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The presence of otherworldly elements around technology isn't always 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 you have e- mail or showing an image or scene. It's also a common symptom of any Haunted Technology.

Examples of It Won't Turn Off include:


Comic Books

  • 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.

Film

  • In The Ring, at the start, one of the characters has this problem with a screen showing static. Then It Got 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 Fourteen Oh Eight 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, 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 "assaults" her in a way that is either hideous, Squicky, or a Crowning Moment of Funny, depending on your tastes.
  • 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.

Literature

  • 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 Merril gets a hint that something is really wrong with his new employer MR. Gaunt, when he sees that the record-player, that had played a message from Gaunt, is unplugged (the record also reacts to his actions and there was no way Gaunt could've recorded it in the first place).

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" at the start, a phone keeps calling despite being hung up on and then being ripped out of the wall. Later on, a girl gets chat messages continue to show on her screen, even after turning it off.
  • 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. (I'm not sure they went as far as unplugging it though.)
  • 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.
  • In the Doctor Who story "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 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. 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.

Radio

  • 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.

Video Games

  • 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 that wouldn't stop running, even after it was disconnected from the power-grid. 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.

Web Original

  • Saladfingers 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.
  • {{Scythemantis Bogleech}} mocks this trope with a human ghost that was never plugged in.
  • Similar to the Childs Play example above, 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.

Western Animation

  • 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.

Real Life

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