Has anyone done a Freudian reading of 1992's straight-to-video horror flick Demonic Toys? I hate to be, you know, that guy, but there’s something about this movie that lends itself to further analysis. While it’s hardly original-or even very good-it’s occasionally quite effective, and I think that speaks to screenwriter David S. Goyer’s knowledge of psychoanalytic theory. Or maybe schlock factory Full Moon Entertainment really just wanted to capitalize on the success of Child’s Play, and I’m giving everyone far more credit than they’re due.
I don’t particularly like Demonic Toys, but I have to admire a film that can be both exceedingly clever and unbearably stupid. While it borrows a lot (too much) from Child’s Play and Full Moon’s own Puppet Master, Demonic Toys is just weird enough to stick with you. For all of the plot holes and heavy-handed exposition, there are moments of genuine horror that rival the best of what Chucky has to offer. Not to mention the fact that you can’t ignore the cheap thrills of watching an onslaught of terrifying dolls get blasted away.
Freud touches on the fear of living dolls, among other things, in his essay “The Uncanny,” which is actually really great despite not being entirely about sex. The gist of it is that something we were once familiar with but repressed recurs and is unfamiliar to us; this creates a feeling we categorize as “uncanny.” (It sounds even better in German!) And it is interesting to note that many of the toys we play with as kids suddenly become creepy as adults: clowns, robots, lifelike baby dolls-all of which are accounted for in Demonic Toys.
Look at the villains in Toy Story 3, teddy bear Lotso and baby doll Big Baby, toned-down counterparts to Demonic Toys’ Grizzly Teddy and Baby Oopsy Daisy. Which is not to suggest that Toy Story 3 borrowed anything from Demonic Toys, but that perhaps Freud was onto something and these toys are scary for a reason. Puppet Master is a better movie than Demonic Toys, but the latter is actually more unsettling because it features toys most of us really played with as kids. (Although, full disclosure, my toy robot scared me when I was a child, too.)
Of course, it’s not uncommon knowledge that clowns and dolls are freaky, so why am I so quick to assume that Goyer wrote Demonic Toys with Freud in mind? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, right? But the film also includes two memorable scenes of eye injury, another major chunk of Freud’s essay. While discussing the story “The Sand-Man,” Freud acknowledges that uncanny effect of not being able to tell if a doll is living or dead. But for the psychoanalyst, the real uncanny element of the tale comes from the fear of losing one’s eyes. If you guessed that has something to do with castration anxiety, you know your Sigmund!
At one point in Demonic Toys, chicken delivery boy Mark and runaway Anne are ambushed by the titular baddies. Mark escapes, but Anne doesn’t fare so well-Baby Oopsy Daisy stabs her repeatedly in the eye. It’s a moment of legitimate grossness in a movie that’s up to that point more laughable than icky. But it pales in comparison to a later scene where the demon controlling the toys transforms himself into dead cop Matt. Standing in front of Matt’s former partner and fiancée Judith, not-Matt tears out his own eyes. It’s incredibly unsettling, and there are squishy sound effects I wish I could unhear. That’s a Freudian twofer-”the uncanny” fear of losing one’s eyes and of doubles (the two Matts). None of this is uncharted terrain for horror, but it’s kind of surprising to find it in a film that also contains the line, “I’ll come for them. Then I can come for you. Then we can do the nasty.”
In fact, I’ve spent far too much time taking Demonic Toys seriously. Let’s talk about the unintentionally hilarious little kid demon, who is decked out with long fingernails and someone else’s voice dubbed in. Everything he says is gold, including, “At the moment of birth, I ride shotgun down the old birth canal.” He’s the real standout of the film, along with Baby Oopsy Daisy, who gets the best introduction of any horror movie villain ever. “Hi, you fat fuck!” she says. “I’m Baby Oopsy Daisy, you lard-ass. Will you be my special friend? I can walk, I can talk, I can even shit my pants. Can you shit your pants?” It’s like, Freddy Krueger who?
I can do little to explain the effect Demonic Toys had over me. Keep in mind this is a movie I consider barely worth a rental-and yet, I’ve managed to babble on about its Freudian implications. That’s downright uncanny, right?
Update, 9:39 a.m., May 6, 2020: This post has been updated to remove a broken video embed.
In Pop Punishment, Louis Peitzman endures the most derided genre films and television, all for your sadistic pleasure. Need more punishment? Follow Louis on Twitter.