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Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

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Laugh if you will, but horror movies are an art form. It’s extremely difficult to get them right.

At a conservative estimate, roughly 90 percent of the horror movies I’ve seen have been complete crap. I was thrilled that The Possession was not one of them (some, of course, will disagree).

The basics of the plot are this: newly divorced dad brings his two daughters to an estate sale; youngest daughter is attracted to a strange wooden box; family gets spooky warning about the box before they leave; box is haunted or possessed and begins to drastically affect the youngest daughter and her family.

What added to the creepiness of this movie for me was the legend behind the possessed item, which is known as a Dybbuk box (or as I like to call it, the dik-dik box).

Back in 2004, a man posted an unusual item for sale on Ebay. The owner of a furniture-refinishing store, he had bought the Dybbuk box, which he believed was a wine cabinet, for his mother’s birthday. Planning to refinish it, he left the box in the basement of his store.

About a half hour later, he received a call on his cell from his employee, whom he’d left in charge. She was hysterical, screaming that someone was breaking glass and swearing in the workshop. She claimed to be locked in before the man’s cell phone went dead. He returned to his shop at top speed, only to find the iron security gates locked. His employee was curled on the floor in the corner of his office, sobbing.

Even though no animals had ever been allowed in his shop, the man was overpowered by the pungent odour of cat urine when he ventured downstairs. All of the light bulbs in the basement were broken. Nine incandescent bulbs had been broken in their sockets, and 10 four-foot fluorescent tubes were lying shattered on the floor.

There was only one entrance to the basement, so the man should have seen the intruder as whoever it was attempted to flee, but no one was there. His levelheaded employee, who had been with him for two years, left while he was exploring the basement. She refused to come back or even speak to him about what had happened.

Not connecting the strange events to the Dybbuk box, the man gave it to his mother as planned. While she examined her gift, he left her to get ready for lunch, only to have another employee come for him in a panic five minutes later.

His mother was sitting in a chair beside the cabinet. Her face had no expression, but tears were streaming down her cheeks. No matter how he tried to get her to respond, she would not. She could not. His mother had suffered a stroke, and ended up with partial paralysis, losing her ability to speak and form words. However, she could understand things being said to her, and could respond by pointing to letters of the alphabet to spell out words.

When her son visited her in the hospital the following day, she teared up and spelled out the words: N-O G-I-F-T. He assured her that he had given her a gift for her birthday, but she became even more upset and spelled out the words: H-A-T-E G-I-F-T.

According to the man’s Ebay listing, misfortune followed everyone who owned the box. Reoccurring nightmares of a demonic hag, mysterious rashes and reddened eyes, and the overpowering smell of cat urine are just some of the symptoms the man reported. When he began to notice shadowy figures in his home, he knew he had to get rid of the box. After he sold the object on Ebay, his chronic sickness vanished, but similar ailments befell the next two owners, until the box was taken to a “secret location” and locked up.

It could be an elaborate hoax designed to push an item on Ebay, but I’ve seen interviews with the original owner and he seems extremely sincere. All three of the owners were interviewed on the show Paranormal Witness. In an attempt to test the quick-sale theory, I put a teddy bear on Ebay with an accompanying story about how it was haunted. I guess I did too good a job. Though I had some inquiries, in the end, everyone was too scared to buy it!

Have you heard of the Dybbuk box? Do you think cursed items are real, or was it a hoax? Have you seen Possession, and if so, did you like it? What would you do if you received the box as a gift?

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31 Comments

  1. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    Haven’t seen the Possession, but I have heard of the box. Whatever it is, best to keep it locked up. (Probably in the same warehouse where they keep the Ark of the Covenant.)

    Reply
    • JH

      So true, Alex! The guy who owns it now refuses to sell it or let anyone see it.

      Reply
  2. Chrys Fey

    I believe that items can be haunted if the original owner was evil and has a spevual, weird fondness for it. Maybe the guy should’ve tried smudging it with sage to cleanse it. I wonder if that would’ve worked.

    You and your teddy bears. Haha! I love that. Exactly what the author of a book called The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave should do. ; )

    Reply
    • JH

      Yeah, and that was before I’d even written the book, Chrys. Guess it was a sign of things to come.

      The first owner in the story had several religious leaders take a look at the box, including a Rabbi, as the Dybbuk is supposedly Jewish. None of the “exorcisms” worked.

      Reply
  3. Anna

    I have to see this movie. If even a tenth of it contains the atmosphere you created writing about the box’s history, I’m going to have a blast. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Anna. What happens in the movie is very different from what happened in real life, but I still thought it was quite good.

      I’ve never understood why Hollywood has to exaggerate something that is already creepy beyond belief!

      Reply
  4. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that movie and enjoyed it. I hear what you’re saying about good horror movies. Sometimes they’re just plain bad, but sometimes they’re close, just missing the mark. I saw THE VISIT recently and thought there was an excellent opportunity for some true terror but it just went off the rails.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, haven’t seen that one! The most heartbreaking are the ones that are amazing, but then pooch the ending.

      Good endings are hard to find in horror novels as well.

      Reply
  5. Roland Yeomans

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    No doubt there is such evil out there that it seeps into physical objects. Best to err on the side of caution, right?

    Reply
    • JH

      I would say so. I have no urge to own the Dybbuk box, that’s for sure.

      Reply
    • JH

      I did, Stephanie! That was a creepy story too. I wouldn’t have been buying that painting, but I was definitely curious.

      Reply
  6. Frank

    I saw Stephen King talking about his own writing and I think what he said applies to scary movies as well. I’m paraphrasing but he basically said we become desensitized to it. Not because of how exposed we are to it but because we lose our imagination for such things.

    I remember watching Children of the Corn through my hands. I watched it again a few years ago and I was shocked by how much it didn’t move me at all.

    Scary stories are so much better when we’re young and a lot of us try hard to get that feeling back. But I think it’s why so many movies resort to putting children in danger or using startle tactics rather than building fear through suspense.

    As for the box, I don’t care if it’s a hoax or not. I’m not willing to chance it. Bury it and let it rot.

    Reply
  7. Frank

    BTW, I read that alone at 1130 at night and it creeped me out. Thank you for that.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a great compliment, Frank! Thanks.

      I know what you mean about being more easily scared as a kid. I used to find Salem’s Lot terrifying. As an adult, it was boring and silly.

      Still, I have an appreciation for great films in the genre, like The Others and The Sixth Sense. And The Descent still makes me jump, no matter how many times I watch it.

      Reply
  8. Birgit

    This sounds creepy to say the least. What is in that box? I can’t quite make it out. I am not sure if I believe it but, I would never buy it or want it in my home.

    Reply
    • JH

      1 1928 U.S. Wheat Penny; 1 1925 U.S. Wheat Penny; One small lock of blonde hair (bound with string); One small lock of black/brown hair (bound with string); One small granite statue engraved and gilded with Hebrew letters (I have been told that the letters spell out the word SHALOM); One dried rosebud; One golden wine cup; One very strange black cast iron candlestick holder with octopus legs.

      Reply
  9. Dianne Salerni

    Now I want to see this movie, but I’m also scared to see it.

    I’ve heard of a dybbuk before, but not this dybbuk box.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s a great movie, Dianne. I think you’d like it.

      Reply
  10. C. Lee McKenzie

    I haven’t heard of this box, but I have heard of other items coming into someone’s possession and the unfortunate consequences that followed.

    Hey, guess what? I wrote a story about something very similar. Totally forgot about it until I read this post. I need a better system for keeping track of what I write. No. I need a system.

    Reply
    • JH

      A system is a great idea, especially if you write that much! 🙂

      Reply
  11. Jason Haxton (JH)

    Hello JH –
    I am glad you liked the movie – actually Sam Raimi pulled back a good bit on the frights and material – he was afraid that he might offend the Jewish Community. Also, he was not sure he would get another chance on the concept of a Dybbuk so he took a scatter gun approach to my book’s chapters (he was not happy with that either). Since the Jewish Community embraced the movie positively and it was a #1 Box Office Success. Expect to see more Dibbuk soon. He wants to go back to the beginning and go chapter by chapter – for franchise. The next script is done, the Director is hired (a secret who that is to the public right now) and Lionsgate was approached to distribute again. Once that is decided – the next batch of actors will be hired. Then… more Dibbuk PLEASSSSSE!! Jason Haxton – Caretaker of the Dibbuk Box.

    Oh one thing more – Stephen King’s son Joe Hill was so intrigued by the Dibbuk Box story that his very first novel “The Heart Shaped Box” (which was a huge success for him – stole liberally from the real Dibbuk Box story). I should know I read his book and much in the early part was lifted. Others sensed it too. Link: http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/mysteryreviews/fr/heartShapedBox.htm

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Jason! I have to read your book. Thanks so much for commenting. Were you the original owner of the box?

      What a weird coincidence…I’m reading “Heart-shaped Box” right now, I kid you not. I had no idea they were related, but I’m not surprised Hill was inspired by it. It’s a great story that needs no embellishment.

      Reply
    • Jason Haxton

      Thanks JH –

      I am the fourth owner of the Dibbuk Box:
      1. Havela created it.
      2. Kevin who bought it as a gift for his mother Ida.
      3. Iosif the college student
      4. I bought it from Isoif.

      I have buried it to keep it from others who might want it to gain power from it in some manner, or use it to make requests – wishes. As mentioned the next movie on the Dibbuk Box is well underway.

      Not to knock Joe Hill’s book – it is a solid read and he is able to draw from his life of rock and roll experiences and contacts growing up with access to these rock stars – from his dad’s cult status I would guess. So amazing rich detail into the character.
      More than just the concept of buying a cursed object – Ghost for Sale on the Internet – which is the beginning of the story – with a lengthy auction story – like the Dibbuk Box. There are a slew of little things like the box originally being kept in a sewing room (as Havela did), the original item’s owner wanted to be buried with their object – Havela the Dibbuk Box – in Hill’s book the step-father wanted to be buried in the suit. Families were talked out of doing the deceased’s wishes at burial time. Acrid odors associated with the purchase -the ripe odor of corruption -something dead and spoiling. Tracking down the past owner in person. You had to be a willing payee – you bought the ghost and were now stuck with it. The heavy atmosphere a physical weight since the item’s arrival. The step-father ghost’s return to account for unfinished life’s business (that is the definition of a Dybbuk or cleaving spirit – a soul that is restless and returns to finish some business). And such… it taps a lot into the tone of the Dibbuk Box.
      I am glad he found inspiration.
      So enjoy!
      Jason

      Reply
      • JH

        Hey Jason,

        Even with those similarities, I would never have recognized any part of the Dybbuk box story in that book if you hadn’t pointed it out. I liked the book, but it was definitely flawed. Still, a mostly enjoyable read.

        Looking forward to the next movie. Do you still have any issues with the box at all now that you’ve put it somewhere secure? And how accurate was the Paranormal Witness episode?

        Reply
        • Jason Haxton

          Since the box creator, Havela’s prayer for understanding the Holocaust has been answered the box stays calm as long as it is left in the ground (drawing off its energy). I will think that the SyFy’s Paranormal Witness was one of the best cable shows on the topic. It shows everyone involved – telling their perspective.

          Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures will have a new show out in a month or so.

          Best – Jason

          Reply
          • JH

            I’m so glad to hear that, Jason. I love Paranormal Witness. It’s good to know that their reporting was legitimate.

  12. Madilyn Quinn

    I’ve never encountered a haunted object and I bought a Ouija board from an estate sale where the owners had died in house. I know Ouija boards are complete BS, but still… I had a bunch of folks get freaked out about that.

    Is that Hebrew in the box? Maybe there’s some sort of Jewish mythos about a box? Now I need to look into that…

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Madilyn,

      Yes, a Dybbuk box is Jewish, and that is Hebrew on the back. From what I can recall, Dybbuk boxes are believed to contain evil spirits. The Jewish angle was really played down in the movie, so as not to offend.

      I’ve had some creepy experiences with Ouija boards! https://www.jhmoncrieff.com/o-is-for-ouija/

      Reply
    • Jason Haxton

      Ummm… as the caretaker of this demented object, you might want to do a little more digging on the Jewish aspect from my website on it: http://www.dibbukbox.com it is fascinating. Jason

      Reply

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