5 Horror Movies Starring Inanimate Objects

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.

Follow @ColeGamble on Twitter.

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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