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K Is for Knife

Psycho_shower
The big question to ask of the knife is: who’s doing the holding?

Knives can be brandished menacingly or grasped desperately, becoming symbols of dangerous power on the one hand, and pathetic weakness on the other. Think of (sorry, here I go again, but it IS the best example) Barbara clutching that kitchen knife that she finds early on in Night of the Living Dead. Or Daniel Travis holding onto his scuba knife as he and Blanchard Ryan drift about impotently in Open Water. How much good is either knife going to do these characters? None at all.

Which is, of course, just the point. The knife is the perfect weapon for a doomed protagonist who is making a desperate-but-essentially-empty bid for strength and autonomy. Because we can’t imagine Barbara doing in so much as a loaf of bread with that giant knife, it becomes a kind of emblem of her inability to deal with the horrible things that are happening out beyond the walls of the farmhouse. The same goes for Daniel, who – in classic Weak Husband style – explains to Blanchard that though he knows the knife is of little use against the sharks beneath them, he just feels better holding it. Linus often said the same of his blanket.

Strength or weakness. Canniness or confusion. Good or evil. The knife is ready to go either way in horror films, or – as films like Carrie, The Omen, and the whole Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises are there to prove – both.

Best potent-and-dangerous knife in all of horror? The one that the shower curtain parts for in the original Psycho

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