One of the things that makes people into people is our want or need to categorize things. Good, bad, dangerous, safe, bright, dark… People like to describe things. It’s almost an instinct. The more specific that people can get about their categorizations, the better the people can describe the things. As a species, humans want knowledge more than almost anything. They want to know as much as possible about things. That’s why there are so many advancements in technology, medicine, and journalism. Each has a different priority, but all are important to people in terms of obtaining knowledge.
On a much less important note, this desire to describe and know about things can be translated to film. The description part is why there are so many genres, subgenres, and sub-subgenres. Go to Netflix and see for yourself. People like to categorize as much as they possibly can. That is why Netflix has categories such as “Romantic Independent Movies about Marriage” and “Action and Adventure Movies Based on Books.” People like to know exactly what something is and the specific classifications of movies into these various subgenres help with this craving.
The reason this is being brought up is because of a common theme that I’ve noticed in some of the horror movies that I’ve watched. The first movies that come to mind when thinking of this theme are Child’s Play, Jack Frost, and The Gingerdead Man. Each of the movies features a serial killer being caught and/or killed, only to return by having their spirit possess something seemingly harmless. I don’t mean that they possessed a harmless person and caused the person to go on a killing spree. I’m talking about objects that are not alive until being possessed. In the case of Child’s Play, a children’s doll ends up being inhabited by a serial killer who is out for revenge. In Jack Frost, it is a snowman that becomes a homicidal killer. The maniacal murderer in The Gingerdead Man ends up possessing a gingerbread man. In each movie they use their new forms to continue killing people like they did as humans.
As you can see, this trend has continued through at least three decades. Child’s Play was released in the 1980s, Jack Frost in the 1990s, and The Gingerdead Man in the 2000s. For three decades, movie producers and writers were trying to scare their audiences with objects that would not normally be frightening. There are a few reasons that this way of providing horror was popular.
One of the biggest things that can make a horror film work is for the story to be relatable in some way. The reason that slasher films have been as popular as they have since the late 1970s is that the majority of the well-known ones are about teenagers. Since teens are the biggest audience of slasher flicks, making the main characters into teens will help to sell the movie. The audience wants to feel the movie and not simply watch it. The same goes for the serial killer in harmless objects movies. It’s not that the situation of having a serial killer possessing the object is relatable. That has not happened in a reality that I know of. The relatable part of the story is the objects themselves. These are things that people know. They are things that people have. Millions upon millions of people have eaten gingerbread cookies. What if the cookies could fight back? The fear comes from knowing that you have these things. It comes from having interacted with these things. The fear comes from how common the things are and that they could be anywhere.
That is not to say that getting the scares to the audience is always successful. With this type of movie, it is difficult to make a normally inanimate object seem frightening without going overboard into ridiculousness. It’s really easy for a movie to cross that line into absurdity when dealing with this kind of subject matter. For example, The Gingerdead Man could be a chilling idea. A gingerbread cookie coming to life and killing is something that is a scary thought, and with the right execution could make for great thrills and kills. However, the character design makes the monster nothing but ugly. It’s not a creepy design. It’s just plain ugly and takes any of the ominousness out of the character. The ugly design neuters any of the darkness that would normally be felt in the movie. In the case of Jack Frost, the writing is what takes the movie past being scary. Not by too much though. The serial killer snowman shoots icicles out of his body and rapes a teenager with his carrot. They are in the realm of terrifying ideas, but a little too farfetched for it to be a truly bone-chilling movie, and that’s because they are done with a darkly comedic tone to them. Had they taken the comedy out of it, the movie could have truly struck fear into the hearts of viewers. Instead, it feels more like a disastrous attempt at horror.
There are still successful uses of this horror concept. Child’s Play, the other movie I brought up when I first introduced this idea, is an example of how this concept can be utilized well. Though the idea of the spirit of a serial killer possessing a doll might be a little bit out there, the movie succeeds by keeping the rest of it fairly simple. There are no magic attacks, no overly sexual kills… It’s a doll with whatever object it can hold going after people. It’s as simple as that. The design doesn’t look ugly. The Good Guy doll looks like a doll you would see children with. The simplicity of the movie after utilizing the fantastical plot device helps to make it a better horror movie.
Like any sub-subgenre of films, there are highs and lows among the movies about serial killer spirits possessing objects. That doesn’t make it any less interesting as a grouping of films. As much as I may have ripped on parts of the movies, they are still enjoyable movies. But it takes the right filmmaker to make the films truly frightening. The same could be said of horror in general. That’s a topic for another day.
There are a few notes I will make right now because I’m going to make notes:
- Here’s the post I did for Jack Frost. I wrote about it in this post, I might as well give you that post.
- The director of The Gingerdead Man was Charles Band. He also directed Evil Bong, wrote Robot Wars, and produced Robot Jox.
- Robin Sydney was in The Gingerdead Man and also Evil Bong.
- I’d like to know about more of the serial killers possessing things movies. If you know others, put them in the comments for me.
- If you have any suggestions for the Sunday “Bad” Movies, you can put them in the comments, or yell them at me on Twitter.