My love for the killer toy sub-genre was born in the aisles of the video store, and here are four of my favorite VHS-era genre gems.
In my younger days, spending hours browsing the beautiful VHS artwork on the video shop shelves, I was often drawn to the videos featuring killer toys on their garish covers. It’s no surprise that I became an avid Charles Band film collector after these formative horror experiences.
Here I aim to highlight a few of those films that got rented again and again and left a lasting impression on me, and some more modern entries into the sub-genre as well.
1. BRIDE OF CHUCKY
With a lot of the famous ‘killer toy’ films being released in the 80s, they were already household names to genre fans by the time I sunk my teeth into them. And one of the most recognizable is Charles Lee Ray, or Chucky as he’s more commonly known.
Bride of Chucky is the fourth installment in the Child’s Play series and one that easily divides opinions. For me though, it is the best in the series!
Being released in 1998, it was one of those films that became a crucial part of my horror education, along with other nineties gems such as Scream and I Know What you did Last Summer. It features some fabulously blood-thirsty kills, hilariously dark humor, and an outstanding cast with an unforgettable performance from Jennifer Tilly. Another standout performance in this diminutive murder fun time was from the late, great John Ritter, in an unusually out-of-character bad guy role.
As with most of the films in this sub-genre, you can leave your brain at the door, fill the void with popcorn, and have an absolute blast!
2. DEMONIC TOYS
Seeing the absolutely striking VHS cover art to Demonic Toys for the first time in the horror section of my local video shop was definitely a gateway drug. I had to have more immediately!
This one goes up there as one of the films that I rented the most in my teen years, and it was always a winner. Demonic Toys dishes out some foul-mouthed, wise cracking, sadistic plastic anti-heroes and blends it together with demonic possession. A fun, and possibly shocking fact about this film is that it was written by David S. Goyer who went on to pen The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, but I think we can all agree that this was his peak!
As with Bride of Chucky, this isn’t a terribly cerebral piece of cinema, and it isn’t heavy or emotionally taxing. The first time watching this is all about seeing what the next kill will look like, and what those crazy toys will do and say.
3. PUPPET MASTER 2
This sequel to the 1989 Full Moon classic is my favorite in the series, possibly for nostalgic reasons, as it is the first PUPPET MASTER film that I saw. But nevertheless, it is a solid sequel and standout entry in the franchise.
It carries on from the first, giving a little more back story to Toulon and his band of murderous puppets. The kills are great, the cast is just wonderfully set up to be cannon fodder and the ending is truly magnificent in the eyes of a B-movie horror lover. There is never a dull moment when Toulon’s puppets are on the rampage, and they are running riot in this one!
Puppet Master 2 was directed by David Allen, who was better known for his work as a special effects artist, a talent that lends itself well to a film where half the cast are puppets.
My final pick is one of my all-time favorites.
This Stuart Gordon masterpiece is an unforgettable experience and one that every horror fan should indulge in at least once. I personally give it a peep at least once every single year. It’s another film that had such eye-catching cover art that it just begged to be rented, and rent it I did (over and over and over).
From Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, Dolls is a gory, dark fairy-tale with as much heart as it has blood and guts. I feel that with heavy hitters like Child’s Play and Puppet Master in the killer toy sub-genre. But with Gordon’s catalog of Lovecraftian films, Dolls gets criminally overlooked.
If you take anything away from this article, it is that you should watch Dolls now!
As the many sub-genres of horror continue to weave in and out of popularity over the years; from slasher, to found-footage, torture, and zombie etc, it will be nice to see the killer toy sub-genre one day take centre stage again, and with the Chucky TV series getting people’s attention at the moment, that day could be coming yet.