I was watching the SyFy channel last night and blissfully re-indulged in the 2012 film, The Possession. During the commercial breaks (yup, no DVR here folks) I had an average of 2-4 minutes to ponder random things. Why did Rachel Maddow show up as my college roommate in my dream last night? And, more importantly, why are there so many boxes in horror films!? Of course, when I have important things to do like write a dissertation, I suddenly found it much more imperative to test my horror knowledge and see how many horror films prominently feature boxes. Every good scientific experiment needs rules, and I decided to rule out boxes in the forms of coffins, sarcophaguses, music boxes, jack in the boxes, and other banal background boxes.
I thought to myself, people love to look at why horror features so many clowns, children, and dolls, so why not boxes and crates?[i] Whose curiosity isn’t piqued by a mystical box that holds treasures unknown? Take for instance the story of Pandora’s Box, eons of pirate treasure stories, and geeks like myself who will scour the area in hopes of finding a geocache that is probably only filled with a pencil and a button. Boxes evoke the unknown; they conceal and contain both wondrous and horrible things. And in many of these films, the boxes hold a component of weighty choice…a path not taken or a rule broken. Each container holds a picture of what we reveal, what we hide, and who we are. I hope you will join me in avoiding real work to enjoy this list with me! (Beware of some plot spoilers)
Creepshow (1982): Thanks to horror heavy hitters George A. Romero and Stephen King, we have the cornucopia of horror tales that is Creepshow. One of the five stories featured in this anthology is the short story fittingly called, “The Crate.” Nowhere else could you create such a fascinating tale about luring your annoying wife into the grip of a 148-year-old miniature yeti.
Gremlins (1984): The box in this film contained the one thing every 80s kid wanted for Christmas…a mogwai…specifically, Gizmo. No one ever had to answer for the origin of the mogwai in an otherwise ordinary world. That wooden box held the potential for absolute splendor or widespread chaos, an outcome to be decided by the ability of one teenage boy to follow directions. Could you imagine the ending of that film if it were left up to a teenager today, no thank you!
Ghostbusters (1984): Ok, so it’s a bit of a stretch but no way on earth would Ghostbusters be the same without their ghost traps. Without these boxes, ghosts would run amok and never make it to the containment unit. Proton packs would be pointless without some way to capture and contain the paranormal threats to New York City. However, the lack of traps would probably just encourage grown men to experiment with crossing streams more often.
Hellraiser (1987) series: If you are reading this on our website, I am pretty sure you have heard of the Lament Configuration…or the little puzzle box that unleashes such sweet suffering. The box in and of itself is a puzzle, as are its contents. Does it release pleasure or pain? Why do people seek it out? Why is it so alluring? This may be one of the most recognizable and memorable boxes in the history of horror. It serves importantly to conceal and contain, and it evokes the curiosity of a cat on its ninth life.
Leprechaun (1993): Daniel O’Grady traps a leprechaun in a box and seals it with a four leaf clover, but it is found ten years later by a simpleton named Ozzie. The best part about this movie is that it all unfolds in the home of a young Jennifer Aniston (as Tory Reddington), who totes a shot gun and a killer pair of L.A. Gears. So many wonderfully horrible things happen in this film and all because someone lets the stereotype out of the box. Sometimes being politically incorrect results in amazing things, like Leprechaun in the Hood (2000) ahahahaha I can’t even contain my laughter on that one.
Se7en (1995): Yeah, I know this is more of a thriller than a straight forward horror, but I am not a genre snob so let’s keep it movin’ together. (Besides, this film brought me the idea for the title of this little list.) Never before did a film have us collectively on the edge of our seats to see what was in a box. This box served as the ultimate coup de grace in a dramatic chess game between Mills (Pitt) and Doe (Spacey).
Bordello of Blood (1996): Tales from the Crypt Presents gives us the four chambered box containing Lilith’s heart. Without this box we never would have had the hilarity and horror that ensues with the pairing of Angie Everhart (as Lilith) and Dennis Miller (as Rafe). What could possibly go wrong when you unleash Corey Feldman into a brothel disguised as a funeral parlor? Nonetheless, the chambered box bookends the story, appearing in the beginning as well as the end. Most interesting is the fact that the box gives its handler the choice of whether to reunite the quarters of the heart thus serving as a conduit for moral judgment.
Cube (1997): Do I really have to prove my point on this one? The film is called Cube for crying out loud. As real life Escape Rooms sweep across the nation, you can sense the allure of this mysterious life-sized box. An interesting experiment in Social Darwinism, Cube will surprise you with who is the fittest to survive the mysteries of this container.
The Village (2004): The boxes in these films serve to hide the past. They function as the physical manifestation of the desire to compartmentalize your problems. Like a child who locks away the trauma of abuse, these boxes also conceal things deemed too dangerous to deal with…including the terrifying prospect of not having control over one’s life.
Saw series: Saw (2004), Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006), Saw V (2008), and Saw VI (2009) all feature a box either as a trap or a task within the series. In a stand-alone scenario these boxes are typically vehicles for chaos and would not be overtly significant to the plot. However, together through the rapid fire releases of the Saw films, the audience became trained to look for and expect these boxes, each one taking us to the next level of horror through their coerced moral choices.
Sinister (2012): The box of films in Sinister also plays a central role in the second installment Sinister 2 (2015). The box itself evokes curiosity in those who come upon it. While the story suggests that the horror follows those families who move in and out of certain homes, I suggest that there would be no horror without the opportune placement of this vessel. The box contains the items needed to both create and spread the horror. Its innocuous presence perfectly lures in the next victim.
The Possession (2012): Aaahh, last but not least, the film that inspired this list. The Possession, like Gremlins, combines foreign components of mysticism inside a beautifully carved wooden box. While the thing inside this box does whisper a lot, it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the alluring hum of a mogwai. Dammit, I still want a mogwai.
[i] For a great article on the use of clowns, kids, and dolls in horror check out Alison Nastasi’s piece in Hopes & Fears http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/culture/film/216733-creepy-children-girls-dolls-clowns-horror-movies