The holidays are coming up, which means there are an awful lot of items that are going to be changing hands. Maybe you’ll be re-gifting a chip and dip set from last Christmas. Maybe you’ll find yourself pleading with a customer service rep for store credit when trying to return something with no receipt. Who knows, you might even find yourself the proud new owner of a haunted doll.
In honor of all the upcoming exchanges, we are looking at some of our favorite cursed objects in horror. These seemingly innocuous items spell big trouble for the man or woman on the receiving end of the curse – keep your eyes peeled of anyone dropping off suspicious looking gifts.
10. The Monkey’s Paw – The Monkey’s Paw (1948)
I couldn’t write a piece called “Monkey’s Paw” without talking about the OG. Based on the short story of the same name by W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey’s Paw has been made several times but the 1948 black and white tale of terror from director Norman Lee is the most well known. The cursed object in question grants wishes, but always with an unfortunate twist.
The terror begins with a man wishing for the money to make a final mortgage payment on his home. He receives it the next day – when his son dies at work and the company pays the family a goodwill payment in the exact amount they wished wished for. Things only go downhill from there, and a suitably predictable ending is still pretty darn creepy.
9. The VHS Tape – The Ring (2002)
Whether we’re talking about the original Japanese Ringu or the American remake The Ring, you can’t deny the creepiness of that damned VHS tape. This is the film that brought the Japanese horror craze across the Pacific, and it all stems from that creepy girl’s herky-jerky movement as she stalks her victims from her watery grave through their television screens.
The tape itself is awful to watch: a series of images flash across the screen, seemingly at random. Nothing that the tape shows us is that creepy, but a feeling of trepidation and simple wrong-ness carries across the entire thing. Mark your calendars a week after seeing it: if you make it past the seventh day, you’re golden.
8. The Zuni Fetish Doll – Trilogy of Terror (1975)
God bless Karen Black. I’m not sure any of Trilogy of Terror works without her, especially the final and most memorable segment. Essentially a one-woman show, Black purchases a bizarre doll while out on a shopping expedition. The doll is reportedly cursed, and the flimsy protection keeping the spirit of “He Who Kills” at bay is quick to disappear. It isn’t long before Black is doing her darndest to survive an angry little critter holding a gigantic knife.
Trilogy of Terror‘s final segment could be entirely silly, but Black actually does a pretty good job of selling it. The doll is… well… it’s from a low budget, 70s horror movie. But there is something memorable about it, taking me back to my youthful years of wandering around Blockbuster video. The final shot is also amazing – each of Trilogy of Terror‘s segments ends with an ironic twist, but Black’s face at the end of “Amelia” is pure gold.
7. The Puzzle Box – Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker is one of those directors who certainly has a vision, and the Hellraiser series offers one twisted look into what that vision is. Whether you know it as just “The Box” or you want to get more technical and call it the dramatic “Lament Configuration”, the key to summoning the Cenobites is a devious and memorable device that becomes quite the MacGuffin as the lore of the series expanded.
Throughout the series, characters are driven to solve the box, unleashing demonic entities who look like their dressed for a fetish convention. They are led by Pinhead, who never quite gained the notoriety of other 80s horror icons like Freddy and Jason, but still managed to become a bit of an icon for the franchise. If you solve that box, remember: “Your pain will be legendary!”
6. The Necronomicon – Evil Dead (1981)
Even though I was no stranger to horror by the time I saw Evil Dead, there was something dirty about it. It felt like one of those “rights of passage” type of films and, even with its low budget, it packed in some serious scares. Let it be known, all you young readers out there: nothing good ever came from a book. And the proof in that pudding lies with the “Necronomicon Ex Mortis,“, roughly translated, “Book of the Dead“.
Absolute horror legend Bruce Campbell stars as Ash Williams, just trying to enjoy a little alone time with his girlfriend in a remote cabin. However, when the Necronomicon is found in the cabin’s basement, it unleashes undead beasts that make quick work of Ash‘s friends and leave little hope of survival. The series may have gotten sillier as it went on, but even its most recent iteration, Ash vs Evil Dead, packed in plenty of scares and gore with the slapstick routines. Not only is this book entirely responsible for those horrors, but it can also bite you.
5. The Portrait of Vigo The Carpathian – Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
“He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!”
Ghostbusters 2 can’t quite hold up to the original, but that gigantic portrait of Vigo is pretty darn creepy. Just like the original, the improv comedy features dashes of true horror, and Vigo’s ability to possess minions and his ultimate plan is absolutely terrifying. He wants to kidnap a baby and steal its soul so he can possess its body and return to life in the modern day! That’s dark as hell for a silly little comedy!
Vigo is played by Wilhelm von Homburg, a German professional wrestler who also featured in Die Hard, and that scowl from out his portrait is absolutely haunting. It’s one of the most memorable images from either film – I dare you to not see that image and immediately adopt a phony European accent while trying to explain it.
4. The Plymouth Fury – Christine (1983)
Stephen King loves his cursed objects, and there’s not many finer than that red Plymouth Fury from 1983’s adaptation of Christine. King loved to play with our expectations and bring our darkest desires to life, and this story about a car that just won’t go away made for a fairly solid romp. The car itself is far more creepy than it has any right to be – every time it appears on screen, you are seduced and repulsed by it in equal amounts. It’s big, over the top, unwieldy… but it’s also powerful, even sexualized.
Watching as the car slowly warps the mind of Arnie Cunningham, turning him against his friends and eventually the world, is slow burn horror done right, and this little gem is one of John Carpenter’s more underrated films. I had to include it on the list – I hear Christine‘s real sensitive.
3. The Button – Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Another Sam Raimi film makes the list! Drag Me to Hell was a pleasant surprise return to the genre after Raimi took the helm of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, and it took a lot of the ideas and images from the Evil Dead films to tell a frightening tale about greed and, of course, curses. Featuring some great performances, awesome effects work, and Raimi’s usual eye, Drag Me to Hell is an overlooked horror gem you should have under your belt.
Alison Lohman plays Christine, a loan officer gunning for a big promotion. To prove to her boss that she can make tough choices and not let emotion get in the way, she denies an elderly woman an extension on her mortgage.
The woman steals a button from Christine‘s coat and places a curse on it, and it becomes a race against time to defeat the demon haunting her before it pulls her into Hell. There are a lot of twists and turns in this one, and savvy horror veterans will see the ending coming a mile away, but it’s still a good way to spend a spooky evening.
2. The Good Guy Doll – Child’s Play (1988)
Like many horror franchises that found their way into the mainstream, it can be tough to remember that Child’s Play was not played for laughs in the slightest with its original release. In fact, whether or not Chucky is alive at all is held close to the chest for much of the film: it may just be that Andy is having trouble coping with all the changes that is happening around him. One of my favorite horror scenes of all time is when Andy‘s mother Karen, played by the totally game Catherine Hicks, has an emotional breakdown and threatens to throw the doll into the fireplace if it doesn’t speak to her. Her elementary school-aged son is accused of murder, and she has reached her breaking point with all his talk about how “Chucky did it!” She realizes she is going insane as she screams at the doll, and resigns herself to the fact that she’s going to have to burn it for her peace of mind, even as it blankly stares back at her.
And then it wakes up.
It’s almost silly when you watch it now, but dear lord, that thing was terrifying back in the day. Brad Dourif absolutely slays it as the voice of the possessed doll, and it will be interesting to see if the upcoming reboot can capture the spirit and horror of the original.
1. The Basement Full of Horrors – Cabin in the Woods (2012)
We’re cheating a bit here, as there are a ton of cursed objects in the basement in Cabin in the Woods. Obviously, the diary of Patience Buckner is what unleashes the zombie family to terrorize our teens, but there were plenty of other items that could have been their undoing. There’s a puzzle box that’s very similar to that seen in the Hellraiser franchise that surely coincides with the Pinhead-esque fellow that is seen later in the film. The music box most likely summons the horrifying ballerina seen later in the film.
And, sadly, the conch shell that Hadley was counting on to summon the Merman was so close to being sounded.
Either way, it was fun to see how the film played with our expectations, and a big part of that is trying to identify the objects in the basement and what monster they would all correspond to. Cabin in the Woods was a mindbending and fun romp through many of our favorite horror tropes. It would be fun to see some alternate realities of the different cursed objects, and how director Drew Goddard would have handled the different cliches and logical leaps that different genres rely on.
There you have it: the ten best cursed items in all of horror! What did we leave off? Let us know, and stay tuned to our Twitter and our Horror Group on Facebook for the latest horror news and features.