Demonic Toys (1992) Demonic Toys (1992) **½

     I tend to be disdainful of Charles Band’s persistent obsession with toy-sized monsters and monstrous toys. That isn’t altogether fair, though, because every once in a while, a halfway worthwhile movie about little scuttling things would scuttle out of the Full Moon Entertainment factory alongside all the shit like Totem, The Gingerdead Man, and Dangerous Worry Dolls. Hideous!, for example, is a goddamned delight, and even the fatiguingly indefatigable Puppet Master series has had its moments here and there. Demonic Toys is another one that pleasantly surprised me. Although it is in most respects a perfectly typical Full Moon mini-monster flick, it’s also just a wee bit more than that, offering some indication of why the company seemed so promising during its first few years of operation.

     Police detectives Judith Gray (Tracy Scoggins, from Alien Intruder and Watchers II) and— attention, Swamp Thing fans!— Matt Cable (Jeff Celentano, of Alien from L.A. and Puppet Master II) are on a stakeout. They’re supposed to be meeting gangland arms dealers Lincoln (Michael Russo, of Barb Wire and The Toxic Avenger) and Hesse (Barry Lynch, from Sleepstalker: The Sandman’s Last Rites and Dominion) to arrest them after pretending to buy guns from them, but the two hoods are late. To pass the time while they wait, Gray has been telling Cable about a weird recurring dream she’s been having for the past month or so, in which she sits in a room full of antique clocks, watching two young boys (Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker’s William Thorne and David Cerny, from Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest) as they play the card game “War” against each other. If troubling dreams strike you as an oddly intimate topic of conversation for two cops on the job together, consider that Matt and Jude are partners in the other sense as well. Indeed, they moved in together some months ago, and Judith is trying to figure out how to tell the taciturn and comparatively imperceptive Matt that she’s pregnant with his child. She finally resorts to the direct approach mere moments before Lincoln and Hesse pull into the agreed-upon venue for the ostensible sale, the alley behind the warehouse of the Arcadia toy company.

     Of course, we all know what happens to B-movie cops on the verge of some joyous change in life-circumstances, right? So the only question is which one of them is about to get whacked— Gray or Cable? Cable and Hesse each end up catching bullets when the bust inevitably goes bad, but the crooks are better shots than their opponents. Whereas Matt dies more or less immediately, Hesse is able to hold his leaking guts together well enough to follow Lincoln into the toy warehouse for a temporary reprieve. A very temporary reprieve, as it turns out. Not only does Gray give chase, but even after she passes Hesse by to concentrate on Lincoln, the wounded man is doomed for reasons having nothing to do with the bullet in his belly. As he crawls into the depths of the warehouse in search of peace and quiet, he finds instead a pack of demonically possessed toys— a baby doll, a teddy bear, a raygun-shooting robot, and a grotesque Jack-in-the-box— which quickly finish him off and harvest his blood for some manner of black magic rite.

     Now you might ask what Charnetsky the graveyard-shift security guard (Pete Schrum, of Galaxina and Trancers) is doing while all that is going down in and around the property that he’s supposed to be keeping safe and tranquil. Well, Charnetsky’s here to tell you that he can multitask like nobody’s business! Just now, in fact, he’s watching Puppet Master II on television, listening to public-domain polka music on the radio, and calling in his midnight lunch order from the Chunky Chicken. Juvenile delinquent delivery driver Mark Wayne (Bentley Mitchum, from Shark Attack and A Crack in the Floor) arrives with Charnetsky’s food right about when Gray finally corners Lincoln upstairs, in the office where the toy company archives its old invoices, and when Hesse gets bled out by animate dolls in service to Satan. Even with all the distractions working against her, though, Gray finally manages to make enough noise to snare Charnetsky’s glutinous attention, and for a little while there, it looks like she might also succeed in getting Lincoln (if not Hesse) back to the precinct. But Judith fatally leaves it to the security guard to round up the wounded gun merchant, and thus Charnetsky too falls into the clutches of the killer toys— all of which are now visibly invigorated by the recent blood sacrifice.

     Thus commences a night of three-cornered combat, as Gray and Lincoln continue their ongoing struggle in the face of recurrent attack by the possessed toys, with poor Mark stuck in the middle. Mark and Judith acquire an unexpected ally in the guise of a teenaged runaway called Anne (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’s Ellen Dunning), who has been hiding out in the nooks and crannies of the Arcadia warehouse long enough to have learned a thing or two about its supernatural tenants. But the really useful intel comes, remarkably enough, straight from the mouth of the demon commanding the toys (Robert Stoeckle, of Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh, on those occasions when the entity deigns to appear wearing its own face). It comes to Gray in the guise of the dark-haired child from her card-playing dream, and explains that it has big plans for her. 66 years ago, the demon attempted to incarnate itself by impregnating one of its human worshippers, but the diabolical baby was born dead. The Arcadia Toys warehouse was constructed on the land where the tiny corpse was surreptitiously buried, and the fiend has been stuck haunting the building ever since. But because Gray is carrying a child of her own, the demon sees an opportunity to try again. Mark, Lincoln, and Anne, like Hesse and Charnetsky before them, are useful to it only as nourishment, but Judith’s growing fetus can be hijacked to become a vessel in which the demon can walk the Earth in material form at last. Something to consider, though: if the dark-haired boy from Gray’s recurring dream was an omen of her encounter with the devil in the toy warehouse, shouldn’t the blond boy be a harbinger of something, too? And if the two kids were adversaries in the dream, doesn’t that imply that whatever force the blond one represents will be on Judith’s side once it finally manifests itself?

     Demonic Toys was the other movie that David S. Goyer wrote for Full Moon Entertainment toward the beginning of his career. But in contrast to Arcade, he was able to keep this script well within the bounds of what a fledgling direct-to-video schlock factory could plausibly produce. Goyer’s screenplay is tight and efficient, with all the I’s dotted and all the T’s crossed. (Notice, for instance, that Mark tells his manager at the Chunky Chicken that he might just walk off the job after delivering Charnetsky’s order, convincingly explaining why no one comes looking for him the whole rest of the night.) It pays off all of its setups, and sets up all of its twists and turns— sometimes with commendable subtlety, and in ways more meaningful than they initially appear. The dialogue could have used a bit more polish, but that’s the only major complaint with Demonic Toys that I can level against Goyer specifically.

     Peter Manoogian’s direction, meanwhile, is merely workmanlike, but you don’t have to watch too many movies from this stratum of the industry (or indeed from this very studio!) to acquire a real appreciation for workmanlike direction. The action sequences are always intelligible, the laughs land mostly in the right places, and the whole film has the kind of crisp pacing that few Full Moon features would ever attain again after the turn of the century, even when they were only an hour long. Most impressively, there’s a touch of genuine artistry on display here and there in Demonic Toys. The several variations on Judith’s dream of the card-playing boys consistently have an off-kilter, otherworldly feel despite their mundane subject matter, and the ghostly little girls in gas masks who patrol the warehouse on tricycles, acting as the demon’s eyes and ears, are effectively eerie creations.

     Also unexpectedly effective are the toys themselves. Although they can’t match the best of their counterparts from the Puppet Master series for sheer personality, they nevertheless strike a reasonable balance between two contradictory imperatives. All four of the featured monsters are individually memorable, while still remaining recognizable as generic examples of longstanding toy archetypes. They’re all pretty well-made puppets, too, especially the toothy, slimy Jack-in-the-box. And the fifth major toy— the benevolent one who shows up only in the final act to aid Judith against the demon— is a Dave Allen stop-motion job. I always enjoy seeing those, even when they get no more than a cameo appearance, like the battling whatsits in The Day Time Ended. Mind you, none of these virtues should be construed to imply that Demonic Toys warranted three sequels and a whole spinoff series focused on Baby Oopsie-Daisy, but taken strictly on its own, this movie is a fairly good time.



Home     Alphabetical Index     Chronological Index     Contact



All site content (except for those movie posters-- who knows who owns them) (c) Scott Ashlin.  That means it's mine.  That means you can't have it unless you ask real nice.