The good news? It’s only a movie. The bad news? It was inspired by a real-life cursed object. And don’t think you’re safe just because you don’t watch horror movies. Cursed objects appear in every film genre—adventure, fantasy, comedy, romance, drama. From Indiana Jones to Pirates of the Caribbean, Jumanji to The Mask to Harry Potter. And while most of the time, you can lay your head down at night restful in the idea that the cursed object in that movie you watched was the fanciful notion of an undercredited screenwriter, it’s not always the case.
The Dybbuk Box: Possession (2012)
There is no stranger cursed object story than the one wrapped around the infamous Dybbuk Box. It involves the Holocaust, eBay, a hoax, a Nevada museum, reverse-aging, a famous ghost hunter, and Post Malone. So, of course, a movie was made about it. Unfortunately, the movie skips all the most interesting parts of the real-life story to tell a simple tale of a spooky wooden box and the evil spirit of Jewish lore that lives inside it and how that box can make divorce very hard. But can also possibly heal one.
The Tomb of Tutankhamen: The Mummy (1932)
Out of the entire Universal Studios pantheon of classic monsters, only one is real. And it’s not opera phantoms or reanimated dead people or aristocratic blood drinkers. It’s the Mummy. And we can thank the cursed tomb of King Tut for that. The discovery of the tomb in 1922 and the subsequent discovery of its curse (when the man who funded the dig contracted blood poisoning after nicking his neck shaving) inspired Carl Laemmle Jr. to create a movie of Egyptian horrors and inspired its screenwriter, the undercredited John L. Balderson, to base it on his experience as a correspondent covering the King Tut dig. So we got Boris Karloff shambling around in bandages all because of a shaving accident.
The Hope Diamond: Titanic (1997)
The Titanic has a curse story in its lore. After all, how could one of the most famous tragedies in history not have a curse story in its lore? According to the legend, it was carrying in its hold when it sank the infamous Unlucky Mummy (which isn’t actually a mummy, but just the painted lid of a mummy sarcophagus). Apparently, James Cameron skipped that bit of legend and instead found inspiration in what might be the most famous cursed object of all time: The Hope Diamond. The Heart of the Ocean jewel was based on it. Fortunately, the Hope Diamond isn’t at the bottom of the ocean with Leonardo DiCaprio right now. You can see it at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The Ring of Silvianus: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (2001-2013)
This story deserves five epic movies to tell it, but I’ll try to get it done in a paragraph. In 1745, a gold ring was found by a farmer in Britain tilling his fields. It was engraved with a blessing and bore the name Senicianus. Not far away, at an archaeological site called Dwarf’s Hill, a tablet was found engraved with a curse on a ring and the man Senicianus who stole it, by a man named Silvianus. When archeologist named Mortimer Wheeler was examining Dwarf’s Hill, he needed an expert in Anglo-Saxon. He found one at nearby Oxford by the name John Ronald Ruel Tolkien, who would later release his book The Hobbit with its cursed gold ring complete with inscription. Oh, and Peter Jackson made a bunch of obscure films about it.
The Annabelle Doll: Annabelle (2013), Annabelle: Creation (2017), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Annabelle, in real life, is a vintage Raggedy Ann doll claimed to be possessed by the spirit of a dead girl who tries to kill people and really hates priests. And, even though she has lived in a wooden box in Connecticut for the past few decades, she almost has a longer film resume than Tom Hanks (although she’s played by something a little more scary and lot less intellectual propertyish). Annabelle has three movies based on her, plus cameos and mentions in at least five other movies, including…Aquaman. And with the death of her caretaker Lorraine Warren last year, who knows where she’ll end up. I’d advise not buying any dolls at any yard sales or flea markets in Connecticut for a while.
J.W. Ocker is a travel author and novelist focused on the strange and macabre. His book Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World’s Most Infamous Items comes out on September 15, 2020. Get it. It could save your life.