Horror is not a nice or safe genre. People can and will die violently and explicitly. No place is a sanctuary and nothing is sacred. Yet, not all horror movies are what you would call a trashy movie. Take any old monster movie, like the Universal Pictures monster movies, or even take a modern horror movie like Daybreakers. Whether it’s the maniacal Dr. Frankenstein creating his monster or the vampires of Daybreakers harvesting humans for their blood supplies, the world of the horror movie is dark and disturbing, but it never seems seedy. Demonic Toys, on the other hand, is undeniably a trash film, yet therein lies some of its joys and curious contradictions.
Demonic Toys is one of many evil doll movies produced or directed by Charles Band. In fact, the film contains a reference to another, more famous series by Band, Puppetmaster, which is playing on the security guard’s TV in the film. I’m bound to gush about this more another day, but I love special effects, especially old school ones and even the cheap ones. I’m no purist, but there’s something about puppets, scale models, and stop animation that appeals to me more than CGI, Sci Fi Pictures Originals notwithstanding. Is it wrong to think evil toys are cool? Probably, but let me continue. The designs for the dolls are simple: a clown jack-in-the-box with sharp teeth, a teddy bear with a lupine face, a robot that shoots lasers, and a baby doll with jet black eyes. However, each one has a personality that makes them more than just cheesy killer toys, except for the robot because he’s a cold, soulless machine that shoots lasers. In particular, I liked the baby doll, Baby Oopsie Daisy, the only one who could talk and who utilized that power to great effect. After seeing a baby doll called Oopsie Daisy shoot a man in the knee with a pistol and say, “Pop goes the fucking weasel,” I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the height of comedy. A foul-mouthed baby doll is crude, but it fits this movie’s MO and gives life to an otherwise boring, killer, children’s toy. The dolls aren’t particularly scary, unless you have a phobia of cute things possessed by demons that want to kill you for the sake of a satanic ritual.
The dolls are not the only interesting characters nor are they the only source of crudity. Our main characters are Judith, Mark, and briefly Anne. Judith is a pregnant cop whose boyfriend Matt has just been shot. She displays both typical policewoman toughness and sensitivity, both aspects brought out in turns in response to her husband’s recent death. Mark is a wage-slave at a fast food delivery restaurant called the Chunky Chicken; the poor bastard has to drive around a delivery car called the Chickenmobile, which features a large chicken on top with light-up eyes. Although he displays a great degree of rebelliousness around his boss Mr. Peterson, his tough façade crumbles when faced with the killer dolls; thankfully, he’s built back up into the shotgun-toting hero we all want him to be. Anne is a young teen runaway who’s escaping her abusive father by hiding out in the toy factory; unfortunately, we never learn more of her back-story because Oopsie Daisy stabs her in the eyes with a pair of nails. Bummer. Our two antagonists are Lincoln and an unnamed demonic child. Lincoln plays an over-the-top bad guy, who shoots Judith’s husband when trying to escape a bust on the sale of illegal guns. I was much more impressed by the demonic child, played by Daniel Cerny. Although the actor doesn’t possess that naturally creepy look that some kids acting in horror movies have, he delivers some honestly scary lines with panache. Of course, the greatest character of them all is the security guard Charnetski. He’s friends with Mark, who delivers him chicken dinner every night. Charnetski is a foul-mouthed, cynical, chubby veteran of the Korean war who has dug himself a comfortable rut at the toy factory, watching TV and reading nudie magazines during the wee hours of the night. It’s a shame his blood is spilt in the pentagram to give power to a demon, but what are you going to do? Horror movie characters are so often expendable.
The plot is nothing to be proud of at first blush, but a few key elements introduce some cleverness that make the film great in its own trashy, cheesy way. As you have already guessed, Demonic Toys is about a demon trying to incarnate himself in human form, possessing the toys in the factory to kill people and augment his power by having their blood spilt over a pentagram. Why is the demon in a toy factory? 66 years ago, a satanic couple tried to bear the demonic child, but it died. The baby was buried, presumably on the very spot that the factory now stands. Plus, the warehouse was all the producers could afford, so the whole film had to take place there; such is my educated guess. What makes the plot special is that the pregnant main character, Judith, is intended to be the carrier of the unholy spawn. While that still sounds like it’s ripping off Rosemary’s Baby, the twist is that the demonic kid is going to do the impregnating (ew) and the pregnancy involves a battle between the evil demon and a good child (yay).
The demon child getting Judith pregnant so that he may be born in fleshly form presents some curious problems. The first and most obvious problem is that it’s gross on several levels. Although the demon is 66 years old, he spends most of his time in the guise of a child. He changes to an adult, Halloween-costume type devil right before he threatens to “do the nasty” with her, which is a hilarious euphemism for a demon to use, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was an 8-year-old for most of the movie. To further increase the ick factor, we realize that if he has sex with Judith, she will become his mother once she is impregnated. If I had read more Freud I could tell you if this was some sort of Oedipal fantasy, but I’m not sure any of Freud’s cocaine-induced meditations involved something like this. It’s a confusing case of incest, which leads us to our next host of problems regarding how the demon could get her pregnant.
If Judith is pregnant with Matt’s child, what is the demon contributing to making that child turn out to be him? And if the demon is trying to engender himself into an earthly, human form, how is he supposed to be having sex with Judith? During some idle research on the infamous witch-hunting book, the Malleus maleficarum, or Hexenhammer in German, I came across a passage that might explain how the demon could insinuate itself upon Judith and bear a child. I’m afraid I don’t remember where the passage is, but the writer of the Malleus explains that a witch can send an incubus to impregnate a woman in her sleep if the witch steals a man’s semen to give to the incubus. I’m not trying to suggest that there’s a witch in this movie or that the demon is an incubus, but if we assume that the movie is operating under a similar set of rules, we may see how the demon could force his spectral self upon Judith using both his supernatural powers and the genetic material available to effect the unholy conjugation that would result in a child. As to how the child is supposed to be him and not his son or Matt’s son, I’ll just have to point to the precedent set in time travel movies where sons become their own fathers by traveling into the past and blame magic if that doesn’t suffice, assuming the demon doesn’t just possess the child or kill it and replace it with himself. Nevertheless, this becomes a fertile field for speculation given some thought.
Even more interesting is the battle of good and evil between the demon who’s trying to impregnate Judith and Matt’s son, who is trying to repel the demon. The film is bookended by surreal dream-scenes where Judith sits in a room filled with clocks, watching the dark-haired child that is the demon and the fair-haired child that is her future son play a game of cards called War. Judith thinks it’s just a recurring nightmare at the start of the movie, but at the end of the movie, the unborn, fair-haired child displays his power by possessing a tin soldier that shoots the demon in his Halloween costume form, before he forces himself upon the bound Judith. Then the demon turns into his dark-haired child form, the tin soldier turns into the blonde child, and the two fight to the death; this isn’t so grim as to show a couple of kids beating each other up, like The Hunger Games, but we get a short sequence of the kids shoving one another before the demon child is impaled upon a sword, quickly turning into the adult devil so we don’t see a child die. The fight between good and evil being decided while the child is still in the womb is a remarkably interesting idea. My only religious background is Christian, so I couldn’t elaborate on other religious beliefs, but a prevalent idea in Christianity is that the Devil is always trying to tempt us with sin. The Puritans in particular thought of life as a battle against Satan, wherein one had to fight against the temptations and deceptions put forward by the Devil. I’m pretty sure the Puritans wouldn’t have extended that battle for one’s soul to a person’s infancy, but their dramatic representation of the struggle against sin would lend well to such a thought. These subtle ideas make a story about killer dolls much more interesting.
[I have a short addendum to this review, which I will post tomorrow. Hope you enjoy.]