October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the most unconventional killers in horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Horror fans love our evergreen villains. You know the type: vampires, werewolves, and zombies. They’re our global monsters that have been refined and improved upon over a century of literature, theater, cinema, and television.
The only problem is, after years of engorging ourselves on these famous monsters and their movies, the macabre creations themselves start to feel, well, a little stale. Samey, even. I mean, there really, truly are only so many ways a neck can be bitten, or a brain can be munched before audiences begin to ask, “Ok, horror genre, how ‘bout you show me something I’ve not seen before.”
Ask, and you shall receive.
Whether you’re in the mood for demon lamps or possessed clay, the following ten films deliver horror villains like we’ve never seen before — and in some cases since. Each film on this list accurately captures the breadth of creativity that can erupt from the horror genre when it reaches beyond classic killers to weave a totally new kind of nightmare.
With only ten slots, there are plenty of great contenders that barely missed the cut — from Sion Sono’s hair-extension horror Exte to both of Dick Maas’ killer elevator opuses — but these films, as voted on by Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Meg Shields, Rob Hunter, and yours truly, are the cream of the audaciously unconventional horror killers crop.
10. Slaxx (2020)
On paper, the one-line premise behind Slaxx sounds pretty goddamn silly. A possessed pair of jeans starts killing people at a trendy clothing store? Dumb! And yet, this comedic slice of horror delivers fun kills, a smart sense of humor, and one hell of a commentary on the bloody and tragic price of capitalism. The jeans are possessed by the spirit of hard-working people in a third-world country where the clothing is made under hazardous conditions, and the journey overseas into a hoity-toity shop offers a tragic, hard-hitting build-up to the goofy antics that follow. Add in some truly ingenious practical effects work to bring the jeans to life, and you have a highly entertaining time with an incredibly unique “monster.” And really, what killers could be more unconventional than a pair of Jordache Jeans? (Rob Hunter)
9. Blades (1989)
Blades is Jaws with a killer lawnmower. On the surface, that sounds like a dumb idea, but god dammit, it works. And it works because it is Jaws scene by scene. The filmmakers just chose to drop the shark and move from the beach to a country club golf course. It’s a comedy, of course, but the characters play it all straight. That leaves you laughing while also thinking to yourself, “Killer lawnmower hunting people down? That’s plausible.” Now, you’re probably thinking, “Well, no way this ends with a big explosive scene like Jaws.” And I really wish you weren’t thinking that because I hate when you’re wrong. (Chris Coffel)
8. Death Bed (1977)
Death Bed is a bit of a stupid movie. It’s a joke. One Patton Oswalt has told to great applause. However, when I finally did see the movie, I found it rather revolting. Not just revolting, but actually sickening. It’s what’s implied with the Death Bed subtitle, “The Bed That Eats,” and graphically showcased in the film itself. Yeah, the bed eats ya. More grotesquely, the bed digests you. Those sequences, where the body dissolves into nothingness, are what I carried with me long after the credits rolled. And the sound effects! Yuck, yuck, yuck. Falling into the Bed’s maw is one thing; continuing to fall well beyond it is something entirely else. The movie’s legacy is its absurdity, but don’t pretend there’s no genuine horror gurgling within its premise. (Brad Gullickson)
7. Pulse (2001)
Listen, I don’t need to tell you about the abject horror of Being Online. But, back in 2001, the dehumanizing, lonely, and invasive experience of surfing the net was still a fresh wound. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s slow-burning masterpiece Kairo (2001), a.k.a. Pulse repositions the internet as a parasitic force, a leech of ones and zeroes keen to rob us of our privacy, attention, and (sometimes) our very lives. Pulse has it right: the true terror of the internet isn’t that your digital footprint never fades. It’s that it makes all of us little more than shadows, half-glimpsed stains of what is, or used to be, a human being. The internet promised to bring us closer together and to give us digital immortality. Instead, we spend our days staring the eternal, black, painfully lonely void in the face. As for the ghosts in the machine… they’d like some company. (Meg Shields)
6. Battle Heater (1989)
More campy comedy than outright horror, what makes this little genre gem sing — beyond, of course, the Japanese punk rock band prominently featured throughout — is the sheer madness of its titular villain. It’s a hungry hungry kotatsu, which for Western audiences is kind of like a coffee table with an electric heater attached underneath. How does a table kill people? With supernatural power cables and a fleshy maw that opens between its legs, giving the heater the look of some Lovecraftian abomination, or what John Carpenter’s The Thing would have looked like on a budget of cigarettes and burnt coffee. Battle Heater is a J-horror curio any fan of the genre needs to add to their watch list. (Jacob Trussell)
5. Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989)
Between 1989 and 1996, producer Steven White spearheaded four installments in the long-running The Amityville Horror franchise. What makes White’s contributions such schlocky fun? Rather than centering stories around the famously possessed house on Long Island, he focuses on possessed objects that are taken from the house, like a killer clock, a spooky dollhouse, and, in the case of Amityville: The Evil Escapes, a demonic floor lamp.
With a creepy design that’d make for a stellar Halloween decoration, the possessed lamp does what you’d expect. It emits a menacing light, flashes the face of a demon in its glowing orb, and psychically manipulates other objects, from chainsaws to garbage disposals. It can even use its electric cord like a prehensile tail, springing to life to strangle its next victim to death. Like the other unconventional baddies on this list, the killer lamp in The Evil Escapes is silly-fun horror entertainment made for jovial riffing while watching with friends. (Jacob Trussell)
4. Vampire Clay (2017)
As the name implies, the star attraction in this bizarro slice of recent J-Horror is clay. You know, the kind you’d use in a sculpture class to mold models of human faces. Perhaps that’s ultimately where the kernel of the film’s premise comes from — what if those inanimate clay busts suddenly sprung to life and were hungry for blood? However, Sôichi Umezawa’s film takes this idea one step further by giving the clay vampiric traits, turning its victims one by one into clay models themselves. It’s a gimmick that Larry Cohen also utilized in The Stuff, and we can see traces of that film’s influences in Vampire Clay, including marvelously realized sequences where the clay molds itself around its victims until they become entombed, and their skin turns into clay. For fans of practical effects, the film is a charming feast for the eyes. (Jacob Trussell)
3. The Mangler (1995)
You may have to read between the lines to fully realize what Tobe Hooper was trying to convey about the horrors of industrial labor and weaponized capitalism in The Mangler, but that subtext does not mute the spectacle, which is its titular villain — a demonic laundry press. “The Mangler” is almost operatic in its scale, which makes the film feel completely divorced from the glut of Stephen King adaptations of the 1990s. It’s dripping with atmosphere and aesthetics that give the film’s villain its own unique style and power, even as the laundry press inexplicably becomes anthropomorphic, sprouts appendages, and chases our hapless heroes into a labyrinthian sewer. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but if you are looking for an unconventional killer, you’ll be hard-pressed (sorry, not sorry) to find one that inspires megalophobia as much as The Mangler. (Jacob Trussell)
2. The Stuff (1985)
“Health fads are going to kill us all,” Larry Cohen may have thought to himself as he put ink to paper crafting the screenplay for his film, The Stuff. The killer in question in this horror satire is a parasitic primordial ooze that is so delicious that it quickly gets monetized to become the biggest thing since frozen yogurt. But this hot new fad comes with a price. Because if you eat enough of the stuff, well, you may very well become the stuff yourself. With goopy practical effects and ingenious camera techniques, The Stuff is easily one of the greatest examples of horror as cultural satire put to screen, and one that has lost none of its ooey-gooey bite over thirty years later. (Jacob Trussell)
1. Rubber (2010)
There’s a very popular subreddit called “Tires are the Enemy,” and if my gut instinct is correct, I’d argue the inspiration for the forum came straight from Quentin Dupieux’s horror-comedy Rubber. Featuring a killer tire with telekinetic abilities, including, but not limited to, being able to explode people’s heads á la Scanners, the true meat of the film is in its presentation. Dupieux puts the audience into the place of a group of spectators watching from afar as the killer tire rolls across a desolate sandy landscape, leaving blown-up body parts in its wake.
The film’s opening moments deliver this unconventional horror-comedy’s core message. “You probably never gave it a thought, but all great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason,” a cop says, breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly, “Ladies, gentlemen, the film you are about to see today is an homage to the ‘no reason’ – that most powerful element of style.” While Dupieux’s film may be about “no reason,” there is certainly, well, no reason for you to miss one of the most audacious and unconventional killers the horror genre has ever produced. (Jacob Trussell)
You’re probably reading this right now on a computer or your phone while sitting down. So stand up. Go ahead, stand up, and look at the chair, couch, or bean bag you were just occupying. Now listen. Lean in close to that inanimate object and really listen. It’s saying something to you in a whisper, a hushed tone suggesting evil is all around you, and imploring you to read more 31 Days of Horror Lists.