*Advance screening of Toys of Terror provided by Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. is giving its fans a mixture of Christmastime joy and Halloween scares in “Toys of Terror.” Halloween has come and gone, so it’s time to start getting into the familiar holiday cinematic classics. This new offering from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment should make for the best of both worlds, keeping the spooky Halloween sentiment alive while also anticipating the holly jolly end of the year.
It’s the Christmas holiday, and married couple David and Hannah pack their three kids into the minivan for a snowy getaway at an old manor. Unfortunately for the kids, it’s a glorified working vacation, as the parents are trying to flip the grand property. The kids’ spirits are lifted when they find a mysterious box of toys inside the house. But the toys are secretly sentient, and gradually their influence over the children becomes deadly.
The idea of taking a stereotypically joyous holiday like Christmas and framing a horror movie around it is nothing new. But what “Toys of Terror” gets right is how it blends the adventurous and the mysterious, the comedic, and the scary, into one. The titular toys are initially cute looking, and seemingly innocuous playthings for the children. But the atmosphere to the house is also uneasy, you know right away nothing but bad things will go down in there.
This is aided by the set design and the look of the toys themselves. They begin as welcoming figures of fun but gradually morph into the stuff of nightmares. There’s also the gorgeous cinematography, with excellent lighting and blocking for the actors. It makes you feel like you’re stuck in the snowy woods with them, frozen to the bone with nowhere to go.
The cast features some great performances: Kyana Teresa (“Shadowhunters,” “Star Trek: Discovery”) is the matriarch Hannah Cashman, Georgia Waters (“Siren”) is the nanny Rose Mathis, Verity Marks (“The Christmas Club”) is eldest daughter Alicia Cashman, Dayo Ade (“Workin Moms,” “October Faction”) is the dad David Cashman and Saul Elias and Zoe Fish are the little kids. The latter two are very impressive, and their creepy actions under the toys’ influence are horrifying.
The toys start as innocuous and static but later come alive in frightening detail. The effect is rendered by stop motion animation, referencing the classic Rankin/Bass TV Christmas specials, and providing a terrifying, robotic jerkiness to their movement.
The film is written and executive produced by Dana Gould (“Stan Against Evil,” “The Simpsons”) and directed by Nicholas Verso (Boys in the Trees, “Nowhere Boys”). Together, they weave an enjoyable, intelligent, handsomely made movie that is impressive to look at and had a great deal of heart put into it.
For movie fans looking for something appropriate for the season but different, search no more. “Toys of Terror” is a unique, scary, funny outing that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats while putting them into the holiday spirit. The movie is now out on streaming services and comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 19.