IFC Midnight’s ‘We Need to Do Something’ Unleashes Tornado Terrors This September [Trailer]

We all have those horror movies that scarred us for life. Whether your blood ran cold from the macabre family dinner in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or you found yourself disturbed and nauseous while watching Regan’s head spin in The Exorcist, these terrible frights became the catalyst for a lifetime of loving horror. When I think back to my childhood, it’s films like Tourist Trap, Poltergeist, and even Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker that left deep impressions. It’s like a frigid winter chill you simply can’t shake, or that ominous sensation that descends at nightfall and seems to rattle among the shadows on your wall. It’s certainly hard to imagine the fifth installment in any B-movie franchise having much to offer, but director Martin Kitrosser’s The Toymaker injected the series with a pinch of whimsy, a few drops of absurdity, and a whole fistful of mayhem that is just as terrifying today.

Issued on VHS in late 1991, The Toymaker, the screenplay for which was penned by Kitrosser and Brian Yuzna (the man behind Society, Bride of Re-Animator, The Dentist, and a slew of other schlocky ‘90s horror gems), adapts the magical Pinocchio fable into a perverse tale about childhood trauma. Kitrosser weaves themes of abuse and hunger for love into the fabric of the story through the use of the absolute fantastic as a framework. Naturally, as a then-five-year-old kid, I was far more hooked into the grisly violence when toys, seemingly innocent inanimate objects, came to life and killed. In adulthood, I have come to appreciate the dysfunctional, splintered household, something I also experienced, and how one boy’s imagination is completely destroyed after witnessing the murder of his step-father.

It’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a knock at the door. Too naïve for his own good, an angel-faced boy named Derek (William Thorne) answers and discovers a perfectly wrapped package on the front steps. His stepfather Tom (Van Quattro) lashes out, demonstrating his own harbored fears, and orders him upstairs to bed. His curiosity to know what’s inside the package gets the better of him, of course. When he tears away the glistening holiday paper, he finds a musical orb inside, its bright red curves not unlike that of Santa Claus himself. The tinker toy plays the sweetest of melodies before morphing into a devilish creature with sharp fangs and go-go Inspector Gadget rubber arms, which latch onto Tom’s face, seemingly sucking the life from him. In a tussle to break free, Tom stumbles and impales himself on a fireplace poker 一 and poor Derek, hidden on the stairs, bears witness to it all.

What a horrifying experience. It’s certainly, unequivocally etched into his memory, no doubt. This opening scene primes the viewer for a wonderful level of camp; the set-ups are typically ridiculous, but Kitrosser dexterously walks a fine line between serious and goofy. As a franchise, Silent Night, Deadly Night relied on the audience’s willingness to suspend their disbelief to the same level you would for the Child’s Play and Puppet Master movies. But these horror stories work because it banks hard into one of the greatest fears I had as a kid, and probably most people did: bloodthirsty toys wrecking utter bedlam. I was also terrified of Sid and his mangled playthings in 1994’s Toy Story, so what do I know.

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Two weeks later, Derek’s mother Sarah (Jane Higginson) laments that he still hasn’t recovered. And how could he? It’s way too soon. “On top of everything, he won’t go into his room now,” she expresses to her best friend Kim (Neith Hunter), noting how he hasn’t spoken a word since the accident. Derek barricades himself from the world, as much as he does from the land of make believe. Toys only represent the greatest horror of his young life, and even a Christmas commercial jingle, hocking the exact toy that killed Tom, triggers him.

“Derek, I know you’re angry and you’re scared, and you have every right to be 一 but you also have to remember that you’re not alone,” consoles Sarah later that morning. To perhaps entice him out of his self-imposed shell, she takes him on a shopping trip to Petto’s Toys, founded by jolly proprietor Joe Petto, an erratic but fascinating performance from Mickey Rooney. “Fate plays some cruel tricks on us all,” Joe says, offering his best condolences. After his son Pino (Brian Bremer) tries to force them to purchase a Larry the Larvae toy, Sarah and Derek abruptly flee the store, much to Joe’s annoyance. “A real son would help his father!” he huffs in anger.

Joe tends to erupt into blind rages when Pino doesn’t quite live up to his expectations and blames him for the store’s financial ruin. His personal tragedy (the death of his first son before birth) fuels his suffering and he puts it all squarely on Pino’s shoulders. Perhaps in an attempt to reclaim a sense of purpose in his existence, Pino later breaks into Sarah’s house, where he used to live in 1975. Upon discovery, Joe unleashes all his pent-up resentment, seething acidic words and chasing him into the store basement. Joe’s pain has become Pino’s punishment, embodying the cyclical nature of human existence. As they say, hurt people hurt people 一 and all Pino wants is to love and be loved.

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In his desperation for the unconditional kindness Joe refuses, and more importantly, can’t give to him, Pino rewires many of the shop’s toys to possess an unnatural hunger for human flesh. He frequently leaves anonymous Christmas packages on Sarah’s doorstep in the hope that Derek will die and he can finally have the family he always wanted. His unpredictable behavior frames many of the best, most memorable images the film has to offer, including a set of roller blades that spark and emit smoke like cryogenic boosters.

“It’s human nature to want nice, neat answers to everything, but life doesn’t work that way,” Kim expresses to Sarah moments before her son Lonnie loots a pair of roller blades and is nearly killed by a car. This simple, almost throwaway scene becomes the crux of the entire film. From the toys going haywire to the appearance of Derek’s real father Noah (Tracy Fraim), who spends the entirety of the film tracking down and buying all the damaged toys, the brutality of the real world appears ornamental but in truth, it throbs at the center.

Presented as an expected red herring, Noah has only the best intentions. His subplot comes into clear focus mid-way through in a touching scene with Sarah. As it turns out, she never told Noah about her pregnancy, and he ran off nearly six years ago. “I wanted to tell you,” she says, almost in tears. But he was never “ready to settle down,” she says. “I wanted to finish college. I wanted a career. I needed security, and you couldn’t give me that. Tom could.”

Her words sting, but his feelings remain unchanged. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” he vows. The two then engage in a hatchback romp, and Kitrosser juxtaposes this rekindling of romance against a murderous, blood-soaked backdrop. Back home, babysitter Merideth (Amy L. Taylor) and her punk boyfriend Buck (Eric Welch) get freaky in the sheets with their own sexual exploits, as an army of toys (including a T-Rex and a wayward animatronic hand, planted by Joe) stalk and then attack in the goriest setpiece of the film. In Buck’s struggle to disentangle a rubber snake from around his throat, a remote control car, decked out with razor-sharp blades and spikes, launches into his chest and slices deep into his jugular.

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Amidst the mayhem, Joe abducts Derek and takes him away to his toy shop to set up for one of the most peculiar showdowns in horror. Sarah dashes through the snow and confronts Joe down in the bunker, a makeshift factory beneath the store. It’s quickly revealed that Joe isn’t Joe after all. It’s Pino, who killed his father in a fit of rage. “He always broke me. I had to be sure this time that he didn’t hurt me any more,” says Pino, exposing his true form as a robot. The revelation is disturbing enough, but his delusional thinking, that killing his father finally set him free, plops the outlandish picture in a vat of cold, hard truth.

Many people have suffered trauma during the Christmas season, and it can be incredibly difficult to navigate reopened wounds and a flood of emotions. The Toymaker does a surprising job with planting this thematic seed inside such an exaggerated premise, and it only gets more distressing from there. Pino proceeds to strip out of his Santa suit 一 don’t worry, he’s not anatomically correct 一 and mimics only what he’s seen from Merideth and Buck’s sexy rendezvous earlier. “All I ever wanted to be was a good son,” he says. He inches closer and grabs Sarah, assaulting her as he continues expressing his lustful desires, “Derek has to die so you can be my mommy. I can be your son now. I can love you like a real son. I can. I can. I can. I love you, mommy!”

Pino does eventually get defeated (Noah and Sarah both take turns hacking him into pieces with an axe), but it’s this assault scene that’s given me shuddering nightmares over the years. It’s a level of creep that makes me think Pino must have watched Black Christmas at some point; an aggressive, possessive attitude toward women is omnipresent in both films. Now, imagine a five-year-old huddled beneath his homemade blanket in terror. There’s no way I would come away unscathed.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker holds up remarkably well. As much as I hate the word, the film is underrated. In conversations about haunted or demonic toys, the 1991 feature is largely ignored. Kitrosser cakes on mounds of gore, tension, and social commentary with a way that feels organic and serves the plot. Where Disney’s animated adventure Pinocchio (1940) instills a message of moral integrity, The Toymaker digs way deeper into the darkest crevices of human existence, from death to sexual assault, to present the realities of the world in the harshest light possible. Beneath these layers, it still remains a damn entertaining horror film thirty years later.

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IFC Midnight’s ‘We Need to Do Something’ Unleashes Tornado Terrors This September [Trailer]

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