Ever since the days in which Norman Bates first wielded a knife in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Psycho, people have discussed the symbolism of the knife as a killer’s weapon in horror movies and horror literature. As someone who has written extensively on horror symbolism, I have realized that there are many aspects of the symbolism of knives as a weapon in horror movies and horror literature that most people have passed over.
Many people have been able to make the connection between the horror killer’s use of a knife and the ancient civilizations in South America, Africa, and Western Europe that used knives to create human sacrifices to long-forgotten gods.
Unlike these ancient civilizations, the killers in horror movies and horror literature use their knives to sacrifice their victims to their own pseudo-religious foci. While these killers might use their knives to sacrifice their victims to strange gods, they often sacrifice their victims to themselves in a comment to the world that they (the killer) is equal to a god.
Elimination of Ignorance
Some religions, like Buddhism, use the knife to symbolize the deliverance of ignorance from the body. The knife is used to sever the bonds that hold us back as people on our path to enlightenment.
One could easily relate this to the actions of Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13thmovies as he eliminates the teenagers that have displayed their ignorance through the horror movie by partaking in drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex. An entire new aspect can be added to the character of Jason Voorhees as a character who wields a knife to simply eliminate the ignorance of those that would potentially put themselves in harm’s way.
In all of horror movie history, and in the history of horror literature, Jason Voorhees might again be a very telling example under the point of revenge in the use of a knife as a horror weapon. In the first movie, Mrs. Voorhees used the knife as a weapon for revenge for the death of her son. In the second movie, Jason used the knife as an act of revenge for the death of his mother.
There are many cases in horror movies and in horror literature that could be referenced in this section of the symbolism of a knife as a weapon to kill. How many movies have we seen in which the embattled wife charges at her husband with a knife? How many characters have charged a burglar in the movies with a knife in hand?
Unlike a blunt weapon, a knife in the hand of a horror movie or horror story killer will almost always draw a lot of blood. Think of blood as a major symbol for life. The knife causes the life to flow away from the victims body as fast as the blood pools on the floor.
One cannot talk about the symbolism of a knife in a horror movie or horror literature without talking about the phallic symbolism of the weapon. Notice that most of the killers on screen that use knives use large knives. Michael Myers and Norman Bates both use butcher knives. Jason Voorhees uses as machete. Essentially, horror movie killers are rated by the size (i.e. length) of the knife that they use for the kill.
In many cases, horror movie and horror literature killers hide their knives until they are ready to prepare for the kill. Some horror killers (like the ones mentioned earlier) have knives that are so big, they have to walk around with them exposed at all times. Make any phallic references from this as you want.
The next time that you see a horror movie killer on the screen with a knife, or you read about one in a book, think about the symbolism of the knife as a weapon that were discussed here. Like most of the other aspects of horror symbolism, you might find that there are more points about the character that you never thought of before.