sofa and finds himself in somebody else’s flashback—featuring a lady running through the woods. He reacts to this inconceivable anomaly in much the same way as someone going a penny over when filling up for petrol, which seems to be his entire emotional repertoire. But, he and his wife do investigate his strange voyeuristic abilities, which eventually leads them on a quest to stop the killer recliner.
Alongside this, the second plot involves Francesca, who is adapting to life with an ugly, out-of-place recliner plonked randomly in the corner of her affluent apartment. She does all the normal stuff, including getting rompy with the recliner and not batting an eyelid when the chair very obviously makes her breakfast.
I could have pardoned the dual narrative if it didn’t take itself so seriously and sucked all the irony out like an automatic straw. Too many times the film displays itself as having some semblance of deep narrative and, dare I say, mystery—all it need do is look at its own title. The sofa should be shuffling around, devouring all within its cushions with a row of razor-sharp teeth; without the bloated addition of spirits and Hoodoo ritualistic practices. Too many characters pop up just to go down, too many character traits opened up and ignored, and not enough rampant sofa murdering. The makers seem to shy away from its own potential at every turning; stuck between wanting to make a horror and a comedy and achieving neither. It fails as a horror especially considering its reserved gore factor and the fact the sofa is more adorable than abominable.
I’ve seen scary chairs do better. My Nan’s old rocker aside, if you’re looking for a frighteningly good portrayal of a killer chair, I highly recommend Japanese horror mangaka Junji Ito, and his adaptation of Edogawa Ranpo’s, The Human Chair (2012).
Death Bed: The Bed that Eats
Killer Inanimate Object: A bed
Born from an actual bad dream had by its director, George Barry, Death Bed (1977) swaps schlocky horror for something a bit more mystical. I was pleasantly surprised by its surreal nature and dream-like (fitting) quality. This flick presents us with a bed that eats anything that stays on it long enough, while a ghost stuck behind a painting narrates. An unusual setup but one that demonstrates at least a semblance of creative thought was put into it. The bed itself is full of character despite never moving or looking remotely alive. When it devours someone, it’s a slow process: secreting acid and pulling the victim into its stomach, where the body slowly drowns and burns until a skeleton is left. It’s visceral; helped by the performances of the actors as they gutturally scream, as well as the shots from the perspective of the bed’s stomach. Gross.
The blend of humor firmly cements this entry as a recommendation. Tittering on the edge of unintentional comedy, Death Bed more or less balances the serious narrative with kitsch humor. Yes, the bed makes noises like a bloke who recorded his lines while actually being asleep. Yes, the bed makes crunching noises akin to biting an apple; even though it’s dissolving its prey. And yes, all the characters are atrociously written. However, it’s an admirable synergy that fits perfectly within the killer object genre. The film is marred in the second half by an uninteresting and confusing backstory, but I applaud it nevertheless.
Killer Inanimate Object: A drone
The spirit of a serial killer is transferred into a drone, a-la Child’s Play except this drone is just a boring drone that flies around cutting people up with its tiny little blades. Introducing the most boring entry on this list, The Drone (2019) is a sleep-inducing, zero effort, slog directed by Jordan Rubin. I can honestly say I forgot everything about it the moment the credits peaked. I’d say this one is the strongest contender for being the worst of the bunch, simply because it’s extremely modern and doesn’t really have an excuse for being this bad. I’ve never piloted a drone (do you say piloted for these things?) but I’d rather crash a drone into my foot several times over than ever experience this film again. I wish I could say more, but it left such little impact on me that I’m afraid I can’t.
Killer Inanimate Object: An app
This time the killer is a phone app that, once downloaded (and the Ts & Cs accepted) will present you with the exact time of your death, which, luckily for the viewers, always falls within the run time of the film. Countdown (2019) is absolutely nothing special and stretches the one-note idea as thinly as cling film. Not only does it feature every horror cliché in the genre’s glossary, but it suffers the same fate as The Drone—immense boredom. The coding of the app is demonic and provides the wriggle room for the spooks to happen, as the app torments the user with select apparitions in the lead up to the inevitable death. Aside from a couple of funny characters, including the phone manager and an alternative priest, played by funnyman P.J. Byrne, the film pries on the phone-obsessed teens eager to prove their worth by going to watch horror in a cinema—until they spend the time scrolling on their phones instead.
I checked to see if an actual app of the Countdown app existed, and wouldn’t you know, there is an app for that. Except it does nothing but display your time of death and causes your camera’s phone light to flash to the sound of generic horror lullabies. I thought my phone was getting riddled with viruses. I think the makers really missed a trick here. We are in a slow-moving age of smart horrors, and I think the app could have formed an intriguing and innovative synergy between it and the film. Transmedia is definitely something we should be looking into more when creating new works, and this could have been a smart opportunity. But Countdown doesn’t care. It’s a classic example of a two-sentence film pitch with absolutely no substance.
Killer Inanimate Object: A car tire
Now here’s a bold entry that quite literally rolls with it. Perhaps one of the more niche homicidal objects, Rubber (2010) is about a killer car tire called Robert that can make people’s heads explode. It’s weird and random, but that’s exactly what it wants to be. The opening features a road adorned with chairs and a car haphazardly bumping into each and every one. Then, one of the main characters gets out and essentially informs us that what we’re about to watch is unexplainable and makes no sense…and you should be okay with that. Then a tire comes to life and starts popping everything it sees. I’m sold.
Surprisingly, the film does an ample job of delivering some very interesting themes. The art of randomness, meta-film (an audience is literally watching the events of the film from within the film and then becomes the film…ouch, my head), and the breaking of cinematic rules are all explored throughout this has-no-reason-to-look-this-gorgeous film. It’s very entertaining as you’ll never know what’s going to happen next and sometimes the film forgets that a killer car tire is even in it. The only thing that lets it down is probably how much it tries and once it’s established itself with how “clever” it is, it really festers in its own self-indulgence. A more careful, thoughtful script, and this could have been a high-flyer for the best killer object horror out there. It’s already miles above the aforementioned objects and is worth a watch because it is original and definitely will get you talking.
Final Destination Franchise
Killer Inanimate Object: EVERYTHING
Yep, the mother of all inanimate object killer films is the Final Destination series. It is quintessential to this subgenre. Okay, so I’m taking some liberties here as, technically, Death itself is the main antagonist. However, it could be argued that Death takes the form of inanimate objects to kill everyone. When literally anything can kill you, it makes for a world you do not want to be in. And the objects aren’t even possessed by an evil spirit or demon. Death lingers in the air and is hell-bent on setting up devastating chains of events to off everyone who was supposed to die in the iconic openings. So, everything is just as harmless as it is deadly—and it’s brilliant.
There are so many death-by-objects to choose from: ladder, shower cord, rollercoaster (of love), pebble, eye laser, a big glass window, nails, weights, and my personal favorite, tanning beds. The tension generated from just watching a victim make breakfast, had us all guessing aloud how and what was going to kill them. Every potential death scene was shot like its own mini horror film and played with its audience by keeping everyone on their toes. In fact, these scenes were so good that everything else like character, narrative, etc. kind of got left behind. But it didn’t really matter.
Final Destination was such a good idea. It was the kind of smart horror that’s missing from a lot of gimmicky horrors that flood the scene now. The series was spoiled by horrendous effects and repetition as it went on, but, apart from the fact the films generally got worse as they went on, I don’t know why this franchise bit the dust. Because Saw is getting another reboot, I wouldn’t mind seeing someone have another crack at the ultimate killer inanimate object franchise.
In conclusion, I’ll definitely be watching more of these. A Canadian horror called SLAXX (2020) is coming out soon, featuring a killer pair of blue jeans. I guess we’ll always need a place in horror for anything to turn on us. So, in the words of Duke, a killer carousel unicorn from the agonizingly bad, CarousHELL (2016), “Be careful. You never know what random object could be a homicidal killer”.