Toys: The object of every child’s desire making up the epitome of dream lands and memories alike, especially come Christmastime. Toys are gifts meant to engage young ones, amuse them, and combine their visual, tactile, and auditory strengths. The creative writers, directors, and artists of the horror genre can turn any human, demon, and spirit into exaggerated beings of fright, but few can turn anthropomorphism on its back the way the following filmmakers have. Giving malevolent vibes and destructive actions to the objects that symbolize innocence reverses our emotions and makes for some unique scares.
The following list details horror’s scariest toys, with one sweet twist: No dolls allowed. Between our uneasy reaction to the theory of the uncanny to our natural fear of animated objects in general, dolls are just too easy to use in horror. It’s time to pay respect for the less obvious choice in fabricated horror. From their synthetic fur to their glazed eye pieces to their simple mechanical parts to their bright flashing lights, these toys go from cute to diabolical within a few short scenes.
Although we may call ourselves mature adults, there is still something appealing about the toys of our childhood and the nostalgia we feel revisiting them. The following few toys, however, we’ll gladly donate.
8. The Red Bouncy Ball in The Changeling (1980)
Peter Medak (Species II) summons the ultimate scene of terror in his 80’s classic, The Changeling. A composer moves into a secluded mansion following the tragic death of his wife and daughter. The presence of the dead is manifested through the use of using nothing more than a small, red bouncy ball. In an iconic scene depicting the ominous ball bouncing from the dark shadows down a winding stairway, fear builds with every step it hits. It’s simple and classic, but gets the point across so effectively it still gives fans the chills. This toy leaves no one bouncing for joy.
7. The Ouija Board in The Exorcist (1973)
A flat board and a pointer seem like the least likely objects to be used as instruments of evil (especially when they’re manufactured by Hasbro), but the highly mysterious Ouija Board is the one toy on this list that adorns upfront terror. The mystifying oracle is a popular taboo game that children and teens play during sleepovers and parties to mostly scare one another by calling on the dead. We all know what happens to the little girl who uses the Ouija Board to communicate with the silent “Captain Howdy” spirit in William Friedkin’s (The French Connection) legendary The Exorcist. Spoiler: He is not a captain, nor a cowboy. He’s the devil.
6. The Simon Toy in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)
In one of my favorite Paranormal Activity installments, Christopher B. Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, an innocent electronic game of ‘Simon Says’ goes from curious to frightening within a few questions. When the teens of a living complex notice the handheld game answers direct questions with one beep for ‘yes’ and two beeps for ‘no’, intrigue along with the other supernatural occurrences get the better of them. When they realize the entity they’ve been contacting has everything but good intentions towards them, it’s game over.
5. Danny’s Big Wheel Tricycle in The Shining (1980)
While this particular toy does not come to life nor try to harm anyone in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it never fails to elicit a reaction. As the big wheel strums across the wood floors and the plastic tires silence the second they hit carpet over and over again, a feeling of unease builds within the viewer. Danny pounds and glides through the halls of The Overlook Hotel, but we know his trip is bound to be cut short by something sinister. This toy that often finds itself at the top of every child’s Christmas List is one we often associate with isolation and dread. Kubrick is quite possibly the only filmmaker I can think of that can create tension and impending doom around a children’s toy without animating it with evil.
4. The Music Box in The Conjuring (2003)
Music boxes are quintessential objects of innocence and whimsy. Intricate mechanics send out a slow, lovely melody from inside a decorated box to fill the space around a child with peace. The mysterious music box found by a young girl in James Wan’s (Insidious) haunted house blockbuster, The Conjuring, releases something a little more sinister than a charming song. Eerie apparitions and tricky reflections of the souls lost to the house’s curse appear to those who stare into the spinning mirror on top of this wicked contraption. Wind it up, but don’t look into it for too long.
3. The Grizzly Teddy in Demonic Toys (1992)
Teddy bears are usually a symbolic source of comfort and safety for children. With soft fur, kind button eyes, and a sweet stitched smile they give us very little reason to be skeptical of their living nature. However, Peter Manoogian’s Demonic Toys gifts us with a teddy possessed by a sinister demon trapped beneath the foundations of a toy warehouse. Complete with pointed fangs, snarling snout, sharp claws, and one hell of a bite, Grizzly Teddy is a vicious entity at any size. It’s a bear no one would want to cuddle or hold tight. One gentle pet with your hand could cost you a finger… or two.
2. The Letter Magnets in The Amityville Horror (2005)
Many basic toys are meant to influence a learning experience within children. Blocks and magnets are basic means to incorporate letter recognition and spelling lessons into daily child’s play. Unfortunately for The Lutz children of Andrew Douglas’ (U Want Me 2 Kill Him?) 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror, refrigerator magnets display some alternative vocabulary. After some unseen haunting in the kitchen, Mrs. Lutz returns to find the letter magnets arranged to read “KATCH ‘EM & KILL ‘EM”. Seeing these menacing words in the colorful, familiar chunky letters of the magnets is unnerving and taunting. That’s not the kind of “catch” phrase the youngsters need to learn just yet.
1. The Monkey Doll in The Devil’s Gift (1984)
If you’re looking for a quick, self-induced jump scare you don’t need to look further that a child’s toy chest. The classic jack-in-the-box is a lovable surprise complete with a funny little character jumping out after the wind down of the classic tune. It’s an instant scare; one we’re expecting, but still gets us anyway. The Andrews Family of Kenneth J. Berton’s The Devil’s Gift get more than they bargained for when they purchase a unique jack-in-the-box, one that has a (hideous) monkey doll inside of it. The real shock just may be that the little character is just as insidious as it’s pop-out surprise is.
While these toys are created to evoke feelings of joy and amusement, the horror genre has chosen to operate them as weapons of evil. The sudden turn something like a simple bouncy ball or a bicycle takes on children and adults draws out feelings of unease, tension, and fear. Giving life to an innocuous object that shouldn’t have life is what elevates some of horror’s most brilliant components, but these few toys are highlights among the playroom.
Let’s pray they aren’t on any Christmas lists this year…
What are some of your favorite horror film playthings? Would you be willing to play with any of these scary toys? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!