I like fear and suspense. Just like any movie critic. But I like blood and guts more. Your unscary horror film can go a long way toward satisfying my needs as long as it’s got a high body count and those bodies are dispensed with in a very disgusting and explicit manner. I’m a gorehound.
But I know that when I say that this is a list of the coolest horror movie killings ever, I’m inviting argument. I don’t care. Argue away. Gore is subjective and personal, anyway. One person’s really poignant brain-eating cannibal moment is another person’s meaningfully vicious disembowelment or ax in the face, you know?
So take this list for what it is, one horror fan’s favorite moments in mutilation, some bloodier and more in-your-face than others…
1. When Frankenstein’s monster throws the little girl into the pond and drowns her in “Frankenstein.” I remember seeing this movie for the first time on TV when I was very young and that scene was completely chopped out. For years I didn’t understand how the girl had died and imagined a much more mangled demise. I also wondered how you could be a kid and not run screaming from a nine-foot-tall green guy with bolts in his neck. She was a stupid kid. Anyway, only later in life did I see a restored version. But by then I was an adult and jaded by stuff like “Cannibal Holocaust.” And even though it’s completely non-explicit it’s still a great one.
2. When the alien decides to take a shortcut out of John Hurt’s body in “Alien.” He thinks it’s just indigestion from the space food, but then BAM he’s a human ziplock bag ripped open by the baby alien. And here’s the thing about this scene: it’s old now and everyone knows it. Countless gruesome deaths have taken place on-screen since this one. And every time I see it, it still shocks me, freaks me out and makes me laugh out loud, mostly because of how fast the monster makes its getaway. But also for how mind-blowingly sudden and gross it is. If there were a hall of fame for nastiness, this would be in it followed closely behind by the moment when E.G. Marshall’s body erupts with cockroaches in “Creepshow.”
3. When Jeannine Taylor takes the ax in the face, when Kevin Bacon gets stabbed in the neck through a bed, and when Betsy Palmer gets her head machete-chopped off in “Friday the 13th.”
Also when the couple gets speared mid-sex in “Friday the 13th, Part 2” and when Paul Kratka gets his eyeballs popped out of his head in “Friday 13th, 3D.” I credit “Alien” and these early “F13” movies with stoking my interest in point-of-impact horror death. Subtlety and cut-aways suddenly lost their charm for me. I wanted to see the deathblow. In 3D if I could get it. And “Friday the 13th” usually delivered.
4. When Margot Kidder gets stabbed with a glass unicorn, and when Lynne Griffin is strangled, her head wrapped in a plastic bag, and her body propped up in the window of the sorority house in “Black Christmas.” They’re remaking this one and I’m not happy about it. Some people watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year to get them in holiday mood. I watch “Black Christmas.” I like to introduce it to new people who’ve never seen it before and then wait for them to curse me the next day because they thought they were immune to all horror movie fear, only to discover they were spooked by normal house noises all night long. Because that creaking? It could be the killer wandering around the house… just waiting.
5. When Kristy Swanson uses evil robot strength to throw a basketball at Anne Ramsay’s head, causing it to explode — the head that is, not the basketball — in the crappy but appropriately titled “Deadly Friend.” The rest of the movie sucks. But a basketball that makes a human head explode? That’s almost “Scanners”-level good. And speaking of “Scanners,” when Michael Ironside makes a guy’s head explode in that movie, it’s better than anything in “Deadly Friend,” including the basketball moment.
6. When Jaws gets that first skinny-dipping girl and the kid on the inflatable raft in “Jaws.” I think the crew called the fake shark “Bruce,” but they never named that shark on-screen, so I call him Jaws. Every living creature, mechanical or not, deserves a name. It’s a respect thing. And though the part where Jaws chomps Robert Shaw to death is great, it’s those first anonymous deaths that show less that are more dread-filled and scary.
7. When anyone dies in any of the “Saw” movies. This series really raises the bar on vividly imagined and carefully designed brutality and torture. The movies aren’t especially scary, but they bring it in the nasty killing-machine department. I’m slobbering right now to see “Saw III.” But because those jerks at LionsGate aren’t showing it to critics, I have to wait and buy a ticket like everyone else. Don’t they know that I’m different? That I would rather see that than “Babel”?
Anyway, the same goes for the “Final Destination” movies. Seriously, every single elaborately orchestrated death in this series satisfies. The plots are just whatever. Death is stalking a bunch of interchangeable kids. But the creators put their thinking caps on for the killings. Everyone talks about them being Rube Goldberg-esque. And they are — intricate and, at times, hilarious.
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One of my fondest movie-going memories of the recent past involved seeing “FD2” at Los Angeles’s last remaining drive-in. And it wasn’t just the drinking that made it awesome, it was the group cheers that erupted from the collection of cars every time a new wooden teen got chopped down.
8. When Joe Pilato gets his legs torn off by zombies in “Day of The Dead.” As a sequel it’s not anywhere as cool as “Night Of The Living Dead” or “Dawn of The Dead,” but this scene wins by virtue of its victim’s defiance. As the undead drag his lower extremities away to eat, he shouts, “Choke on ‘em!” It’s the kind of presence of mind you always tell yourself you’ll have when actual zombies decide to start gnawing on you someday.
9. When Janet Leigh gets stabbed in the shower in “Psycho.” For its shocking editing alone it deserves to be here, a series of cuts so precise that it tricks you into thinking you’re seeing more murder than you really are. But it still moves me because of uniquely personal reasons. Like “Frankenstein,” I saw it when I was like eight. That was dumb.
My introduction to this movie happened to coincide with the presence of a Peeping Tom in our neighborhood. He’d stand in your backyard and watch you through your windows. Even boring stuff like dinner. It didn’t matter what you were doing. One night, my brother went to our dining room window and saw him. The guy jumped over our fence and ran into the woods behind our house. Later we found out it was one of the neighbors and they shipped him off to a mental hospital. Still, though, that’s my “Psycho” association and to this day I’m something of a nervous showerer because of it.
10. When Jennifer Jason Leigh gets torn in half by two big rig trucks moving in opposite directions in “The Hitcher.” She gets tied to them by The Hitcher, is why. And it’s really not a Jennifer Jason Leigh performance unless she suffers somehow. Someone’s always doing something horrible to her in movies. But you always think, “Wow she was great.” Even in two pieces.
Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of “Exile In Guyville.” Find him at www.imdavewhite.com.
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