The Tricycle of Terror!
With Halloween season upon us, it’s a tradition for many to spend the month of October binge watching Horror classics. The Omen (dir. Richard Donner, 1976), The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980), and Saw (dir. James Wan, 2004) are just some of the flicks many have lined up this holiday season, but for some, they may be able to notice another connection between these films outside the gore and frights- all these films contain iconic characters and scenes involving a tricycle.
Alleged to have been created sometime around the 17th Century, the tricycle has a long history as an excellent alternative to the traditional bicycle. In the past, they were used by women to avoid their dresses catching in the enormous wheels of bikes such as the Penny-Farthing, as well as by those with physical disabilities who would struggle using a two-wheeled bicycle. Today, tricycles continue to be an excellent accessibility option for cyclists, but have also found a market amongst children, with many parents preferring the stability of an extra wheel.
It’s here that the history of tricycles in Horror movies begins. Children have often played major roles in Horror, being used as vessels for demons and ghouls, seen clearly with examples like The Exorcist (dir. William Friedkin, 1974) and The Omen.
It is The Omen can be credited with one of the first memorable appearances of a tricycle in Horror. In one scene, Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens), the child Antichrist, can be seen pedaling his blood-red tricycle directly and intently into a stool which his mother is standing on. She falls, meeting a grisly demise, which Damien watches with delight. Showing that in the hands of evil, something as innocent as a child’s tricycle can be deadly, the tricycle is so iconic in fact that it was able to sell at auction for an estimated £12,000. Why anyone would want to buy a most likely cursed tricycle is beyond me, but it is an interesting artifact of cinema.
The film that popularised and solidified tricycles as a staple of Horror, however, is undoubtedly The Shining. Still considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films of all time, The Shining offers many bone-chilling scenes, with the scene involving a tricycle being one of the scariest.
The scene shows Danny (Danny Lloyd) riding around the Overlook Hotel on his tricycle. The sound of the wheels driving over the wooden floors and carpets is deafeningly loud, and forces the viewer to focus on it, the camera sticking behind the tricycle as it moves, as if the viewer is riding along with Danny. It’s after taking an impossible fifth left turn that the audience is greeted with one of the most recognisable shots in cinema history, as Danny turns to see two twin girls standing ominously at the end of the hallway.
This scene has gone on to become a major influence both in and outside of Horror, with parodies of the scene and the film as a whole being so common that there are even web pages dedicated to archiving every instance of referencing to the film. It is no wonder that tricycles have gone on to become iconic props of Horror to this day!
Tricycles continue to be used by children in Horror movies, however the recent trend of tricycles in Horror has been to show the antagonist or supernatural entity itself being the one riding the tricycle. While this is notable in films like Leprechaun (dir. Mark Jones, 1993), which contains several scenes of the titular Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) using a tricycle as transportation, the most notable use of a tricycle in modern horror cinema is in the Saw franchise.
Saw uses a tricycle in a direct tribute both to The Shining and The Omen, using it to indicate evil as was done in The Shining, and taking the red design of the tricycle in The Omen and copying it almost perfectly. The image of the child sized puppet approaching his victims on the blood-red tricycle has become synonymous with modern day Horror movies, and has brought the tricycle as a must-have Horror prop to a whole new audience.
Overall, tricycles being so prominent in Horror can be explained by their appearance in several iconic films of the Horror genre causing them to become signifiers of evil and violence. Film has a history of copying from works that came before them, and that is no exception here. Over the course of 50 years, the common tricycle has gone from an innocent introductory cycling toy for children, to having a life all its own.
So, if you see a tricycle in a horror movie this holiday season, ask yourself; just why is this so scary?
And if you still haven’t had your fill of spooky biking goodness, check out our article on these four Haunted Rides.