This Fridge Has No Chill — “The Refrigerator” (1991)

Steve and Eileen have big city dreams, and those dreams are about to get weird! We’ve seen beds, elevators, heaters, lamps, laundry presses, and more rebel against humanity. Now comes the tale of an icebox that puts people on ice (well, technically, it sends them directly to Hell). But this one isn’t just out for blood, it wants total conformity. Join me as I take a look.

Directed By
Nicholas “Tony” Jacobs

Version Reviewed
official nine-part YouTube version

Total Runtime
1 hour, 28 minutes, 20 seconds (each video repeats a few seconds of the previous one, meaning the standard version is shorter)

The movie opens with salsa music that strikes me as wildly out of place until the very end. A drunk fat guy and his girlfriend are speeding through New York City, past a dirt lot with smoldering piles of rubble on it. A pedestrian dives out of their way. The drunk fat guy takes a corner too tight and runs over a garbage can. “Arriba! Arriba!” he laughs, consuming an alcoholic beverage. The two park and stumble into an apartment building. The halls are packed with expressionless geeks. There’s trash on the floor and graffiti on the walls. The camerawork here is frenetic. The two lovers fall through their door and have sex where they land without taking their underwear off. In a matter of seconds, the man has a grunty screaming orgasm and passes out.

“Shit.” the woman sighs. She gets up and rubs a cold glass of water on her forehead. Behind her, she hears the door to her vintage Norge refrigerator open. Red light emanates from within. She turns around to investigate. The door grabs her. The title spins out of her screaming mouth.

The opening credits are brightly-colored title cards mixed with Norman Rockwell-type paintings of housewives posing next to refrigerators.

Replacing the victims are Steve (David Simonds) and Eileen (Julia McNeal). Steve is leaving his job as a maître d’ or sommelier in Small Town, Ohio for unspecified office work in New York. Eileen is a teacher, I think, and aspiring actress. As their personal “Go Where You Wanna Go”-style theme song puts it, “Eileen has a dream. She’s gonna make it a reality. Steve is gonna help her plan by making money and being a supportive man.”

Steven picks up Eileen from a school. “Well, honey, that’s the last you’re gonna see of kids for a long time.” he says. “Just you and me, babe, and that great adventure called life. We are young and we are free!” The two shout in excitement, comically holding the same note all the way to Eileen’s parents’ house.

There, they get a call from a sinister cigar-smoking man named Hector who might be the Devil himself informing them an apartment, the one from the intro, has just opened up on Avenue D.

“D as in dog?” Steve asks.

“Mister Bateman, D as in diablo.” Hector answers.

The lovebirds drive over eight hours to see the apartment. It’s being cleaned out by Hector and his men. Text instructs us to click on Part 2. Steve is drawn to the fridge where he finds a wheel of Camembert cheese, his favorite. He tells Hector he’s not willing to spend more than $400 a month on rent. Hector laughs in his face. The fridge door cracks behind Steve, signaling Hector, who takes the cue and counteroffers with $200. A shocked Steve accepts.

On moving day, a woman wearing a black veil warns Eileen not to move in. Eileen follows her onto the roof. The woman is gone, but the roof gives Eileen an idea. She and Steve throw a celebratory barbecue for the whole building there. The fridge oozes blood. A disgusted female tenant alerts Steve to the fact that it’s leaking. The weird thing is, the fridge keeps on doing this, but no one ever says the word “blood” or acknowledges the liquid as anything other than water. Eileen speaks metaphorically about stealing bait off a hook. Steve assures her they’ll never get “hooked”.

That night, Steve again feels the call of the fridge. The whole apartment is carpeted with fog, signifying a dream. Steve grabs a handle and opens the door. His new boss steps out from behind a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix (who refrigerates that?) and tells him he’s earned a place at his office. Steve sits up in bed and yells “I am the waffle maker!” He manically whips up some batter, then abandons the task to get ready for work and heads out. In reality, Steve’s boss doesn’t like him very much. He rips him a new asshole for trying to kiss his.

Later that morning, Eileen gets a call for an audition. The freezer opens, tempting her with a lone tub of ice cream. She reaches in. Her hand gets stuck. She manages to free it just before the door slams shut. Shortly after, she’s paid a visit by Juan the Bolivian flamenco-dancing super (Angel Caban). Juan always has a phallic tool sticking out of a bag by his crotch. He’s nice, though, and ends up being a voice of reason. Eileen mentions a draft coming from the cabinets and tells him to come back another time. That’s when she finds bloody bones in the crisper. Right as she’s about to leave, her keys disappear, causing her to miss her audition. The refrigerator taunts her by opening up to reveal her keys on a plastic container.

Eileen flashes back to a time in her childhood when her mother held a knife to her stomach. “No, mommy, no. Please, mommy, please. I’ll be a good girl, I promise.” Eileen says to herself, reliving the moment. “I’ll be a good girl. I’ll be a good girl. I’ll be a good girl.” All that’s missing are Disturbed’s monkey noises.

When Steve gets home, the two go to a restaurant where the waiters dress up as dogs. Eileen tells him she wants to move. She doesn’t like the apartment. Steve is dismissive. He says they should buy it and start having kids (wouldn’t buying it make it a condo?). This is the same guy who at the beginning swore “that’s the last you’re gonna see of kids for a long time”.

“What the hell is going on here?” Eileen wonders aloud, suddenly feeling as though Steve has changed. After dinner, the two buy some mouse traps. This is the first I’m hearing of mice. Eileen baits one with Steve’s favorite cheese. They crawl into bed. Steve scooches close with sex on his mind. Eileen pretends to be sleeping. Steve fluffs his pillow in anger/frustration. What is going on?

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
That night, Eileen has a dream of her own. She descends a creaky staircase to an old, dusty basement. The refrigerator is there. She opens it up and is greeted by her mother, Steve with a mousetrap on his finger, and a fetus suspended in red amniotic fluid. The fridge bleeds again. Eileen awakens. The first thing she sees is Steve standing motionless in front of the fridge with the door hanging open. Steve snaps back to reality and tells her he feels like he’s going to crack. He chalks it up to the stress of the move. He tells her to go on a shopping spree while he’s at work to take her mind off things.

As Steve heads downstairs, the universe decides You know what? We’re gonna humble this guy and lets the air out of one of his tires. Steve gets grease on his shirt trying to change it. People laugh at him. If that weren’t embarrassing enough, he drops the spare on his foot. Finally, two jokers run up and kick his lug nuts into a storm drain. The veiled woman is shown watching on from around a corner. Meanwhile, Juan and his assistant Paolo (credited as “Paolo the Paolo’s Assistant”) drop in to visit Eileen. Juan suggests that she get some fresh air and not fall into bad habits, like daytime TV. Steve comes barging back in to get changed. “Well, excuuuse me!” he says in a sarcastic tone at the sight of the two men.

“What happened to you?” Eileen questions. “Your clothes are filthy.”

“Yeah, I know. And now, I’m late as shit and the car’s fucked!” Steve yells. His acting here is hilarious. Something about the way he delivers this line cracks me up.

En route to the store, Eileen’s curiosity is piqued by a shack on a vacant lot. Inside is the veiled woman who warned her not to move in, surrounded by lots of religious paraphernalia. The woman (credited as “The Mysterious Tanya”) scares Eileen off with philosophical mumbo jumbo about finding meaning in life and refusing to breed like an animal.

Juan goes to fix a toilet in another apartment, leaving Paolo alone with the fridge. Big mistake. The fridge charges Paolo. He jumps out of the way. The fridge turns to face him. He dives and unplugs it. He body-checks it a few times to make sure it’s done moving. The second he turns his back, the fridge nabs him and crushes his body, spewing blood everywhere.

Eileen emerges from the subway in Times Square with a smile on her face. This leads to a sightseeing montage. Eileen gets home after dark. She walks in and hears what sounds like a baby crying inside the refrigerator. The door cracks and a black cat walks out, signifying, at best, a bit of bad luck, and at worst, a glitch in the Matrix. The cat scratches Eileen and leaps out a window, never to be seen or heard from again. Eileen looks unwell. She lies down and dreams that she holds a knife to her stomach on the kitchen floor in the same manner her mother did. Steve comes back in a bad mood complaining about being hot. Eileen offers him nookie, thinking maybe that’s why he’s been acting off. Steve claims the bedroom is too hot for that, so he leads her into the kitchen and has her lie down in front of the fridge with the door hanging open. Déjà vu.

“Poor man’s air conditioning.” he says dorkishly. Eileen just looks distant. Steve adds the D, like he’s shortening “refrigerator” to “fridge”. The next morning, Eileen cooks her man a big breakfast. Steve tells her about a wonderful dream he had where they were cooking breakfast for their unborn children and starts fixating on sausage. After he leaves, a concerned Juan stops by looking for Paolo. He walks in and silently turns off whatever Eileen is watching. Eileen finds Paolo’s hat in the crisper. She turns around and in Juan’s place is her mother.

“I came here for a reason.” her mother begins. “I want to explain something to you. I feel I owe you an explanation… When your father and I got married, I was very young and restless. No one prepared me. I didn’t notice it for a while. I felt my world getting very small, creeping up on me, closing in on me. It wasn’t like being alive anymore.” she bemoans, close to tears. “I lost something, and was given things in its place, things that were never right, never enough. I broke. I broke and I never wanted to do that. I never want you to get that desperate.” The two hug. With that unpleasantness out of the way, Eileen’s mother makes up a list of supplies. Eileen goes to buy them. Her mother gets eaten.

Juan is in Tanya’s shack, asking if she knows where Paolo went. Tanya, who by the way is a psychic, tells him he’s dead and the fridge is a gateway to Hell. Eileen storms in, accusing Juan of hiding Paolo’s hat in the crisper and scaring off her mother. Juan relays the stuff about Hell.

Things come to a head when Steve tries to physically cram Eileen into the fridge to impress the miniature version of his boss. Eileen stabs him in self defense and he dies. The fridge slurps him up. Juan, Tanya, and some random guy we’re just now meeting for the first time rush in. The fridge evens the odds by enlisting the help of a garbage can, fan, and food processor, leading to an unexpectedly gruesome finale. Who will be eaten, and who will be leftover(s)?

I love the triangular chrome handles.

The Refrigerator is many things. It defies classification. It is, as its title and artwork suggest, a campy B-level horror-comedy featuring an appliance gone haywire. It’s clearly meant to be funny, yet wisely avoids being too dumb or silly. However, its kills are few and far between, as the fridge prefers to play mind games. Fans who expect them in high dosage will be disappointed.

The focus quickly becomes the strain on Steve and Eileen’s marriage stemming from their newfound difference of opinion over just about everything. Steve wants sex. Eileen doesn’t. He wants kids. She doesn’t. He likes the apartment. She doesn’t. They’re on two different wavelengths. The fridge, of course, is behind this, but to what extent is unclear. Is it causing these problems, or exacerbating existing ones? While most scenes are fun, the tone shifts at times. There are serious moments. The part where Eileens’s mother apologizes for threatening suicide, for example, is so real and sad it makes me want to cry.

Meanwhile, the frequent bizarre dreams, ranging from benign to unnerving, give the movie an experimental quality. Then there’s the acting, which varies as well. David Simonds’ performance as Steve is cartoonish. In contrast, Juan is basically deadpan. Eileen is a happy medium. I have to believe this was done by design. The men, it seems, represent two ways of life. Eileen is caught in the middle, needing to make a decision.

All this amounts to a strange mix of horror, comedy, drama, and surrealism that fancies itself a metaphor for American life. I’m not complaining. I like atypical films, as long as they’re not too pretentious. My only gripe is the runtime. I want to see more. Some aspects could have been fleshed out.

Australian VHS cover; I prefer the alternate artwork of a scantily-clad woman being pulled to the fridge by red vapors.

The Refrigerator was filmed in Lower Manhattan in 1991 for roughly $500,000. It played festivals here in the US and Europe, was released theatrically in Germany, and received a limited VHS release by Monarch Home Video. One blogger recalls there being “aggressive advertising” for it in Austria and Germany — “posters, stand-up displays, etc.” It don’t think it’s ever officially been on disc. In 2010, producer Christopher Oldcorn uploaded the whole movie to YouTube in nine parts.

“The film took about 4 years to make from conception to fundraising to production to post.” he told me. “Actual photography was split into two phases — three weeks of exteriors and then three weeks of interiors on a set in an empty warehouse in Tribeca which was the home of the Cucaracha Theater company (many of whom were in the film), the set being an exact replica of the apartment in which the director and I lived at the time.”

You can see the top of the set at the end when Hector and his men return to clean out the apartment. Whether this was a goof or intentional metafictional wink is for you to decide.

I’ve never been to New York. I know it from 80s movies, where it’s often portrayed as a villain itself, a toxic hellscape of perpetual darkness, overrun by crime, controlled by shadowy corporations, roving gangs, corrupt cops, and pimps. Here, it’s a nonfactor. The movie could take place on any street, anywhere in the US, with any inanimate household object.

That’s because the real villain here is tradition, society. To me, the refrigerator represents the strict gender norms of the past and how they “kill” people by leaving them unfulfilled. The fact that it’s a 1950s model, the images from the opening credits, and of course the subplot concerning Eileen’s stereotypical homemaker mother suffering a psychotic break all point to this. Back in the 50s, women were expected to marry young, pop out kids, and play homemaker at the expense of their personal lives while their husbands provided. The rampaging appliance imposes these expectations on the people who open it.

Whenever Steve looks inside, he’s encouraged by his boss to work hard and sees Eileen cooking sausage in a skirt. Since he’s already in support of these ideas and/or being influenced by the fridge, he’s not disturbed by the visions.

Eileen is a harder sell. For her, the visions are more like nightmares. The first thing the fridge does to mess with her mind is hide her keys. It doesn’t want her to leave or have interests. An acting job is out of the question. It wants her to procreate. That’s why it shows her a baby.

During the sex scene, however, the fridge (which, again, symbolizes the pressure put upon men to perform manly duties and women to perform womanly duties, a common stressor in marriage) literally cools off their sex life. The good news is, things are so bad now, both partners have to have multiple sources of income, there’s no time for sex, and the kids live at daycare. Equality.

“Yes I think there’s a lot of that in there.” Oldcorn continued. “The way we describe it is a story about consumers being consumed by consumerism. It was a real reaction to the 1980s.” The description of video 2 claims it “explores the ancient dilemma of career versus family…”

The message I came away with is: don’t let society dictate who you are, how you live, or what your role is. The bait/hook/trap motif could simply be warning us to avoid life’s many traps. I’m surprised more reviewers haven’t picked up on the subtext and found their own meanings. Then again, The Refrigerator can take repeat viewings to fully sort out. Plus, it’s always more fun to enjoy movies like this at face value without trying to analyze them. The Refrigerator would definitely be a cult classic if it were more widely available. As far as a DVD and/or Blu-ray goes, “There have been discussions with various people about re-release, but it’s more Tony Jacobs who’s dealing with that.”

Until then, enjoy!

Another user combined all the parts, but their video freezes for more than four minutes.

Body Count
6 + 1 presumed.

Bod Count
½. Steve’s side butt.

Overall Enjoyability
5 miniature wives cooking sausage in skirts out of 5.

I Got My Copy From

According to Oldcorn, “One big influence was Polanski’s The Tenant. And The Lift by Dick Maas.” The Lift is a totally different approach to a similar concept. It sees a repairman and female reporter investigate a coverup involving a sentient elevator.

these other animate object horrors:

Killdozer (1974)
The Car (1977)
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
Christine (1983)
Shake, Rattle & Roll (1984)
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)
Battle Heater (1989)
Blades (1989)
Attack of the Killer Refrigerator (1990) (short)
The Mangler (1995)
Killer Condom (1996)
Evil Bong (2006)
Killer Sofa (2019)

these movies involving appliances:

Microwave Massacre (1983)
Kansas City Blender Massacre (1986) (short) (lost)
The Washing Machine (1993)
The Witching (1993)

Further Listening