While it may not have started with Psycho, the legendary film seemingly put the humble kitchen knife on the map as a go to weapon for villains in slasher movies.
In my new book Slasher the killer too uses a kitchen knife, playing with the notion of the classic weapon of choice deliberately, so I wanted to delve deeper into why this icon of horror is so popular.
Looking over just a few famous slasher franchises, knives pop up again and again. In Halloween, in Child’s Play, in Scream, itself possibly playing with the cliche. But why?
Well I believe the answer lies in psychology. Taking someone’s life is an intimate action, and using a knife requires the killer to get up close and personal with their victim. It’s not the same experience as using a gun, or even an axe or machete. The very action of stabbing someone brings the killer right up to their victim. Just watch a few death scenes from films such as those I have mentioned and you will see what I mean. Hell, watch a few episodes of Dexter. There’s always that element of closeness. It makes it scarier, the killer having such proximity. It’s visceral and brutal and causes a horribly intimate moment between killer and victim. Does the killer know the victim? Sometimes, sometimes not, but that element of intimacy cannot be ignored.
There’s also the fact that this closeness tends to go along with a killer that really enjoys this factor when killing. You can see them enjoying what they’re doing, which only adds to the impact.
I also believe that the familiarity we as humans have with knives adds to the scare level. It’s SUCH a familiar object. Pretty much every household has one, and in fact many victims in horror movies will reach for the block of kitchen knives to ready their defence against an imminent attack. Notice that the element of closeness is here again. What’s scarier than an everyday object turned against you to such nasty effect? It puts the horror right into your house, rather than being removed. It helps to put you in the shoes of the onscreen victim, even subconsciously, because it’s more relatable than say, one of the traps from Saw. Sure, those are nasty too, but they work in a different way.
So, go and watch a few slasher movies where the killer favours a knife, and see if you agree. Don’t you find the closeness that comes from a villain using a knife really adds to it’s impact?
Tell me though, if you were a villain, would you choose the humble kitchen knife too?