Monday, November 14, 2022

Long Live the Yellow Lab

You know that Simpsons joke about Homer's deep-fried t-shirt?

Based on the many, many horror films I've seen over the course of my lifetime, you can haunt anything: houses, schools, boats, beds. So why WOULDN'T you make an entire movie about a possessed RV?

Quick Plot: A very early 2000s Saw sequel-era credits montage gives us grainy closeups of someone's gruesome dead lady photo collection, which leads us straight into a teen boy's ill-fated bicycle ride where he sees the door open to a parked camper, walks in, and screams.

Said vehicle has bigger plans: a caustic family road trip meant to mend some long-simmering tensions between grieving widow Charles, his angry stoner son Jay, and family man Steve, with Steve's wife Jennifer (DENISE RICHARDS!) and daughter Olivia also in tow. There's also yellow lab Bentley who, in an act of cinematic brilliance, runs away from the rest of the soon-to-be victims at the very first hint of supernatural danger. 

Bentley is my new hero.

Charles leads his family through some fairly empty desert, picking up a pair of siblings with car trouble along the way. Before you can process that Denise Richards and Mischa Barton are in a movie about a haunted RV (and giving good performances at that), said camper crashes itself and begins its bloody no-holds-barred murder spree, starting with pig-tailed Olivia. 

This movie kills a little girl but spares the dog. I don't use this adjective often, but director Tom Nagel and writers (two of whom are also acting in the movie) Brian Nagel, Jeff Miller, and Jeff Denton: you are brave. 

As you might have pieced together, the RV is, of course, carrying the sociopathic spirit of its last owner, an infamous serial killer. It manifests its horror in some creatively dumb fun ways: turning the radio on by itself, spinning the motor as Charles reaches inside, rolling right over little jump roping Olivia only to follow it up by phantom strangling her mother with the very same bloodied toy. By the time the group has dwindled to a trio, the survivors have one of my favorite horror conversations of recent years where they basically reason out the fact that THEIR RV IS HAUNTED BY THE GHOST OF SERIAL KILLER with barely a shrug because, well, why ELSE could this all be happening? 

Here's the thing about The Toy Box, a movie, in case you forgot, about a haunted RV: it toes a very thin line between knowing it's insanely dumb but still taking itself seriously as a horror film. 

It's a much harder path to go down than it probably looks. Maybe it's just the Tubi feel, but I'm so used to your Titanic 666s and Haunted Boats presenting silly concepts and sheepishly accepting their goofiness without making any real effort to create scares. That The Toy Box seems deeply committed to taking itself seriously is genuinely admirable. It has a sort of "we know you know but by golly, we have to act like we don't know"-quality about it that the film deserves a dose of respect. 

High Points
I can't say that The Toy Box has successful suspense, but there are quite a few genuinely surprising spurts of violence (occasionally teased and flipped around with some Final Destination-ish foreplay) that throw the movie in a rather enjoyable bonkers experience that keeps you on your toes

Low Points
I actually didn't realize The Toy Box Killer was an actual person until I started Googling this movie for some background information. As always, mixing true crime with pulp horror bothers me, and it wouldn't have been that hard to just not use the term "toy box". That being said, considering real-life David Parker Ray's truly heinous history, it's appreciated that Nagel and his team use some restraint (yes, I used that term in a movie about a haunted RV) in terms of the nature of violence

Lessons Learned
After losing your spouse and child, you'll need a few minutes

Starving in a haunted RV is no reason to let your table manners go: that's right, no matter how bleak your nightmare days may be, a lady still uses a spoon to scoop out canned peas

When in doubt about how well you're establishing a horror tone, cut to a closeup of ants

I'm not saying The Toy Box, a movie about a haunted camper, is a high quality film, but it's never boring, and finds more than one way to surprise its audience. Stomach a few detergent ads on Tubi and take a drive. 


  1. I'm definitely not going to watch this film but that was a damn fine review. I lol'd multiple times. Well done.