There are many things that go into making a film a “scary movie”: villains, like Freddy Krueger or Pinhead; music like in Friday the 13th or “1-2, Freddy’s coming for you…”; or just the general ambience of the film, darkness, blowing wind, etc. But sometimes the most frightening things can quite literally be things; objects that are mostly ordinary at all times, except when presented just the right way as to elicit a visceral response. That’s what this list is all about: those things that stay in our minds, and sometimes live in our own homes, waiting for the perfect moment to catch our eye in just a certain way, and then we piss ourselves and live on in quiet shame.
5. Billy, Jigsaw’s puppet, from Saw
Like a lot of film series, Saw has a great first film and a lot of increasingly subpar sequels. None of that really matters here, though, since Billy remains just as freaking creepy the last time you see him as he was the first time you saw him, and it doesn’t matter whether the movie is good or not. That puppet, with his little, red bowtie and matching red shoes, is forever etched into my mind, riding around on a red tricycle like a clownfaced crack dealer.
You know the thing about films, these days, is the fact that studios know a chance to make a buck, when they see it, and that’s why Billy the puppet is now available at so many fine retailers near you; that’s also why I will murderify anyone who so much as thinks about bringing one of those things within 200 feet of me. Other films, though, aren’t cooperating with the restraining order; films like Death Sentence and Insidious have allowed Billy to infiltrate them. That’s not fair!
4. Blade, the lead puppet, from Puppetmaster
This is a tough call, because technically, Blade is a living creature, so he may not really qualify as an “object”. I’m not above bending the rules or objectification so he makes the cut. It’s a good thing, too, because he’s creepy as all fuck. Frankly, all the puppets in Puppetmaster are, but Blade is the one you remember; Blade is the one you fear being under your bed. With his thin, gray, shoulder-length hair, Cheshire Cat-like perm grin, and cutlery for hands, Blade is basically what it would be like if Willem Dafoe and David Carradine had a three-way butt baby with Edward Scissorhands.
What really makes Blade frightening–other than the fact that he’s a walking Swiss Army knife–are his hollow, black eye sockets. You combine those with the frozen face of a puppet and the slow movement of an octogenarian, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide walking nightmare.
3. Dr. Philip K. Becker’s mask, from Nightbreed
If you’ve never seen Nightbreed, you’re undoubtedly saying, “What the fuck is that?” If you have seen Nightbreed, you’re undoubtedly saying, “Oh god! It took me years of therapy to forget that mask, and now you’ve ruined my life all over again!” Now, those of you who haven’t seen it, are thinking it can’t be that bad. You’re right; it isn’t that bad. It’s much, much worse, and you should count yourself lucky to have never been subjected to its horror.
As a movie, Nightbreed isn’t all that frightening or even all that good. As is often the case with Clive Barker, it’s a great idea, but it’s executed very poorly. The fact that Dr. Philip K. Decker is played by a master of psychosexual films David Cronenberg is brilliant… on paper. Cronenberg is not a very good actor, which is exactly why he’s a director. With all that said, none of it matters; that fucking mask overshadows it all. It’s entirely aesthetic; there’s no functionality to it, at all. There are literally buttons over the eyes, which makes it impossible for him to see out of it. Oh, man, the buttons, and the zipper mouth. He’s like a BDSM rag doll. It’s something you want to avoid, for the health of your sleep schedule, but you simply must see it, at least once in your life.
2. The television, from Poltergeist
Young Carol Anne awakens to the flickering of static on the television set. She slips from her parents’ bed and sits inches from the screen. Seemingly mesmerized by the flashes, she reaches out toward the television; it reaches back at her and then extends across the room and into the adjacent wall. The bedroom shakes, her parents wake, and everything stops. That’s when Carol Anne looks back over her shoulder, toward the camera, which is representing her parent’s point of view, and she says, “They’re here.”
If I never see a static television screen again, it will be too fucking soon. Released in 1982, Poltergeist managed to do to the television what Jaws did to water, except nobody has the ocean in their bedroom. In fact, it was more like Psycho, with the shower. After watching Psycho, you can’t take a shower without glancing at the curtain every few moments, hoping not to see a knife-wielding shadow. After watching Poltergeist, there will never be a moment when you can awaken to a static television and not secretly fear its reaching you is all but certain.
1. Baby monitors, in Insidious and Signs
These are two very different movies, and the only thing they actually share is the horrible presence of one of those things. Listen, babies are cute, babies are nice, and babies should keep existing forever; baby monitors are the devil. Even when baby monitors are not demonically possessed or picking up secret alien communication, they’re still the creepiest thing on the planet. Nobody wants to hear sporadic baby noises coming from nowhere, especially not in the middle of the night in a pitch black room. And that’s when the damn things are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.
When you know a movie has really accomplished something is when it changes the way you look at things, and that’s what these two movies do. Now, whenever a baby monitor is on, you almost expect demonic noises or alien whispering. What pushes this beyond the television in Poltergeist is that, while you’re listening really closely for Beelzebub and E.T., you actually are going to hear something; you’re going to hear a baby cry directly into your ear, you’re going to shit your pants, and then you’re going to have two messes to clean up. That’s what puts baby monitors at the top of this list.