Don’t Watch These 10 Films If You’re Scared Of Animatronics
Call me old (please don’t), but for a long time, I’ve never quite understood Five Nights at Freddy’s. Years ago, I played the first game in high school, though like Slender: The Arrival, it was an ephemeral experience; good for a few nasty jolts but little else. That Five Nights at Freddy’s has evolved into what some sources estimate is a hundred-million-dollar media franchise astounds me. Broadly, I get at least part of it. Animatronics are scary. Really scary. Maybe it’s the sunken eyes or the thought that, underneath the suit, a real, sweaty man might be behind the mask.
It’s part uncanny valley, part automatonophobia, the fear of lifelike robots or animatronics (there’s a phobia for everything, believe me). In the spirit of all things phobic (check out some other guides here and here), I’ll be highlighting ten features to send your automatonophobia into overdrive after you watch Five Nights at Freddy’s, streaming now on Peacock.
While they’re not quite lifelike, these security bots are absolutely terrifying as they track down horror legends (Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton both star) silly enough to stay after hours in a mall patrolled by high-tech bots. When lightning strikes and reprograms them, it’s nothing but slashed throats and charred corpses. Think of it as automatonophobia-lite.
Christmas Bloody Christmas
One of the newest releases on this list, Joe Begos’ Christmas Bloody Christmas unleashes an animatronic killer Santa Claus on a town full of unsuspecting hipsters and horror fiends. Bloody, frequently funny, and wickedly intense, it’s a Christmas celebration worth repeating year after year.
Child’s Play (2019)
Lars Klevberg’s Child’s Play isn’t as good as Don Mancini’s original, saving its animatronic gorefest for the last reel when it really should have been the thrust of this revitalized entry (ignoring, of course, that Mancini’s Chucky never really went anywhere to begin with). Still, with Mark Hamill as the voice of the killer doll—easily the best part of the movie—it’s a cornucopia of automatonophobia triggers. The movie might be weak, but the teched-out Chucky doll is scary as hell.
The Banana Splits Movie
I might be one of five fans of Danishka Esterhazy’s The Banana Splits Movie, and I’m okay with that. An R-rated reimagining of the 1968 Hanna-Barbera television series of the same name, the titular animatronics go haywire upon learning their program will be canceled. They subsequently attack the live studio audience, bastardizing a niche childhood property (your parents might remember it) in the best possible way. It’s never exactly scary, though the broad suggestion that cute, friendly animatronics might turn on you is certainly chilling in its own right.
Kevin Lewis’quasi-cult-classic was originally conceived because of the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise’s popularity. Starring Nicholas Cage (a prerequisite for a modern cult classic), Willy’s Wonderland follows Cage’s drifter as a cleaning gig turns into a fight for survival as possessed animatronics at an abandoned play center try their damnedest to kill him. Augmented by fantastic effects, this is automatonophobia with heart (and, again, Nicholas Cage).
She’s cute, she’s helpful, she’s deadly, and she needs no introduction. Blumhouse sensation M3GAN is an absolute hoot, sure, but when the titular killer android starts crawling around and ripping off ears, it’s pure nightmare fuel.
Class of 1999
I don’t know much about Mark L. Lester’s previous feature and alleged prequel, Class of 1984, but I do know Class of 1999 was a strange viewing experience for me. Delinquent teens contend with militaristic, robotic teachers after the country widely declares martial law on account of teens running amok. It’s both aggressively dour and deeply silly, but those android teachers are terrifying enough to merit a watch.
The Terminator is a horror movie. James Cameron loves horror movies, and his work rebranding Arnold Schwarzenegger as a killer cybernetic is the stuff of legend. And it’s scary. Genuinely scary in its techno-excess, blood-soaked chaos, and groundbreaking effects that render Schwarzenegger a convincing, automaton assassin. This was an early automatonophobia experience for me and it took years to look at Schwarzenegger the same way again.
Automatonophobia doesn’t just apply to animatronics. In some cases, it can broadly conceptualize the phobia toward anything that is intended to be lifelike but isn’t. This includes wax figures, statues, and, yes, even dolls. Stuart Gordon’s Dolls luckily has some of the scariest dolls around. The way they amble about is certifiably chilling, and the effects are serviceable enough without being entirely convincing. That isn’t a sin, by the way—it renders the uncanny valley that much more terrifying.
House of Wax
Remember, automatonophobia also applies to wax figures, and Jaume Collet-Serra’s House of Wax has a surfeit of them. It’s an entire town of wax figures, some dead, some deadly. This stylish outing is the pinnacle of cheesy early aughts slashers, a movie with plenty of style (and budget) to spare.
What do you think? Do you have automatonophobia? Which doll, animatronic, or killer robot scared you the most? Let me know over on Twitter @Chadiscollins!