Imagine if your favorite childhood toy turned out to be a gleefully murderous psychopath — one that doesn’t want to share you with anyone else. That’s the premise of Benny Loves You, the feature debut of British writer-director-star Karl Holt, which recently screened at Panic Fest 2021.
The film follows Jack (Holt), a man stuck in one hell of a rut. At 35, his career as a toy designer is going nowhere and he’s not only living at home but is still sleeping in his childhood bedroom. Things only go downhill from there when his parents die in a tragic accident at his birthday party, leaving him struggling to pay the bills or keep up with the housework. Growing desperate, he turns to a self-help tape to try and turn his life around, starting with putting childhood things away.
This turns out to be a big mistake. Huge.
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“Imagine if your favorite childhood toy turned out to be a gleefully murderous psychopath”
You see, one of the toys that Jack boxes up while attempting adulting is the titular Benny. Looking like the lovechild of Elmo and Snoopy, all bug-eyed and floppy-eared with a face frozen in open-mouthed joy, Benny was a gift from Jack’s mother, who promised him Benny would protect him forever. Seeing that Jack is in a bad place, Benny sets out to help. Only Benny’s version of help involves slaughtering anyone that gets in Jack’s way. Or anyone that threatens to get between Jack and Benny.
One of the best things about Benny Loves You is that it never tries to explain why Benny is the way it is, despite Jack asking this question several times. There’s no faulty computer chip, demonic possession, or serial killer’s soul transplanted into the toy via voodoo (at least, as far as we know). Benny just really, really likes to kill, even when doing so is massively inconvenient for Jack, and that’s part of what makes the deadly teddy so charming. Its incessant squeals of happiness as it leaps from one victim to the next are guaranteed to get a smile out of you, and the montage of Benny helping Jack get his life back on track through murder and mayhem is surprisingly heartwarming.
“…Benny Loves You a real treat for horror fans, with a dozen references cleverly brought to life…”
If it wasn’t obvious from the premise, Benny Loves You is a horror-comedy — and a funny one at that. British comedy generally has a different feel to it than its American cousin, and while some of the sillier humor might not work for everyone, the gags come thick and fast enough to make you quickly forget about any fumbles. Holt’s clear enthusiasm for the horror genre also makes Benny Loves You a real treat for horror fans, with a dozen references cleverly brought to life through the enviable new toy line Jack conceives for his job (with a little help from Benny, of course). I’m not saying we need Benny Loves You merchandise — but we don’t not need it, either.
Jack’s character is one of the weaker points of the film, with Holt doing such a good job of creating a loser in the intro that it takes a while to warm up to him. The arrival of Claire Cartwright’s Dawn, his new flame, helps to soften his character, with Cartwright’s assured performance nicely offsetting some of the wackier moments in the film.
“And did I mention that the film is gory? Because Benny Loves You is pretty damn gory.”
But Benny is the real star here, and everything about the psychotic plushie — from the endearing catchphrases to the impressive animation to the puppet-like way it moves — makes it a remarkably memorable monster. Combining the viciousness of Chucky with a genuine cuteness rarely seen in the genre (I mean seriously, would anyone actually have the Annabelle doll in their house?), Benny is as delightful as it is devilish.
And did I mention that the film is gory? Because Benny Loves You is pretty damn gory. Benny is a creative little scamp when it comes to killing, utilizing everything from knives to vacuum cleaners in its quest to rid Jack’s life of people (and pets) that might stand in the way of their friendship. And the kills are just the beginning because there’s a lot of fun to be had watching Jack cleaning up after Benny’s bloodlust, including a particularly tense yet hilarious sequence involving hiding a mangled corpse from the police.
Bold, offbeat, and bloody, Benny Loves You was a real passion project for Holt and it shows. Like a lot of films, it might have benefited from a slightly tighter edit — but by the time it’s over, you may just find yourself wanting to rewatch some of the best kills.
Benny Loves You is out now in the UK, and US audiences can catch it on VOD from May 11. Looking for more horror recommendations? Click HERE to explore our full Panic Fest 2021 coverage, and be sure to let us know what you thought of Benny Loves You and the rest of the line-up over on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Discord. Concerned one of your toys might be bumping off the neighbors? Subscribe to the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter to stay up to date about the latest horror happenings in the Nightmare on Film Street world.