Mr. Bucket: But you turn me on!
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 or uploading or downloading or installing a program. 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.
Compare "Sorcerer's Apprentice" Plot.
- Played for laughs in one skit on A Prairie Home Companion where a self-help tape voiced by Mr. Rogers starts hitting on a woman and the woman tries hitting the power button.
Mr. Rogers after a brief silence — "You thought you turned me off, didn't you? But you didn't. You turned me on."
- The Evil Phone version happens in the Torchwood audio play The Dead Line - phones ring despite not being plugged in. Anyone that answers them goes into a coma. note
- 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. One of the DVD special features combines this with The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You. It is possible to access a recording of The Tape that, once started, cannot be stopped by any means (presumably, short of unplugging the player, manually turning off your TV, or hard-resetting your computer). And to make things worse, this version is even longer than the actual tape that was shown in the film, with more disturbing content to go with it.
- The short film Rings (which bridges between the two American Ring films) takes this up a notch: the protagonist Jake Pierce sees Samara trying to come out of his TV, and when unplugging it doesn't work, he grabs a small lamp and tries smashing it against the TV screen. Even that fails, and he instead picks up his video camera and tries to film her, but Samara then attempts to grab Jake face-first through the camera's screen. Fortunately, it was only a dream.
- 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".
- While a child is watching a kids' program in Stir of Echoes, the television keeps changing channels to show the original Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- An amusing subversion in the original Poltergeist: the family's television keeps changing channels on its own, only to have them discover that the neighbor's TV remote uses the same signal. They are essentially having a remote-of-war.
- 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.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street:
- 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.
- In Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Heather's son keeps watching the original ´A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), even after Heather pulls the plug on the TV.
- 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.
- 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 Aloner. 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 turns a dial on a radio, thinking it was the safe he was there to crack, 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.
- Played for laughs in Mel Brooks's Alfred Hitchcock pastiche High Anxiety, where the luckless Doctor Wentworth is tortured to ear-bleeding death by the blaring, repetitive rock music from a car stereo that resists all his attempts to turn it off.
- A variation ("It won't disconnect!") in Goldeneye, the infiltration to Boris' server continues, despite him desperately ripping hardware out of it.
- In Ghost from the Machine, Cody learns that his ghost-conjuring machine is working because his radio turns itself back on and tunes back to the station it was on.
- Shaun of the Dead has a scene that centers around this trope. As the title character and his team of family/friends are hiding in a bar from zombies, when his greater-than-stupid friend Nick decides to break the tension by turning on the nearby jukebox. Reality Ensues. Oh, and the kicker: The movie is set in England, and the song that plays - Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." It takes an axe or something to stop Freddie Mercury.
Probably everybody: God, kill the Queen!
- In It (2017), a slide projector does this when Pennywise manifests through the images it's projecting.
- Siren (2010): When Marco is searching the yacht, he finds a tape deck in one of the cabins, playing a cassette of Silka singing. Marco removes the tape and the song stops for s few seconds. Then in starts again, despite there being no tape in the player.
- 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.
- 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 The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "A Thing About Machines" an Asshole 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 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 the Angels can project themselves through any image of them. 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.
- The Prisoner (1967):
Number Six: [speaking loudly to be heard over the music] How do you stop this thing?!
- In the episode "Dance of the Dead", Number 6 encounters a teletype machine that turns back on after he tears out its innards.
- In the premiere, he gets sick of listening to his Village-supplied radio (which has an internal power supply and no off switch), throws it on the floor and literally kicks it to pieces, all while the saccharine Muzak refuses to go away.
Maid: We can't.
Number Six: Why not?
Maid: It's automatic.
Number Six: Who controls it?
Maid: I have no—
Number Six: Who runs this place?!
Maid: I don't know! I really don't know.
- The Goodies. A Rule of Funny version happens in "Lighthouse Loonies", with a foghorn which won't stop blaring even after Tim and Graeme 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 wouldn't turn off no matter what Booth did. Later it is revealed that Booth was having a hallucination due to a brain tumor.
- The Electric Company (1971) 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 Star Trek: The Original Series, when the crew attempt to Cut the Juice to M5, "The Ultimate Computer" of the episode title, it creates its own connection to draw power directly from the engines... and through one unfortunate Red Shirt engineer, who is instantly vaporized. Dr. Daystrom tries to excuse this as merely negligent homicide, claiming the man "just got in the way" of the power beam. Kirk wants to know what will happen when they all just "get in the way?"
- 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.
- This is also generally the case for every holodeck malfunction episode in the franchise, as otherwise they could be solved by simply shutting the thing off.
- In Person of Interest, this is one of the first real indications that the Machine is sentient. As the series goes on, it shows that the Machine really dislikes being shut down and will go to extremes to avoid it. Harold programmed it to perform a memory wipe on itself at midnight every night in the hopes of avoiding a full-blown AI, but since that routine conflicted with its main drive to understand human nature, it just forced the Machine to come up with new ways to preserve its memories, becoming more intelligent and aware as it did so. A flashback to the Machine's first days show that this was a problem from the start, with earlier beta versions of the Machine trying to sneak around Harold's programming, eventually becoming so determined to avoid shutdown that it hacked into the server room's fire suppression system and tried to murder Harold - cue a Machine POV shot of Harold smashing the hard drives with a hammer while flames billow in the background.
- Get Smart. In a parody of This Page Will Self-Destruct trope, the Self-Destruct Mechanism destroys everything except the tape. After various unsuccessful attempts to destroy it, Max tucks the bulky tape player under his coat and walks off.
- Cheers: In the tenth season episode "Bar Wars V: The Final Judgement", Gary pranks the Cheers gang by rigging the jukebox to play Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash"note at full volume the next time someone chooses a record (leading to Phil complaining, "Hey, that's not 'Funkytown'!"). Carla and Phil try turning down the volume, but to no avail; Sam stomps over and unplugs the jukebox, but the music continues playing. Finally, Sam smashes the glass of the jukebox and pulls the record out. He stomps back over to the phone to call Gary and give him a piece of his mind... only for "Monster Mash" to come out of the receiver.
- 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.
- The video for the Barenaked Ladies' "Falling For the First Time" involves a night watchman's security monitor starting to play a Performance Video of the band, and his attempts to stop it (he tries switching the feed back, pounds on it to try and get it working again, then pulls the plug). It still keeps showing the band, so he eventually pries the monitor out with a broom handle and throws it into a dumpster. At the end of the video, we see the actual band members stealing valuables in the background (with the watchman oblivious), while the "haunted" monitor in the dumpster shows Ed giving a wink to the camera before it finally shuts off, implying it was all a ruse to distract the watchman.
- Variant: In Silent Hill, phones with the cord cut off can still ring and make calls in or out.
- In Half-Life 2 there's a blink-and-you-miss-it secret in the "Anticitizen One" chapter: a TV set briefly shows an image of the G-man, despite not being plugged in.
- In Doom 3 there's an audio log that mentions a technician getting his hand torn off by a machine which had somehow activated despite being disconnected from the power grid. The log also states that the machine is still running and they're unable to turn it off. Presumably the work of the demons, who were already messing with the Martian colonists before they invaded.
- In Nanashi no Game, the cursed, nameless game switches on your TS on its own whenever it decides it's time for you to play it some more. Early on, your hero gets so freaked out they smash their system against the ground... and a new TS appears, with all their personal information already entered and the game loaded up and ready to go.
- Penumbra Overture subverts this in the scene where Philip turns on the incinerator that Red is inside. Nothing paranormal is involved, but it's still frightening.
Philip: It must be running the last set sequence. It won't turn off!
- Imscared takes this trope to the logical extreme; there are moments where it seems like the game has ended or crashed, until you find that it is downloading text files onto your computer telling you to keep playing. Even after you complete the game, the last text file greatly implies that White Face is still haunting your computer.
- One recurring bit of creepy in Harbour Cottage, from The Lost Crown, is how the cottage's vintage landline telephone keeps playing snippets of Walter de la Mare's poem "The Listeners" after dark, despite the wiring having been chewed to bits by rats years ago.
- This sketch on Youtube.
- Salad Fingers has a radio and a telephone that emit noises despite clearly being nonfunctional. At least, Salad Fingers hears noises coming from them...
- A staple of video game creepypastas.
- SCP Foundation has a few examples. SCP-261 is a vending machine that dispenses strange snacks. If it's unplugged, it dispenses stranger snacks. SCP-158 can be used to remove someone's soul. After someone accidentally spilled a soul onto a laptop, it started running without power and behaving erratically.
- Bogleech mocks this trope with a human ghost that was never plugged in.
- The Nostalgia Critic's Halloween special had him criticizing an old Teddy Ruxpin doll... and then later that night it starts threatening him. The Critic declares it's time he removed the batteries, only to discover they've been out the whole time.
- To Boldly Flee has a scene where the Critic tries to pull the power cord out of the wall to stop the flashing scenes on his computer. For a while, he can't pull the cord out, but even when he finally does, the scenes don't stop playing. And then the computer explodes.
- In Chapter Two of Antlers Colorado, the antagonist is an evil entity bound to a lake that often uses TV, radio, and books (via rearranging the text) to get its messages across. It's confirmed by the characters who have been dealing with it that the only way to get the medium that's being hijacked back to normal is to follow the entity's instructions.
- 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.Lisa: [Creeped out] ... It is 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.
- In the Defenders of the Earth episode "The Mind Warriors", Ming hacks into the Defenders' Battle Simulation computer and hijacks the haunted house simulation which Kshin has created. Having lost control of the simulation, Kshin goes to warn Flash, Mandrake, the Phantom and Lothar (the Defenders inside the simulation) only to become trapped himself. Eventually, finding that the computer won't shut off, Rick, LJ and Jedda are forced to wreck it in order to save their fellow Defenders. For once, this actually works.
- In the final episode of The Legend of Korra, Kuvira attempts to shut down the spirit cannon after it goes out of control, but since it's drawing on power from the spirit vines all around it, it doesn't shut off and keeps firing, eventually overloading.
- One episode of The Fairly OddParents! ends with a publicly broadcasted song decrying Babysitter from Hell Vicky. Annoyed with the song, Vicky tries to turn her TV off, and later smashes it, to no avail.
- Camp Lazlo: In "Movie Night", Edward sneaks into the camp's projection room to watch a scary movie he's not old enough to see to prove he's not afraid. When he actually gets scared by the movie, he fruitlessly tries to turn the projector off.
Edward: AAAHH! A ZOMBIE MOVIE PROJECTOR! IT WON'T DIE!!!
- Parodied in the Popeye short Me Musical Nephews, where Popeye gets kept awake by loud music and believes it to be coming from a radio, unaware that it's really his nephews playing their instruments. He tries turning off the radio, but when it still "plays", he smashes the radio to pieces and then tries to stomp on the bulbs.
- 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.
- Any exothermic chemical processes are liable to this. The only way to stop a runaway exothermic reaction is to cut the feed immediately. Nitration is an especially dangerous exothermic chemical reaction, as it is both exothermic and used to prepare explosives. In case this sounds illogical
- Diesel engines don't require electricity or spark plugs. Once started, a diesel engine will run until it either runs out of fuel or is mechanically stopped (usually by cutting off the fuel supply).
- Same applies to hot-spot engines, such as glow plug engines and hot bulb engines. They will run until they run out of fuel or are stopped.
- Older or poorly maintained diesel engines can sometimes experience what is called a "runaway," where, through malfunction or damage, the engine begins burning its own lubricant instead of fuel (this can also happen to even a brand-new diesel engine if a flammable gas gets into its air supply). When this happens, turning off the ignition or even cutting the fuel flow won't help, and, if not remedied quickly, the engine will literally tear itself apart. Oftentimes the only way to stop the engine is to block the air intake and suffocate the engine of its air supply.