Cinema’s weirdest vessels of evil

Top 10 Ryan Lambie 3 Jul 2014 - 06:53

From man-eating beds to killer clocks, cinema’s full of evil in unexpected places. Here are a few of our favourites…

NB: the following contains spoilers.

As several decades of cinema have informed us, evil takes many forms. Aside from all the serial killers and ancient demons waiting to either leap out of the shadows and murder us, or simply scare us into a weeping ruin, movies are also full of killer cars, malevolent dolls and rampaging animals to contend with.

Given that entire lists could be generated from those menaces outlined above, we’ll be dealing with more obscure manifestations of evil here. The sort of demonic objects you might win on The Generation Game if it were presented by the Devil, or the kind of unlikely scenarios you'd encounter if you were the star of a horror film directed by Benny Hill.

Here, then, is our list of cinema's most bizarre vessels of evil, which includes a veritable jumble sale of haunted bits of furniture, ornaments and, just to mix things up a little, an evil gust of wind…

Lamp - Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)

Gradually running out of ways to scare people with the haunted house scenario of the first film, the makers of Amityville 4 decided to invest a brass lamp stand with a satanic will of its own. By this point, the budget had dwindled and the franchise went direct-to-TV - with unintentionally comic results.

Thanks to the lamp’s diabolic nature, characters are burned by the leaping flames of a gas oven, menaced by rocking chairs and injured by melting bakelite telephone receivers.

A fabulously terrible film, The Evil Escapes was only the beginning of the Amityville franchise’s dabblings with possessed household objects, as we’ll see later.

Clothes press - The Mangler (1995)

Quite why Tobe Hooper, who shepherded the classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre to the screen in 1974, would choose to direct this rather dreadful film about a demonic clothes press is beyond us. Admittedly, The Mangler has a good cast of character actors, including Robert Englund in heavy old man make-up, and Ted Levine as a cop investigating a series of unexplained clothes press-related deaths. Hooper does his best to spice the daft premise up with some decent camerawork, but it’s a messy, scare-free film.

The premise, adapted from a Stephen King short story, is hamstrung by the fact that the clothes press in question is a hulking, immovable lump, requiring its hapless victims to somehow stumble close enough to be dragged into its grinding machinery.

Remarkably, The Mangler was followed up by no fewer than two sequels – The Mangler 2 and The Mangler Reborn – which were even worse.

A tyre - Rubber (2010)

Musician-turned-director Quentin Dupieux’s wilfully strange comedy horror concerns a psychotic, sentient tyre capable of killing people with a thought. Oh, and the tyre’s called Robert.

Gory, trashy yet extremely well shot, Dupieux manages to invest his rolling wheel of death with a surprising amount of personality - of all the killer inanimate objects on this list, Robert is inarguably the most sympathetic and well-rounded (sorry). An Oscar for Best Actor was surely in order.

Man-eating bed - Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)

The last word in badly-made Z-grade horror, 1977’s Death Bed is an ineptly directed, amateurishly acted trash classic. Set over a lengthy, unspecified period of time, the film relates the murderous antics of a demon-possessed four-poster bed. Its victims include a priest, a snake-oil salesman and a pair of criminals.

Worth watching for its range of moustaches, haircuts and imaginative killings, Death Bed reaches its zenith when a man with a perm attempts to stab the bed to death. Punching through into what appears to be an acid-filled stomach beneath, the man’s hands are rapidly stripped of flesh. Surprised but apparently unperturbed, the man then spends several minutes staring at the bony remains, which later drop off. It's an engagingly odd moment in an exceptionally strange film.

Vending machine - Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Author Stephen King always showed a warped fascination with normally benign objects and creatures suddenly turning evil (for evidence, see Christine, The Mangler and Cujo), so it’s perhaps unsurprising that his directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, would be entirely about everyday items suddenly taking on a malevolent life of their own.

Following a close encounter with a comet, the lawnmowers, cars and trucks of Earth spring to life and begin attacking everyone they encounter. Emilio Estevez is one of a handful of survivors who take cover in a roadside diner while assorted heavy vehicles rumble around outside to the strains of AC/DC. (One of the trucks, illustrated above, has a big green mask on the front. How the driver could see anything with that in the way we'll never know.)

King later admitted that he was rather, shall we say, “pharmaceutically refreshed” while making Maximum Overdrive, which would explain why it’s a bit of a campy mess, but as with most of the films we love on Den Of Geek, it’s great fun when viewed as a pure horror comedy. King’s imaginative methods of killing people are exemplified in a brief yet hilarious scene in which a baseball coach is bludgeoned to death by cans of soda pop ejected from a vending machine at warp speed.

A lift - The Lift (1983)

A classic example of a film utterly upstaged by its poster, 1983 Dutch horror The Lift is actually less gory than a typical episode of EastEnders. The film’s killer elevator despatches its victims through suffocation, sudden drops and gnashes of its jaw-like doors, while various nondescript characters attempt to figure out what’s going on.

It would be quite difficult, you might think, to make a dull or ponderous film out of such a hare-brained premise, yet writer and director Dick Maas has somehow achieved this. Even at 90 minutes, The Lift feels interminably long, especially without the distraction of gore or ripe dialogue to tide you over.

The Lift is worth noting for one rubbery decapitation scene, however, where a luckless individual gets his head trapped between the killer lift’s closing doors. The victim’s colleague, in fine B-movie horror tradition, simply stands back and screams.

Maas later recycled The Lift’s premise in 2001’s The Shaft, and managed to attract a remarkably starry cast (including Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman and Michael Ironside) to a film that, sadly, is just as dull as his first effort.

Television - Poltergeist (1981)

A warning about the dangers of letting your child watch too much TV, Poltergeist sees an infernal spirit use a cathode ray tube as a means of ensnaring and ultimately dragging the young Carol Anne into a parallel dimension.

Poltergeist is full of creepy moments where the spirit world comes to disrupt 80s suburbia, including an evil tree, demons in a light-bathed closet, and skeletons in the swimming pool. It’s the sight of an enthralled Heather O’Rourke, staring hypnotised into a haze of television static, however, that provides the film with its most enduring image, and of all the films on this list, Poltergeist most successfully fuses primal supernatural fears with the trappings of modern life.

We're just waiting for the forthcoming remake (it's due out next year), in which the spirit world will presumably reach out to its victims via an iPad.

Antique clock - Amityville: It’s About Time (1992)

By the time the Amityville franchise had staggered to its fifth sequel in 1992, any semblance of scariness had been well and truly exorcised. The 1979 original wasn’t terribly frightening in any case (unless you find the site of a tormented James Brolin shrieking, “My God, I’m coming apart at the seams!” frightening, that is), but compared to the supernatural events of It’s About Time, the first film’s a master class in nerve-shredding terror.

Released direct to video, It’s About Time is shot and acted like a 90s sitcom with added supernatural murders; well-groomed architect Jacob (Stephen Macht) foolishly brings home an antique clock from the evil Amityville house (the only real link back to the earlier films), and realises too late that this apparently inanimate object is capable of causing untold chaos.

In a stand-out scene, an old woman, enjoying a relaxing stroll in the sunshine, gets her walking stick jammed in a crack in the pavement, and only narrowly avoids being mown down by a demon-possessed van. Saved by diving for cover behind a conveniently placed brick wall, the old woman is abruptly dispatched by a paper-mâché woodpecker, which falls from the roof of the van and punches through the octogenarian’s ribcage. It’s a moment of surreal horror on a par with a Monty Python sketch. And, of course, the antique clock’s entirely to blame.

The Amityville series continued to explore the possibilities of inanimate object-based horror in subsequent years. 1993’s A New Generation featuring a haunted mirror (not unlike this year's Oculus), and the movie after that related the tragedies that befell the owners of a possessed dolls house.

An entire house - Monster House (2006)

Haunted houses, with all their slamming windows and doors, are a common sight on our screens, but in Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg’s 2006 animated feature, the entire Victorian edifice was a giant evil monster.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Buscemi and John Heder provide the voices of the human cast, but it’s the monster house itself that’s the real star, cheerfully swallowing up dogs and people in its gaping wooden maw. It didn't do brilliantly at the box office on release, but it's a great film and well worth tracking down.

By a spooky twist of fate, Monster House's director, Gil Kenan, is behind the forthcoming remake of Poltergeist.

The wind - The Happening (2008)

Say what you will about the other embodiments of evil on this list, at least they were tangible objects with some sort of physical presence; in M Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film, the focus of terror is a mind-altering toxin carried on the wind. The Happening therefore contains repeated sequences of Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel running away from a moderate breeze.

“It makes you kill yourself,” one character helpfully explains. “Just when you thought there couldn't be any more evil that can be invented...”

It would take a master of suspense to invest such a scenario with the terror it requires, and perhaps sensing the enormity of such a task, Shyamalan goes for broad slapstick humour instead. Wahlberg and Deschanel turn in haunted, blank-eyed performances (when one important character abruptly shoots himself in the head, Wahlberg’s response is a quiet “Oh. No.”), and in another memorable scene, a man feeds himself to a lion.

For the director who propelled himself into the mainstream filmmaking stratosphere with The Sixth Sense, The Happening served as a retrograde step for Shyamalan’s career, perhaps, but an absolute gem of unexpected horror comedy for the rest of us.

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