This week's "Oculus," which is easily the scariest horror movie since last summer's "The Conjuring" (watch for our review later this week), centers around a pair of siblings who attempt to destroy a mirror that is somehow possessed... and responsible for a family tragedy many years earlier.
And while the mirror in "Oculus," with its embroidered frame and air of foreboding, is certainly the most recently inanimate object to scare the pants off of moviegoers, it isn't the first. Not by a long shot.
So we decided to rundown the scariest inanimate objects in the history of movies. These are all objects that you wouldn't think twice about... until they show signs of demonic possession, occult curses, or just plain nastiness.
Gallery | The Scariest Inanimate Objects in Movie History
- The Doll in 'Trilogy of Terror,' 'Child's Play,' 'The Conjuring,' etc. (1975 - 2013)
Dolls are super unsettling. This much is true. And there are a whole host of horror movies to back up this claim -- among them "Trilogy of Terror," with its enchanted Zulu doll, the "Child's Play" series that infamously introduced us to Chucky (the newest movie, "Curse of Chucky," is actually a grade-A direct-to-video thriller that acts as a reboot and in-series sequel), the Annabelle (pictured) prologue in "The Conjuring," and tons of movies that I can't even remember right now, probably because they were so scary I pushed them deep, deep inside my subconscious.
- The Bed in 'Death Bed: The Bed That Eats' (1977)
You think a bed can't be scary? Well... It can. Sort of. In this largely forgotten 1977 genre movie, a bed is possessed by demonic forces (or something -- the back story for this bed is completely convoluted) and when it senses that two people are making whoopee on top of it, well, the bed promptly eats them. (Writer/director George Barry later claimed that he had forgotten he had even made the movie.) Honestly, if the movie's plot wasn't so spelled out in the title it would be a little hard to figure out what was going on, since the movie is so incomprehensibly photographed and edited. Among the top WTF moments is a sequence where the bed taunts and then kills some grizzled card players, first by writing threatening notes on the cards. (How this is accomplished is never quite explained.) There's also the fact that the scary demonic goo that fills the bed (and is responsible for the digestion of the victims) looks like warm pudding. Still, the idea of getting swallowed by a bed is scary. If you want to see how this could be really frightening just watch the first "Nightmare on Elm Street" and pay close attention to Johnny Depp's blood geyser death. Bonus: Listen to Patton Oswalt riff wildly on the movie here.
- The Television (or Clown or Tree) in 'Poltergeist' (1982)
There is a lot of really scary stuff that springs to life in Tobe Hooper's Steven Spielberg-produced haunted house extravaganza. The most iconic inanimate object is probably the snowy TV that was used in much of the marketing of the movie and is central to the film's plot, both in the sense that it acts as a conduit between the young Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) and the ghostly visitors who are communicating with her (and eventually spirit her away -- quite literally). It's also incredibly meaningful because it's while Carol Anne is looking at the television that she utters the immortal line, "They're here." The TV is spooky. But there are tons of other spooky things that inhabit "Poltergeist's" ghostly world, including an ominous-looking toy clown and a tree that grows outside of the house. Any tree in a flash of lightning can look menacing. This tree actually is menacing.
- The Cursed Videotape in 'The Ring' (2002)
It's amazing to think about how, today, with our banishment of all things physical media, that "The Ring" seems somewhat hopelessly dated. But at the time, it was really, really scary to think that you could pop some unidentified videotape into your VCR and watch a series of images so profoundly messed up that you die from it. There was always a certain lawlessness to VHS tapes, emphasized by a whole subgenre of films that had to do with so-called "snuff" movies, but what "The Ring" did was turn the tape itself into a forbidden fetish object. It was cursed because of what you saw when you watched it, and what it locked you into -- you had to show it to others to avoid the same fate. Sure, it's got that crazy, unnecessarily complicated Asian genre movie logic, but that doesn't make it any less terrifying. Be kind, rewind... or else.
- The Car in 'Christine' (1983)
There's actually a pretty lively sub-genre of killer car movies ("The Car," etc.), but the best of the bunch is still "Christine," John Carpenter's oddly overlooked adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. While the novel actually had a ghostly presence haunting the car, Carpenter wisely made the car a pseudo-anthropomorphic character, letting you know, from the very first sequence (set at a Detroit assembly line in the '50s) that the car is bad to the bone, er, chassis. Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury and it just kind of looks like it roared out of hell. It's also gorgeous, which, as we all know, makes it even more alluringly deadly.
- The Mirror in 'Mirrors' (2008)
Sure, "Oculus" concerns a cursed mirror, but it's not the first movie to play with the idea. "Mirrors," an under-appreciated adaptation of a Korean movie, from French filmmaker Alexandre Aja, concerns a security guard (Kiefer Sutherland) who, while working at an abandoned department store, realizes that there's something off about the mirrors in the place. What's kind of fascinating about the movie, in addition to being super creepy, is how the movie utilizes the idea of the mirror -- the fact that any reflective surface (including, in one memorable sequence, puddles of water) can turn into a mirror; plus the idea that the mirrored image is the portal to another mirror world -- and to that end, gives us one of the more deliriously downbeat endings in recent horror movie memory, with one of the very best music cues to go along with it.
- The Laundry Press in 'The Mangler' (1995)
Old-school laundry presses are certainly intimidating and probably did mess some people up from time to time. But the titular laundry press in "The Mangler" did a whole lot of killing, mostly because it was possessed by a very bad demon. The movie was based on a short story by Stephen King and, while it certainly adds some dynamic (grandiose) flourishes, sticks more or less to the nuts and bolts of that story. "The Mangler" emphasizes the awe and grandeur of industrial age technology, even when that technology is positively creaky in our fast paced modern era, made all the more spooky by the fact that Robert Englund (from "Nightmare on Elm Street") is the movie's main star, hobbling around as the laundry press's mysterious owner. While the movie was directed by Tobe Hooper, who helmed "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Poltergeist," sometimes even the most talented filmmaker can't iron the wrinkles out of the movie's obvious problems.
- The Typewriter in 'The Shining' (1980)
The typewriter in Stanley Kubrick's blood curdling adaptation of Stephen King's novel "The Shining" is one of the scarier inanimate objects in the history of cinema for the simple fact that it types one of the more memorably spooky lines ever (courtesy of Jack Nicholson's insane, alcoholic writer/caretaker): "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy." Ah! Just typing it gave me the chills. Next!
- The Lawnmower in 'Maximum Overdrive' (1986)
So, the possessed lawnmower in Stephen King's coked out fever dream "Maximum Overdrive" (still largely watchable today because of its camp sensibilities and awesome AC/DC score) is pretty scary, especially because it's attempting to hunt down a small child on a bike. (The movie takes place in a world where all mechanical objects have violently revolted against humankind.) But what makes the lawnmower even scarier is the fact that, during filming, it went out of control, struck a block of wood, and sent a lengthy splinter into the director of photography's eye. He lost that eye and sued director Stephen King for $18 million. This probably at least partially explains why it was the only movie King ever directed.
- The Tire in 'Rubber' (2010)
"Rubber," about a tire who has the telepathic abilities to kill people (and birds) is either the dumbest movie ever made or the smartest, a cunning meta-textual deconstruction of the horror genre and all of its unwieldy tropes. But the point is that a tire rolling along is pretty unsettling, no matter how goofy the context.