Sometimes a single item can bring back memories of a particular time or place. And when that item is a classic horror movie prop, those particular places can be some of the most iconic scary scenes of all time. But what are the most iconic horror movie props? What makes a movie prop truly iconic? Well, for starters—just the image of it alone, without context, should be enough to remind the viewer of the movie in question. Furthermore, the association should be far-reaching enough for even neophytes to grasp the significance—almost everyone knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, even if they’ve never seen The Empire Strikes Back.
So, from there, we know that the axe from The Shining wouldn’t count, because you couldn’t place it to that movie just by seeing it—you’d need Jack Nicholson’s face peering through a hole in a door as well. Same thing with famous ‘monkey’s paw’—it’s an iconic prop, but doesn’t bring to mind a specific film scene, only callbacks to an earlier story. Dolls have also been excluded, because they’re not really ‘props’–they’re almost always characters. And for the sake of simplicity, I’ve also excluded costume elements as well. With all that said, here are the top five iconic horror movie props:
Honourable Mentions: Sunglasses – They Live (1988), Cricket Bat – Shaun of the Dead (2004), Business Card – American Psycho (2000), Bloody Prom Dress – Carrie (1976), Freddy Krueger’s Glove – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Ouija Board – every horror film ever
5) The Knife – Psycho (1960), Halloween (1978), Scream (1996), American Psycho (2000)
Geez, it’s never comfortable just seeing an image of a knife like that, is it? But this particular brand of kitchen utensil has been a horror movie staple since the ’60’s. It’s probably the most iconic horror prop on this list, but is sitting at the bottom because of one reason: ubiquity. This darn knife is everywhere! While it’s iconic, it doesn’t bring a particular movie to mind so much as several—the shower scene in Psycho, the posters for Halloween and American Psycho, as well as when it’s wielded by Sidney in Scream. Sure, it’s iconic, but it’s a victim of it’s own success. Like so many overused props, its brand has been diluted across many different franchises. Multiple appearances may have dulled this knife’s impact, but it remains as sharp as ever in the minds of horror fans everywhere.
4) Necronomicon – Evil Dead (1981)
The Necronomicon, or the Book of the Dead, is the at the centre of the Evil Dead franchise, along with its sequels, reboots, re-imaginings, and television series. Imitators have tried, but the image of the skin-bound tome seems to bring to mind only Lovecraft (where it originated) and Evil Dead (where it achieved mainstream fame). So why is it not at the top of this list? Simple: because Ash Williams, the main character from the Evil Dead series, is more iconic by far. From his quotable lines to his chainsaw hand, Ash makes the book—a central plot point throughout the entire series—little more than an afterthought. That, coupled with the continuing Lovecraft association, keep the Necronomicon from being number one. But it’s not the only thing on this list that can summon a horde of evil from places unknown…
3) The Puzzle Box (The Lament Configuration) – Hellraiser (1987)
If you’ve never solved a Rubik’s Cube, then you’re probably safe around this particular device. When solved, the Lament Configuration opens a bridge to a pain dimension filled with demons. But you probably knew that already. The puzzle box is so iconic that it’s been spoofed in both The Simpsons and The Cabin in the Woods. It’s a classic horror movie prop, one that immediately brings to mind terrible scenarios to those who see it. But, here’s the thing: while Hellraiser is a movie series that most people know of, it’s not one that most people have seen, and thus the puzzle box it inspired doesn’t always get linked to the appropriate movie in the cultural imagination. People know the box, and that it’s evil, but they don’t always know the specifics. For those of us who have seen it, though, it’s an immediate reminder not to tamper with forces we don’t understand.
2) Static Television – Poltergeist (1982)
Ah, television. Film’s younger sibling. It was the comforting all-American glow of a static 1980’s television set that director Tobe Hooper and writer/producer Steven Spielberg chose to start off the escalating horror in Poltergeist. Accompanied by Heather O’Rourke’s eerie utterance, “They’re heeere,” it has become a classic piece of horror movie iconography. Whether it’s Carol Ann’s voice coming through the static, or a ghostly hand reaching out over a sleeping couple, what was once comforting and secure soon made people uneasy after seeing this film. Like showers after Hitchcock’s Psycho, our views of static televisions were forever altered following this movie. So why is this classic movie prop not in the top spot? Time, and too many successful imitators. Movies like White Noise and The Ring have diluted our association between static televisions sets and Poltergeist, and most people no longer see static on their sets as much. Digital televisions have replaced the most common VHS and antenna-led static, cable stations no longer go off the air at a certain time, and when there is static modern televisions will usually replace it with a blue screen or go to standby. What was once iconic is slowly becoming anachronistic. When static television is no more, perhaps Poltergeist‘s association with it will be further cemented, but until then it remains only the penultimate horror movie prop.
1) Totems – The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Yes, the totems. You weren’t expecting those, were you? Despite their threadbare appearance and lack of narrative history, the simple totems of The Blair Witch Project and its sequels are the most iconic movie props of all time. When you see them you immediately think of the Blair Witch. Their marketing and simple image is so well done that most people who have never even seen a Blair Witch movie can recognize and name the series they come from, and in the most recent franchise entry their effects were elaborated on—these are no mere trinkets in the woods. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most effective, and these totems were indeed that, elevating the original movie above a simple tale of people lost in the woods. Indeed, throughout the entire series they’re one of the only indications we have of the witch at all. Just these totems in the woods, and little else. But that was enough to make a micro-budget film a box office success, and spawn two sequels in the process. Whether or not we’ll see more of the totems in future Blair Witch films is anyone’s guess, but regardless they’ll remain the primary image the franchise relies on to get it’s message out. They’re cheap, they’re effective, and they’re the perfect marketing tool. The totems are the most iconic horror movie prop ever made. Just be careful if you ever see them in the woods—and be sure to get out before it gets dark.
There you have it, the top five iconic horror movie props! Do you agree with our list? Do you think we’re missing some stakes and crucifixes for good measure? Do you think that the carriage from Rosemary’s Baby should have been on there at some point (no, it shouldn’t!), or maybe the cars from Christine or Ghostbusters? Let us know in the comments below, and, as always in October, Happy Halloween!