Wednesday, May 1, 2013

BH: Horror’s Most Effective (And Underused) Weapon: The Fire Extinguisher

Yet another article rescued from the gaping hole that was once

It’s late at night, and you’re home alone. Cue the music. You hear glass shatter downstairs. There’s someone in the house. What do you grab to defend yourself? Most horror movie characters go for the classics: a shiny kitchen knife or maybe a baseball bat. But you just might be better off grabbing that fire extinguisher from the corner. Here’s why:
The fire extinguisher is the most effective weapon in the horror genre.
A closer look at horror history bears out the truth of this statement. The fire extinguisher has many valuable practical uses, and the first is obvious: It can put out fires. With any luck, if you find yourself dealing with a conflagration, you’ll be able to heal as gracefully as Dr. Loomis post-HALLOWEEN II rather than wind up rocking the Freddy Krueger look. This can also help prevent you from burning down the entire Arctic compound every time you have to torch an alien entity you accidentally unearthed.
The second use is where things get interesting. You can put up a hell of a fight with just a fire extinguisher, as anyone who’s seen Gaspar Noé’s IRREVERSIBLE can attest. In the film’s most memorably brutal scene, a drunken fight is brought to a swift end when a character crushes another man’s skull using just the bar’s fire extinguisher. The sheer weight of the metal canister provides for a big blunt wallop, and its portable size makes it easy to handle. Whether you’re knocking the head off a cyborg in ALIEN or defending yourself against zombified schoolchildren in COOTIES, it’s an indispensable defense tool.
Sure, a baseball bat can do those things too, but you know what it can’t do? Get in their eyes. Sometimes you don’t need to knock an enemy down, you just need to incapacitate them enough to effect your escape. That’s where the nozzle comes in. A short-range weapon can now become a long-range spray of blinding foam, put to good use against the Nazi punks from GREEN ROOM, to name a memorable recent example. The spray technique has been used everywhere from 2009’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to TREMORS II: AFTERSHOCKS, and was even employed by Final Girl extraordinaire Rachel Carruthers in a tense moment from HALLOWEEN 4. And if you want a real demo putting the fire extinguisher through its paces, check out SHAUN OF THE DEAD’s excellent “Don’t Stop Me Now” fight sequence, where Kate Ashfield exercises its full capacity.
The fire extinguisher doesn’t just work against human opponents. It has a full range of uses against supernatural and otherworldly foes. Perhaps the most famous example of this is 1958’s THE BLOB, in which Steve McQueen & Co. freeze the fleshy monstrosity in its tracks using fire extinguisher spray. The scene is so iconic that citizens of the town where it was filmed host a Fire Extinguisher Parade at their yearly Blobfest.
Fire extinguishers helped other 50’s B-movie stars out of scrapes in THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD and TARANTULA!, but its usefulness is timeless. The extinguisher has also made quick work of the mutant Jackal Boy in 1989’s I, MADMAN, the living puppet Torch in 1991’s PUPPET MASTER II, and a zombie deer in James Gunn’s delightful 2006 film SLITHER.
It has been an eminently useful tool through the ages, and we haven’t even covered its ability to bust open padlocks (seen in countless movies) or break down doors (as helpfully demonstrated by Patrick Wilson in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2). It’s basically a Swiss Army knife. It’s even the same shade of cherry red! And I haven’t even mentioned the best thing about it: You already have one. Ninety percent of the people reading this article right now are within twenty yards of a fire extinguisher, whether they’re at home, at work, or in a restaurant. It’s convenient, it’s reliable, and it’s wickedly effective.
The wide range of movies covered in this articles barely even scratches the surface of the vast cinematic history that proves the incalculable value of the fire extinguisher in almost every situation (including WARM BODIES, CABIN FEVER 2, SORORITY ROW, THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, I SAW THE DEVIL, and even the kaiju movie ALL MONSTERS ATTACK). So next time you have to do battle with the forces of evil, put down that wimpy knife. Toss that bat into the wood chipper. Grab yourself a trusty fire extinguisher and pay respect to its under-appreciated, untapped power.


  1. Very nice post! I wish I could find a comprehensive list of movies with fire extinguisher scenes in them (other than the ones listed here).

    1. Thank you very much! I wrote this article mostly from my own collected observations, but one semi-useful resource is this tag on IMDb: