When it comes to horror films, everyone can think of one famous and evil object that’s either a grim warning or bringer of doom. A few of the more famous could be the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s saw or Jack Torrance’s axe in The Shining, as well as The Hellraiser’s puzzlebox that unleashes nightmares on anyone unwise enough to open it, or the skin-covered Book of the Dead (The Evil Dead). More subtly, The Blair Witch’s childlike stickmen scattered in the forest always create a sense of unease, and you might think of the otherwise innocent button which wreaks havoc in Drag Me to Hell. So how do you think of similarly memorable props for your own shorts which are disturbing but not for an obvious reason?
Maybe you have a nurse’s ID in fictitious London hospital St Timothy’s, or any creepy love letters written about graveyards?
Real life antiques can also help. My short Grandfather had many of my favourite inherited gifts, including a photo of my great-grandmother on her wedding day in 1918, as well as her monogrammed silver hairbrush and cup. The final air of 1890s MR Jamesian atmosphere was created by using her grandfather clock that stopped five minutes from midnight. The only one I couldn’t cram in the script was my inherited seen-better-days 1900s chandelier, so I made up for it by renting a 1890s Miss Havisham style ruined wedding dress, to create a look of shabby grandeur.
Props can be entertainingly over the top, and a personal favourite is a nondescript house sign from Fright Corner reading “Copse Hall”, which is eventually transformed by ghostly goings-on in blood to read the more demonic “Corpse Hell”.
Producer and director Mark Benmore says he used very straightforward props for his horror short Fugly, featuring a young man visiting a woman’s house on a first date and seeing something unusual in her kitchen.
He explains: “We wanted to use very everyday prop of a kid’s scribbled artwork on a kitchen wall, which seems on the surface very innocent and normal, and then becomes more disturbing. Finally you realise right at the end the drawings are foretelling the gory fate one of the characters.”
Andrew Osei-Karmen, who is acting in and producing horror short Loving Emily, says he found that planning to shoot in a castle has a main advantage. He explains of the historic location being used next year:
“We didn’t need many specific props, as the castle itself is enough of a backdrop to not really need anything else. The characters are living in their worst nightmare, but it’s also the best horror location they could be in.
“There is a maze in the garden which was very atmospheric, worn stone statues, authentic armour and swords, and of course the forest surrounding the castle itself, making escape difficult.
“One scene from Loving Emily is inspired by the famous scene in Dracula when Jonathan Harker is shaving in his mirror in the castle and the Count suddenly says good morning. Despite the fact the Count is standing so close to him Harker can’t see him in the mirror, but doesn’t realise why until it’s too late.
“One prop that will be very important is the mirror that our two leads, my character Nicholas and Clara stand in front of as they speak to each other. Or rather Nicholas sees himself in it and sees that he can’t see Clara, as she doesn’t have a reflection either – and he suddenly realises why.”
Writer and director Fredi Nwaka also filmed in a castle for his horror comedy The Living Dead.
Fredi Nwaka said: “When you shoot in a haunted castle there are horror-orientated props everywhere. Our characters find an ominous china doll, a haunted wheelchair, some 1900 century treasure and a chandelier moving on its own! There’s also a curse which is put on one of our main characters which they have to overcome.
“In my upcoming feature, On The Other Foot, which is a dramedy with a social conscience, the most vital prop is a black bead which is given to the anti-hero Billy Pitcher. The bead turns him into a different person and so he sees some of the mistakes he’s been making in his life. In the end it helps transform him into a better person.”