The presence of otherworldly elements around technology isn't always enough to stop it working
. Occasionally a stubborn ghost or haunting creature will keep a machine doing what it wants past the point that physics finds it possible.
For example a character may be watching TV when the channel mysteriously changes to something ominous or relevant
. They flip the channel back, and either it shows the same picture or waits, then turns back to the scene. They turn the TV off, and it turns back on, with the same scene possibly several times. They rip the power cord
out of the socket, and if they're lucky, get a brief pause before the TV turns itself on anyway
and continues showing the scene. If they're really wound tight they might smash the machine to smithereens
only to find it just keeps running regardless or reconstructs itself when they're not looking.
There are many reasons why this is inherently scary. Firstly, it taps into the primal fear of losing control. We made these machines, we have control over them at the touch of a button. When that control is removed, it creates a feeling of powerlessness. Secondly, it's a situation that we know can't happen. It's literally impossible for a TV to continue to work after being unplugged. So if it's working anyway, then all bets are off, and none of what we know about how the world works applies to the situation. Lastly, anyone that's even remotely Genre Savvy
knows that a machine that refuses to turn off is NEVER good news.
Common other variations include phones ringing
(which might be dead people calling), radios playing music (eerie or appropriate), and in the modern age, computers telling you that you have e-mail or showing an image or scene. It's also a common symptom of any Haunted Technology
There's also the comedic version where the inability to shut the device off is neither supernatural nor dangerous, but no less insufferable
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- In "The House That Haunted Batman", a classic Neal Adams story from the Batman comics, there is a phonograph playing a recording of a scream. It continues screaming even after Batman lifts the needle off the record.
- In The Ring, at the start, one of the characters has this problem with a screen showing static. Then it gets worse.
- In the American remake, when Rachel and Noah climb down beneath the cabin to find the well, Samara's Psychic Powers turn on the TV, then unscrew the floorboards so that it slides down and crashes into Rachel, sending her down the well. For a split-second, the TV (which isn't even plugged in) has an image of a silhouette peering down into the well.
- A variation, "It won't delete," from the Japanese sequel Ring 2. Asakawa's former assistant, now investigating the urban legend himself, records footage of a Cursed Video victim and promises to watch the tape so she can be spared. He doesn't. When he reviews the footage, he tries to delete the interview... but it's still there. Even after repeated attempts. Then the mechanism gets stuck, showing a still frame of the victim looking just like Sadako... and it gets REALLY WORSE for him afterwards.
- In Bruce Almighty, Bruce gets a call on his pager from the same number, even after ripping out the battery, hurling it out of the window, and watching it get run over. Justified as the calls are from God.
- In Big, the fortune-teller machine works despite not being plugged in. At the end of the movie, the protagonist is trying to reverse his sudden adulthood, and at first only gets normal fortunes out of the machine - until he realizes that it's actually plugged in, and swiftly pulls out the plug to set it back in 'magic mode'.
- The horror film 1408 had a hotel alarm clock/radio that went off even after it was unplugged.
- Weird Science features a computer that goes wild. Turning it off doesn't work. Unplugging it doesn't work. Hitting it with a metal baseball bat causes the bat to shatter.
- In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Nancy yanks her phone out of the wall after she gets a call of Freddy's trademark claw scraping noises. He's still able to call, however, and mock her about Glen's upcoming death.
- Maximum Overdrive has a few scenes that fall under this trope, notably the electric carving knife that turns on and attacks a waitress.
- In Stay Alive, a film in which players of a video game die if their game-avatars do, one character uses a portable game console to send his avatar into the game's analog of a real haunted house. He pauses the game to fetch something from the real house, leaving the console inside his van. Not only does the game un-pause itself, leaving his avatar standing inert while its enemies close in, but the van's power locks and windows seal themselves so he can't get to the controls.
- Played strictly for laughs in The Three Stooges short "Men in Black" (no relation). The three play doctors and are constantly being paged, "Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard!" They get frustrated and destroy the paging system but it continues to page them, even as they're shooting it, until it says, "Oh, they got me!"
- In The Mothman Prophecies, protagonist John Klein has been promised a call from his long-deceased wife. When the phone rings at the appointed time, he decides he doesn't want to answer it, and he unplugs and smashes the phone. Moments later, it rings again.
- Possibly the creepiest moment in Child's Play occurs when the mother of the family realizes there are no batteries in the Chucky doll... and yet it's been walking and talking as advertised since they bought it.
- In the American remake of The Grudge, this happens to one of Kayako's victims, Susan. Right after finding no one there outside her apartment after her initial relief at seeing her (now late) brother through the peephole of her door (especially considering the scare she went through when she was leaving her office building being pursued by Kayako's vengeful spirit), the signature death rattle suddenly emanates loudly from the phone she was holding. In terror, she drops and breaks the phone, yet the rattle can still be heard. Of course, it got worse from there.
- An Hungarian movie (don't know the name), revolves around a delivery crew being ordered to deliver a giant television set to a family that won it on a lottery. First they need to turn it off, but it won't turn off. They want to pull the plug on it and put it on the truck, but even after tracking the cord back to its origin for several hours they can't find it, so they end up cutting it. Naturally, this still doesn't shut it down, and they end up carrying the set through half the country while it's still on. The movie was a not so subtle commentary on the media, obviously.
- Ernest Goes To Jail has this.
- In the Apocalypse film series movie Revelation, One Nation Earth converts Willy Spino and Cindy Bolton try to stop the anti-Day Of Wonders virus program from uploading onto the computers by pulling out the disk and destroying it, and even trying to destroy the computer it was uploading on itself, all to no avail. And it's all being done to "Amazing Grace" being sung in the background.
- The Omega Man. A sign of the protagonist's Sanity Slippage due to being the last man on Earth. He hears a cacophony of ringing phones in a Ghost City, causing him to cover his ears and scream "THERE IS NO PHONE RINGING!" until it stops.
- In Duck Soup, Pinky mistakes a safe for a radio, which plays a very loud and energetic rendition of "Stars And Stripes Forever". He tries to muffle the radio with pillows, to no effect. He then throws it on the floor and smashes it to pieces; again, the radio continues to play. Pinky has to settle for throwing what's left of the radio out the window.
- In Tom Clancy's Debt Of Honor, a Japanese businessman's TV abruptly switches channels - every attempt to return it to the original station is met with insouciance on the part of the TV until the guy turns it off and sees an incoming missile guided by an infrared laser that just happens to be the same frequency as the TV remote.
- In the first Three Investigators novel, the main characters are told about a cursed electric organ that played both when nobody was near it, and when it was unplugged. (The guy who owned it did experiments to be sure.) They later investigate the organ, but it turns out to be just a trick, like everything else in the haunted house.
- In Alan Garner's Elidor, the magical artifacts the children bring back to the mundane world cause all the appliances in their house to start running, even when not plugged in.
- A radio that changes stations and volume by itself and cannot be turned off is used by Melanie via telekinesis to warn other characters of danger in The Door To December, by Dean Koontz.
- In Needful Things Ace Merrill gets a hint that something is really wrong with his new employer Mr. Gaunt, when he sees that the tape player, that had played a message from Gaunt, is unplugged (the tape also reacts to his actions, and there was no way Gaunt could've recorded it in the first place).
- One of God's angels takes over the airwaves in the Left Behind book Desecration to deliver a message from Revelation 14:9-13 to those who have taken the Mark of the Beast and worshiped Carpathia's image.
- Stephen King's The Mangler.
Live Action TV
- Used in several Supernatural episodes. For example in "Houses of the Holy", a fundamentalist Bible show appears on a character's TV, and will not leave how often they change the channel.
- And in "Roadkill" at various points, the song "House of the Rising Sun" gets played on the radio, including spontaneously turning on in Dean's car, and playing at one point on a jukebox which is not plugged in.
- In "Long Distance Caller", a phone keeps calling despite being hung up on and then being ripped out of the wall. Later on, a girl gets chat messages that continue to show on her screen, even after turning it off.
- In the Twilight Zone episode "A Thing About Machines" a Jerk Victim discovers that the clock ringing is the one that he destroyed the innards of yesterday.
- In Heroes, the characters discovered that Matt Parkman's son had an ability this way. They tried to turn off the TV, but Baby Matt Parkman made it turn back on every time. They even unplugged it. Made no difference.
- The Torchwood episode "From Out of the Rain" has the group attend a cinema where silent film footage of what Cardiff looked like in the past is being shown. However, some footage of the Villains Of The Week ends up being edited into the footage (somehow). The man operating the telecine machine attempts to stop it, but finds he can't stop the machine.
- Doctor Who
- In "The Empty Child" the phone in the TARDIS's Police Box disguise rings, with the eponymous Child asking "Are you my mummy?" despite the phone not actually being plugged in to anything, so normally it doesn't work.
- In "The Time of Angels", being creeped out after believing she saw a captive Weeping Angel on a looped 4-second recording change its position while her back was turned, Amy tries using the remote to switch off the monitor, to no avail. As it turns out any image of an Angel becomes an Angel itself. Something Amy learns as her attacker projects itself out of the monitor to get her. She can still pause it, however, and does so just as the loop repeats and the screen turns to static, "destroying" the image.
- In "Victory of the Daleks", the Daleks fire an energy beam at London, turning on every light in the city just before a German air-raid. Attempts to turn the lights off prove futile.
- In The Prisoner episode "Dance of the Dead", Number 6 encounters a teletype machine that turns back on after he tears out its innards.
- The Goodies. A Rule of Funny version happens in "Lighthouse Loonies", with a foghorn which won't stop blaring even after Tim and Graham have switched it off, pulled the plug, jumped up and down on it and swallowed the pieces.
- This happens in the first episode of the kids' TV series, Turn On To T-Bag, when T-Shirt tries to switch off the TV after T-Bag makes her presence inside it.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Conversations with Dead People": Dawn is home alone and watching a movie when she starts hearing strange noises around the house. She mutes the TV, except the sound comes back on - even after she unplugs it. When everything from the living room stereo to the microwave starts doing the same thing, she goes for the axe.
- In Bones, Booth went to a sperm donation facility, where the television showed a Family Guy animation and won't be turned off whatever Booth did. Later it is reveal that Booth was having a hallucination due to a brain tumor.
- The Electric Company had a sketch in which a disgruntled TV owner returns his TV to a dealer, complaining that it turns on by itself. They go into an argument where the dealer scoffs at the complaint with "It didn't!" and the customer responds, "It did!" repeatedly, until the TV turns on by itself just as the customer described and Morgan Freeman is on the screen saying, "It did!"
- In Friends, Phoebe is woken up one night by her smoke alarm. She tries to turn it off, but it keeps beeping, even after she pulls the battery out. Finally, she resorts to smashing it with a hammer, causing it to let out a single, long piercing tone.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Memorial", Tom Paris realizes something is wrong when he starts seeing a war taking place on his TV set and he can't change the channels. It eventually turns out to be a memorial on a planet transmitting images of a war that took place there into people's minds so that they would remember the event.
- The video for Billy Idol's "Cradle Of Love", where the man who lets the girl next door play her song and goes crazy in his apartment tries to turn off the music, even by pulling the plug on the stereo.
- Inverted (Inverted? Played with? Lampshaded? Definitely parodied.) in The Simpsons, when Homer's bemoaning the crisis of the week, and a convenient TV advert that'll hopefully solve his problem plays. Once it's done, he tells Lisa that it was a good thing she turned on the TV:
Lisa: I didn't turn it on. I thought you turned it on.
Homer: No. Well, it doesn't matter. Turn it off.
: [Creeped out] ...
off. [Close-up on the switched-off TV with creepy music]
- Also happens in "Dial 'N' for Nerder", leading to a confession from Lisa.
- There's an episode of Transformers Armada in which Sideways hacks the Autobots' computer. When Alexis discovers that it won't respond, she tries to reboot. It doesn't work. She tries to unplug it. It doesn't work. Carlos tries smashing it with a pipe. That just makes things go haywire.
- Played with in the Pink Panther. When some appliance has enraged/attacked him. He would pound it until is totally destroyed and walk away, just for the appliance to leave a last "breath" and the panther hitting it one last time.
- Polybius apparently doesn't turn off.
- Furby. They have been known to store power, and, though this is extremely rare, talk and blink even without batteries.
- Ever dreamed you can't turn your alarm or clock radio off? That's because it was really on, but you only dreamed you were turning it off.
- Several accidents involving nuclear reactors, nuclear research, and fuel processing essentially became this as faulty or unknown designs, system failures, or negligence resulted in runaway chain reactions. Examples include the explosion at Chernobyl, the meltdown at Three Mile Island, the Windscale fire, and the disaster at Fukushima.