Where did the "to survive the curse you must pass it on" horror trope start?

I read a synopsis for the recent horror movie Smile and it seems to follow the same trope as movies like The Ring, Drag Me to Hell, It Follows, etc. of “The protagonist is cursed and will die within a short period of time. The only way to survive is to pass the curse on to someone else in some way.” Of course that provides plenty of moral quandary of who to pass the curse on to, and here’s usually some ironic twist at the end. But where did it start? It seems to be so common these days, but it doesn’t look like there’s a tropes page for it.

Casting the Runes, by M.R. James, 1911?

Or Thinner. :slight_smile:

“The Bottle Imp” by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1891 is not quite “will die soon if you don’t pass it on” but instead it’s “you will go to hell when you eventually die if you don’t pass it on.”

[edited to remove redundant info mentioned in the OP.]

Every time one of those movies is made, the moviemaker is released from the curse and it randomly attaches to the next.

I can believe it.

Like this short story I read about a guy who made a pact with the devil, but part of his deal was he had to publish a “Pact With the Devil” story. But none of the publishers would buy it. The subject was done to death. He even tried things like “Packed with the Devil’s Food”, but no sale.

The story was epistolary, in the form of a bunch of submittal and rejection letters to and from publishers, so in a way, the author managed to find a new way to write (and sell!) a PWTD story. meta!

I remember that story!
ETA:I think the inner story was “Packed With The Devil (Fish)”

I wish I could remember the title. I’m sure it is in one of my (far too many) short story collection books, but which one?

You may have read it reprinted in an Asimov edited collection, “100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories”.

Which is where I read it.

I have that one! Now I can reread it. Thanks!

(the curse has been lifted, Mw-haaa! I am free!)

This is the first thing I thought of when I saw the thread title. It may not be an exact match for what the OP is looking for, but it’s similar.

And the kicker there was that the only way to be rid of the bottle was to sell it, and you had to sell it for less than you bought it for, so eventually the person who bought it for a single cent would be screwed (unless they figured out a way out).

It seems awfully inefficient, though: How many hundreds or thousands of wishes is the devil granting there, just for a single soul in the end, that he might have gotten anyway? Seems to me there are plenty of folks out there who’d sell their soul for a single wish.

Wikipedia mentions a short narrative filed by the Grimms under the heading Spiritus Familiaris, which indeed fits the profile. The Bottle Imp is the oldest proper literary version I know.

You sell it to someone in a country with a currency value less than a cent.
Example, the Nigerian Naira is, at this moment, worth .0023 USD .

Isn’t this similar in concept to those chain / pyramid letters we used to get in the (snail) mail ? Of course there’s no telling when those got started.

“Please copy this letter and send it to X different people. Within D days, your fate will improve. In 1738, Edith von Marksburg forwarded the chain, and found gold ingots under her microwave oven the following week. In 1820, the Earl of Doncaster broke the chain and died of AIDS four days later.”

So once you received the letter you were basically cursed unless you forwarded it to somebody else, who was then cursed themself.

First movie I thought of was
Night of the Demon - Wikipedia 1957

Although that’s actually the second thing I thought of after the old wives tail about getting rid of syphilis by having sex with a virgin.

The latest trend is for someone to make the curse spread “Virally” online thus dooming the entire world to the curse at exactly the same time since they’d quickly run out of people to spread the curse too, kind of like a pyramid scheme.


Based on “Casting the Runes”, mentioned in post #2.

(Which you probably knew. I’m an auditor. I get paid to be anal retentive.)

there was a movie a few years ago that had a different take on the fact that a character could get possessed by an evil spirit in a month or so if you didn’t free yourself by infecting someone else with it by banging them …