The soul of a horror movie lies in the strength of the monster. Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter—these icons endure because they got under our skin and stayed there long after the lights went up. But what happens when your movie monster has no soul? What if it can't talk, move, growl, bare teeth or intimidate in any way? What if your monster couldn't do anything except wait for clumsy victims to fall into its deadly, not remotely scary, grasp?
You get these movies.
1. The Lift
The Monster: an elevator (or what the British call a “lift”)
Why It Isn’t Scary: Successful horror movies select an antagonist that people already naturally fear: spiders; sharks; mute, unstoppable hockey enthusiasts. So somewhere along inception, the idea for The Lift must have been inspired by the writer’s fear of elevators. A fear born of…standing close to strangers? B.O.? Really, I don’t know. Escalators are much scarier; I would pay money to see a murder mystery that takes place exclusively on an escalator.
For whatever reason, someone out there is deathly afraid of elevators and they were able to utterly fail at translating that fear to the screen.
The film’s tagline, which reads, “Take the stairs, take the stairs…for god's sake take the stairs!!” sure makes a good point. After just one guy got decapitated (re: Haunted!) by the elevator, you would think people might say, “I could use the exercise.” Instead, fools keep feeding themselves to the demonic lift. If we as a species are so lazy we’d rather take the possessed elevator than huff our way up a couple flights of stairs, maybe we deserve to die.
Nonetheless, The Lift got a remake for American sensibilities with the much more innuendo-y title The Shaft. It even nabbed Naomi Watts in a role she hoped you’d never discover.
2. The Refrigerator
The Monster: A refrigerator (truth in advertising!)
Why It Isn’t Scary: Some monsters get the short end of the stick. There are only so many scares you can get out of filming a Frigidaire with a smoke machine and a sultry red light.
The pitch meeting for The Refrigerator went exactly like this:
Scene: Some Dude’s Dumpy Studio Apt.
Guy: Let’s make a horror movie! How much money do we have in the budget?
Guy 2: Uh, twelve dollars.
Guy: Ugg, we can’t even afford to film outside this apartment.
Guy 3: (looking in refrigerator) Man, do you ever clean this out?! Moldy cheese, ancient Chinese food—this refrigerator is a nightmare!
But how does one make a big box that keeps food cold scary? The fridge contains a portal to hell, you say? Of course it does, what else? It could kill you by…letting the milk go bad, I guess. Also, the refrigerator mind controls the husband in the story because it’s an evil fridge and that’s what evil fridges do.
After all this mind control and menacing motionlessness, the couple living with the disturbed fridge get help from a plumber who visits our young couple’s apartment to explain the whole “your fridge is a portal to hell” thing. Mr. Plumber tells the couple the Devil himself is in control of the refrigerator, proving the Devil needs to start dating again because he has way too much time on his hands if he’s manipulating evil refrigerators on Saturday night.
We'll give them this: the tagline is totally rad. “No Survivors. Only Leftovers.” At least we know the tagline writer earned his paycheck.
3. Death Bed...The Bed That Eats! (actual full title)
The Monster: A bed
Why It Isn’t Scary: Oh Death Bed, such surprises you hold in store! While any of us can imagine a movie about a bed that eats people (pretty pedestrian, really), no one could possibly imagine a film as tediously dull and sluggish as you.
Now if you were a Death Bed, how would you lure your prey? By sitting in a creepy, abandoned castle where horny teens inexplicably keep going to rut, in spite of that pungent death smell—that’s how. It’s very romantic. How would those dumb kids ever notice they’re being very slowly digested? Love is blind after all, especially blind to DEATH BEDS! And when you can’t get a couple crazy kids to make out on your face, you could always spurt out some yellow foam that moves at the speed of honey, seeking new victims.
After Jaws, everyone was afraid to go back in the water, and what Jaws did for the ocean, Death Bed does for yellow foam. You’ll never be able to wash the dishes the same way again.
4. The Mangler
The Monster: A shirt-folding machine
Why It Isn’t Scary: Now what you have right here is just an effective PSA for workplace safety. The only way a possessed shirt-folding machine can kill you is if you literally feed yourself to said shirt folding machine. That’s just common sense. By my count, the Mangler only takes out a few pointless lives. That’s a better safety record than many real world workplaces. Far more scary industrial machines exist in the real world, like metal presses and lumber claws. Did you know 118 lumberjacks per 100,000 die every year? And lumberjacking equipment isn't even demonically possessed.
5. Maximum Overdrive
The Monster: A vending machine
Why It Isn’t Scary: This is a bit of a cheat; in Maximum Overdrive, every mechanical object comes to life with homicidal blood lust. While the movie is ridiculous as a whole, the vending machine scene is the apex, because “death by blunt crotch trauma” is just too great. How would a vending machine with a vendetta take someone out? By launching soda cans with hypersonic speed at your groin, obviously.
Interesting Note: Maximum Overdrive was Stephen King’s first and only trip in the director’s chair. See, Stephen King doesn’t like how many of his movies get made, as he outlines rather explicitly in this exquisitely bad trailer for the movie.
Still gripping undying disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s take on The Shining, King proclaimed to make a horror movie himself to show the world how you really make a scary film. The scariest element of Maximum Overdrive is all the lady mullets.
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