Sure, we all love technology – and if you’re reading this site, there’s a good chance your daily routine involves more gadgets, software, and digital accessories than the average person. And while that’s all well and good, that also means you’ll be one of the first people to know when the robot revolution begins.
From coffee machines with a taste for blood to smartphones zapping our brains, Hollywood has never shied away from showing us what could happen if our favorite gadgets, appliances, or workstations suddenly decided to do a hard reboot on the human-machine hierarchy.
With Halloween on the horizon, we decided to look back at some of the movie industry’s most notable examples of household technology gone horribly wrong, in the hopes of finding a good scare and possibly learning a lesson or two about how to avoid the electronic apocalypse.
The Tech: Camera
The Story: News reporter, Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) film what begins as an average night. They tag along with several Barcelona firefighters making their rounds, but night takes a strange twist when the crew responds to a call from an old woman trapped in her apartment. We watch the events unfold from the perspective of Pablo, who never stops filming.
The Lesson: Trust your gut, especially when you feel queasy.
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
The Tech: Lawnmower
The Story: A film adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, The Lawnmower Man follows Jobe Smith (Jeff Fayey), a simple man who works as a groundskeeper. When a computer scientist Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) meets Smith, he quickly decides that Smith is the perfect test subject for his experiments on human intelligence. After undergoing a series of virtual reality tests, Jobe develops super brain powers. Of course, Jobe’s newly-acquired intelligence gives him several ideas of his own, including a plan to rig up a lawnmower designed to mow down the jerks mocked him in his past.
The Lesson: Refrain from ridiculing the mailman, electrician, and most importantly, the groundskeeper.
The Tech: Webcam
The Story: FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is assigned a case dealing with an untraceable website that films the murders of various, seemingly unconnected, people. As the untraceable site rises in popularity, so does the pace at which people die. Meanwhile, as Marsh gets closer to solving the case, those around her become increasinly vulnerable to the same attacks.
The Lesson: Don’t ever apply for a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Demon Seed (1977)
The Tech: Home Security System & Computer
The Story: Based on an early novel by Dean Koontz, Demon Seed stars Fritz Weaver as Dr. Alex Harris, a scientist working on an A.I. system called “Proteus IV” that incorporates organic material. After escaping its human controllers, Proteus takes over Harris’ home-security system and decides that it wants to have a child, so it artificially inseminates his wife with genetically manipulated cells it took from her. Once it confirms that she’s pregnant, Proteus surrenders – leaving the couple to discover the horrifying truth of the their new “baby.”
The Lesson: Don’t bring your work home with you. It’s not fair to your family.
They Live (1988)
The Tech: Sunglasses
The Story: Nada is an unassuming construction worker who lives in San Francisco. As his name ironically implies, there’s not much happening in his unassuming life. That all changes when he finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world as it really is — one lined with aliens who’ve disguised themselves as humans in an effort to take over the world. Nada then becomes part of a battle to save humanity.
The Lesson: Some pairs of shades offer more than a little UV protection.
The Tech: Computer
The Story: When computer engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has his work stolen by coworker Ed Dillinger (David Warner), he seeks redemption by breaking into the computer’s mainframe. However, Flynn is then unwillingly transported inside the computer and it “becomes the ultimate enemy.” Flynn has to make it through gladiator-style video games to return to the real world.
The Lesson: Get yourself some solid virus protection before browsing the Web.
The Tech: Television
The Background: The Freeling family moves into a California suburb, only to be terrorized by malevolent spirits haunting their home. The spirits initially make contact with the youngest daughter late one night via the family television set in the now-famous scene featuring five-year-old actress Heath O’Rourke announcing, “They’re here.”
The Lesson: Don’t let your kids stay up too late watching television.
The Tech: Car
The Story: A 1958 Plymouth Fury becomes eerily possessive of its teenage owner, and goes on a killing spree around town. This early John Carpenter film was based on a Stephen King novel, and while it features a few slight differences from the source material, it retains much of the same terror that will add a new dimension to long road trips when you find yourself talking to your car.
The Lesson: You know that oil change you’ve been putting off? Get it done. Now.
The Lift (1983)
The Tech: Elevator
The Story: This Dutch film about a killer elevator may sound ridiculous, but it ended up getting an American version made in 2001 titled Down that was directed by the same filmmaker who made the original. On top of all that, the American remake attracted a cast that included Naomi Watts, Michael Ironside, and Ron Perlman. And it was about a killer elevator. Seriously.
The Lesson: No matter how funny you think it is to push all of the buttons in an elevator and make it stop at every floor, it’s not funny at all.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
The Tech: Um, pretty much everything with an engine.
The Story: Stephen King’s one and only directorial project was based on one of his earliest short stories, and has the world’s machines suddenly becoming sentient after the planet passes through the tail of a comet. Everything from ATMs and lawnmowers to tractor trailers and mobile machine guns develop minds of their own, and a small group of survivors find themselves pinned inside a truck stop while the machines kill them off one by one.
The Lesson: Machines have feelings, too – bloodthirsty, vicious feelings.
The Video Dead (1987)
The Tech: Television
The Story: This direct-to-video, low-budget film has become a cult classic of sorts, mainly because of its wild premise. In the movie, a mysterious television set holds the power to release a horde of zombies into our world, and its new owners must find a way to stop the undead creatures and close the portal.
The Lesson: Television rots your brain… but that’s a delicacy in some zombie dimensions.
The Tech: VHS tape
The Story: Both the Japanese film Ringu and its 2002 American remake, The Ring, were filled with impressive scares, but it was the meta-horror of watching a movie about a movie that kills people who watch it that’s the real source of terror here. The movie follows the deadly path of a VHS tape that causes a terrifying ghost to climb out of the television and kill the last person who viewed it. The only escape is to make a copy and send it to another unsuspecting victim.
The Lesson: Video piracy is okay when it’s used to thwart vengeful ghosts (but that’s the only time).
One Missed Call (2004)
The Tech: Telephone
The Story: While the 2008 American remake of this film is entirely forgettable, the Japanese original (titled Chakushin ari) is so terrifying that the “ringtone of death” used in the film quickly became a frequent element in Japanese haunted-house attractions. The film follows a group of friends who each receive a mysterious message on their phones that appears to come from their own numbers, dated sometime in the future. When they listen to the message, they hear themselves at their moment of grisly death.
The Lesson: Letting your voicemail pick up a call isn’t always the best option.
The Tech: The Internet
The Story: Yet another American movie based on a Japanese film, Pulse is a remake of the 2001 Japanese film Kairo, which suggests that with the right amount of coding we can do more than just Skype with the dead – we can let them into our world. As with many of the other Japanese horror films to be remade here in the United States, the American version of the film was widely panned, while the original is considered a cult classic across the pond. Whichever one you choose to watch, there’s a good chance you’ll unplug your computer after it’s over.
The Lesson: You really can find absolutely anything on the Internet these days.
Stay Alive (2006)
The Tech: Gaming console
The Story: A group of friends discover that the survival-horror game they’ve been playing is haunted by a bloodthirsty ghost, and they must get to the end of the game if they’re going to live to see the credits. Stay Alive was one of several gaming-themed horror movies to be released around the same time (along with Gamebox 1.0), and though none of the films are actually all that good, they do offer up some silly “technology gone terribly wrong” scares. Still, after watching this film, games like Resident Evil will have a new sense of urgency – so it has that going for it.
The Lesson: There’s no such thing as infinite ammo.
This article was originally published on October 29, 2011, and updated on October 30, 2014, to include Tron, Rec, and more. Staff Writer Joe Donovan contributed to this article