Toys of Terror Unwraps Rampant Cliches to Woeful Unsatisfaction

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Toys of Terror

The idea of utilizing toys, dolls and puppets as the antagonists in horror films is a risky endeavor for filmmakers. While it’s true that such figures oftentimes contain an inherent creepiness to them--who hasn’t been convinced the round, unblinking eyes of a doll have watched them from afar?--the absurdity in making a mere child’s bauble the vehicle for purest evil is frequently too great to overcome. From Chucky to Annabelle to Full Moon’s Puppetmaster series, every possible permutation of this (very) limited subgenre has seemingly been toyed with already to anemic effect, yet Hollywood still believes it can bleed another imaginative drop from the storytelling corpse.

Creative nirvana certainly isn’t achieved in the slickly produced Warner Brothers release Toys Of Terror, a big-budget studio interpretation of the traditional possessed-plaything tale that attempts to counterbalance the ludicrous happenings with grim seriousness and eerie atmosphere. The premise is textbook Horror 101: David (Dayo Ade) takes his blended family to an isolated, under-renovation Victorian-era manor house he and new wife Hannah (Kyana Teresa) have invested in for the Christmas holiday, much to the chagrin of Alicia (Verity Marks), David’s sarcastic fifteen-year-old daughter from his first marriage. The house’s previous incarnation was as a children’s clinic where some of the wards perished under mysterious circumstances, and as soon as the family arrives predictability comes with them--cell phones are conveniently out of range, there’s no land lines, the resident contractor, Emmett (Ernie Pitts) gives a dire warning to stay out of the structure’s third floor that’s immediately ignored by David’s two younger children, Zoe and Franklin (Zoe Fish and Saul Elias), and an inescapable blizzard soon sets in ensuring that none of the characters can leave without dire consequences. When the kids stumble upon a squalid play room containing the leftover toys from the building’s departed youngsters, it’s all-too-clear what the tiny monsters have in mind for their unwelcome yuletide visitors.  

There are strengths in Toys Of Terror: the acting by all involved is noteworthy despite the supernatural hokum surrounding them. As the family patriarch, Ade’s David makes for a fun, strong, compassionate father, and his bond with Alicia is warmly displayed. The film’s production values are strikingly high-end, and the scenes involving the toys themselves exhibit a quirky, charmingly old-school stop-motion quality to them that belies their sinister nature. Director Nicholas Verso employs steady pacing and an enchanting use of the Victorian building’s beauty--the manor house is almost a character unto itself, dripping with gothic dread, and the bold use of lighting, colors and cinematography evoke a chilly, foreboding menace. But it’s an all-too-familiar malevolence that we’ve seen far too many times before and that now seems less a horror film than an irritating cinematic paint-by-numbers pantomime of one.

The great error in Toys Of Terror is one of tone: the straight-faced soberness of the production tries to stare down the ridiculous premise, but the amusing climactic battle against the toys only emphasizes the failure of the film’s serious manner: the rampant clichés could’ve been acknowledged throughout with tongue-in-cheek panache à la Tucker And Dale Vs Evil or Scream, yet as is there’s difficulty in telling whether they were intentional or the byproduct of some studio suit’s misshapen conception of what a horror movie should be. The aforementioned Puppetmaster films were campy exercises due to Charles Band’s non-existent budgets, but Warner Brothers clearly spared no expense on Toys Of Terror, and the results are woefully unsatisfying.     

“Fuck Christmas.” Hannah says towards the end, and any audience member by that point can agree with her profane statement. Toys Of Terror was intended as a scary take on a well-trod theme, but is instead only recommended for those under the influence of heavily spiked egg nog.

I give Toys Of Terror a very disappointing 1 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

1.0 / 5.0