A good prop goes a long way in horror. Whether it’s freaky flying orbs, a book of the dead, or a possessed doll, horror relics can make or break a scary film. To celebrate the return of Starz’ Ash vs. Evil Dead on October 2, we rounded up some of the most notorious and nasty artifacts in the history of horror.
One of the great things about the Evil Dead movies and show is the inclusion of a number of amazing artifacts. There’s the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, Ash’s boomstick, the Kandarian Dagger, and the granddaddy of them all, Ash’s chainsaw. After Ash cuts off his own Deadite-possessed hand with it in Evil Dead II, he then replaces said hand with the chainsaw. The chainsaw almost kills Ash when his girlfriend Linda wields it against him, but nothing can stop our groovy hero.
The chainsaw hand configuration has gone through a few changes over the years, but it’s iconic in all of its various incarnations. Throughout Ash’s battles with undead evil, he uses the chainsaw to dismember and destroy former allies and true enemies alike. The chainsaw even makes an appearance in the Evil Dead remake, though it is wielded by that film’s protagonist, Mia.
The chainsaw is a modified Homelite XL red chainsaw. It has an endless fuel supply and seems to be able to cut through just about anything without ever dulling. Used in conjunction with the boomstick, it enables Ash to be a Deadite-fighting machine like no other. With the ability to cut down Deadites in no time flat, the chainsaw leaves him with plenty of time to drop his snarky one-liners. Hail to the king, baby. [Danielle Ryan]
Phantasm is making a comeback. The tale of the Tall Man’s descent upon the world is a cult classic franchise that still maintains its niche audience and cult status. The films are filled with danger and horror at every turn, but nothing can even come close to the petrifying terror of the flying sentinel spheres.
The spheres are sentient reflective balls that are about the size of a normal adult fist. These things typically act as sentries that guard the corridors of mausoleums and funeral homes occupied by the Tall Man and his minions. These things are capable of travelling through the air at high speeds, and when they near a target, the blades come out.
Most victims of these flying death balls get struck by twin blades that hit the targets forehead. Once the sphere is in place, a small drill penetrates the skull and a stream of blood spews out the back end of the ball. These items are deadly and terrifying, but the morbid reality of how they operate wasn’t revealed until the third film in the series. The sentinel spheres contain the brains of the Tall Man’s victims making them even more ghoulish than almost any other deadly device in horror. [Andrew Hawkins]
The Monkey’s Paw
Born in 1863 in London, writer W.W. Jacobs didn’t specialize in horror. But his terrifying 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw is what he’s most often remembered for. The story is a cautionary tale about the dark implications of our deepest desires. It brings to light the unintended consequences of our wishes. And despite its age, the story still echoes in pop culture today. You can see adaptations of Jacobs’ story on The Simpsons, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, and Rick and Morty.
Jacobs’ story focuses on Mr. and Mrs. White, an older couple. The Whites meets up with Morris, a friend who shows them a mummified monkey’s paw. Morris says that an Indian Faqir supposedly cursed the paw to grant three wishes to three men. But when Mr. White doubts him, Morris gravely confirms that the paw has granted not only his wishes but the wishes of another man before him. The catch? Each wish comes with a terrible cost.
Morris then throws the paw into the crackling fireplace. But Mr. White is too intrigued to let it burn. He snatches the little talisman from the fire. Later that night, he wishes for 200 pounds to make the final payment on his house. That’s when things go very, very wrong for the Whites. The paw, like the best horror relics, is really a mirror. It reflects the motivations and flaws of the characters around it. It makes their intentions explicit and teaches them lessons about the nature of fate and the cost of dreams. [Travis Newton]
Modified Captain Kirk Mask
There are a number of iconic masks in horror, but Michael Myer’s bleached-out visage is one of the most terrifying. The props department took a Captain Kirk mask, painted it white, cut new eyeholes, and changed the hair. In doing so, they created one of the most visually recognizable images in horror history. The mask, combined with Michael Myers’ hulking frame, can strike fear into even the most veteran horror aficionados.
In Halloween, Myers’ obtains the mask at a hardware shop just before Halloween after his escape from the sanitarium. He wears the mask while he torments the teens of Haddonfield, Illinois, including his sister Judith (Jamie Lee Curtis). The mask changed some over the course of the next seven films (and two remakes), but the masks always shared trademark features: a white face, hair that stuck up, and empty, hollow eyes. It doesn’t matter what’s underneath the mask, because the mask itself is so frightening.
Part of what makes Michael Myers so scary is that he is a villain who could exist almost anywhere. His signature weapon is a butcher knife, and he obtained everything he uses in the films from a local hardware store. He’s suburbia’s worst nightmare, a combination of insanity and poor treatment. He is difficult to kill, but otherwise seems to be completely human. Unlike the extremely supernatural Freddy or the nigh-unkillable Jason, Myers is the kind of nightmare that could actually exist in the real world. Killers wear masks all the time, but few are as creepy as the one from Halloween. [Danielle Ryan]
Blood Key Artifact
From the moment we enter the plot of Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight to the end of the film, it’s all about the key that contains the blood of Christ. Filter’s “Hey Man Nice Shot” blares over the soundtrack as main character Brayker (William Sadler) flees from a powerful demonic entity known as The Collector (Billy Zane). The car chase sequence ends and we enter a small desert town where a rundown hotel becomes a battlefield between the forces of Heaven and Hell.
Brayker is a divine warrior charged with protecting one of the seven artifacts created to grant demons ultimate poser over existence. God intervened and scattered the keys across the cosmos, and the one that remained on earth was given to the first Demon Knight to fill with Jesus’ blood. The mythology then states the key must remain with a trusted warrior to prevent evil from regaining control over the world, bringing about an age of darkness and Hell on Earth.
The Blood Key is a powerful weapon and also works as a defense against demons. Brayker uses the key to pour blood around doorways and entrances creating impassible barriers against anything demonic. The blood of Christ contained within the key gets refilled by each knight that carries it, but when used like a type of holy water it destroys any demon it touches. The Collector gets obliterated by the blood in the key and the relic gets passed onto the new knight as the battle between good and evil continues on. [Andrew Hawkins]
Max’s VHS Tape
There are some horror artifacts that harken back to a different era, when media required tangible space and home video meant just that. There are plenty of scary VHS tapes in movies like The Ring, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and V/H/S, but the VHS tape in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is one of the most unique.
Cronenberg’s bizarre body horror tells the tale of Max Renn (James Woods), a TV producer whose speciality is sensationalist programming. When he discovers a station called Videodrome that shows actual torture and murder, he becomes obsessed. After watching a videotape of the Videodrome creator telling him that all of the snuff is real, Max develops a slit on his abdomen that allows him to place the tape inside of himself. This is the beginning of his transformation into a grotesque monster with a gun for a hand and a gaping hole-slash-VCR on his torso. He becomes increasingly mad as the tape takes over his mind, much like a parasite.
When the videotape isn’t inside of Max, it does a number of creepy things on its own. It seems to breathe, pulsating in Max’s hands. The film’s prop department created the tapes so they could move, giving the scenes a kind of horrifying surrealism. The VHS tape is the catalyst to Max’s horrifying transformation into the new flesh, and that earns it a spot on this list. [Danielle Ryan]
The “Lament Configuration” is a fancy name for Pinhead’s puzzlebox in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser films. Also known as Lemarchand’s box, the puzzle box creates gateways between other dimensions and our own. The dimension accessed in Barker’s works is one of immense pain and suffering, and many have attributed it to the Christian idea of Hell.
In Hellraiser, Frank Cotton buys the box from an antiques dealer. He takes it home and solves the puzzle, only to be ripped to pieces by chains that come from the box. A group of demonic entities known as Cenobites appear after Frank’s dismemberment. Their leader, Pinhead, changes the box’s configuration back and the room goes back to its normal appearance. The box goes on to summon Pinhead and his ghastly gang for eight more films, and is the center of the Hellraiser mythos.
There are a number of additional puzzle boxes in the Hellraiser films, though none are shown in use. Whether they are fakes, duplicates, or have other mystical powers is never revealed. In Hellraiser II, Dr. Channard is a collector of such boxes. It is possible that each of the boxes opens a gate to a different dimension, which means that one of the boxes could open the gates to paradise instead of Hell. [Danielle Ryan]
Shaun’s Cricket Bat
There are plenty of horror weapons wielded by villains, but some of the best are also used by its heroes. In the Edgar Wright horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead, protagonist Shaun must use whatever’s handy to take out hordes of the undead. His primary weapon is a cricket bat, which he uses to clobber zombies on his way to the Winchester pub. He uses some other fun pseudo-weapons as well, including old vinyl records, a pool cue, and his car. The cricket bat, however, is the most useful and also the most iconic.
Shaun of the Dead is great, in part, because it shows what average Joes would look like fighting off a zombie invasion. These aren’t your typical heroes with a martial arts or military history, but rather a couple of guys who would rather play video games than break a sweat. Shaun is so incredible average that it’s kind of amazing when he turns out to be a half-competent zombie killer.
Before Shaun of the Dead, most Americans didn’t even know what a cricket bat looked like. Most probably didn’t even know that cricket was anything besides an insect that chirps. Post-Shaun, the cricket bat has become a zombie-killing weapon of choice, one of many in a potential Z-day survivors’ arsenal. The only thing you have to really watch out for, of course, is the splatter. You’ve got red on you. [Danielle Ryan]
Speaking of villains with classic weapons, there’s Jack Torrance and his fireman’s ax, used to terrify the bejeezus out of his wife and son. In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, author Jack goes mad while trying to write a book in an isolated hotel. After taking over as the caretaker of the Overlook, Jack begins a descent into insanity that is culminated by his attempts to kill his wife and son. One of the film’s most iconic scenes depicts him trying to hack through a bathroom door where his wife is hiding, only to look through the hole he has created and utter “Heeere’s Johnny!”
The ax only claims one victim, cook Dick Holloran, but the murder is pretty brutal. Jack hacks into poor Dick’s stomach before letting him fall to the floor. Moments later, buckets of blood pour forth from the elevators, washing the halls with their red hue. Son Danny and wife Wendy only barely manage to escape the deranged Jack, both by running and fighting back. Wendy wields a butcher knife and a baseball bat against her husband, but Danny can only run away from the ax-brandishing psycho.
The ax is absent from the novel it was based on, and the subsequent mini-series that stays more faithful to the source text. Instead of an ax, Jack uses a roque mallet. Not quite as scary, especially considering its inability to go through bathroom doors. [Danielle Ryan]
Okay, so The Toxic Avenger isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense. It’s not intended to be scary so much as funny and gross, but it’s a vile and violent horror-comedy with one of the most ridiculous heroes in horror history. Toxie, the aforementioned hero of the Toxic Avenger films, isn’t anything without his mop.
The Toxic Avenger is the most famous of low-budget indie horror studio Troma’s many films. Created by Lloyd Kaufman, The Toxic Avenger is about a mop-boy named Melvin who gains superpowers and a physical deformity after being chased into a bucket of toxic waste. Newly reborn as “Toxie”, he goes on to fight crime and take care of his former bullies.
Toxie’s main weapon in fighting crime is his mop. He wields the former cleaning tool with strength and dexterity. Initially, he also leaves mops on the faces of his victims as a kind of calling card. It’s a weird weapon, but Toxie is a weird kinda guy. The Toxic Avenger would go on to spawn three sequels, several comic series, a musical, and a kid’s cartoon TV show. It has left its stamp on pop culture, and is responsible for Troma’s weird and wacky success. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn even got his start with Troma, and can be seen in Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie. [Danielle Ryan]