Horror movie fans have borne witness to some of the most heinous acts ever to be inflicted upon the human form (fictionally). It's an inevitability of the genre. Of course as the audience becomes anesthetized to the splash, slash, and screams, a grisly game of carnival one upping becomes the answer to slumping ticket sales. The gore crashes upon our sensory shore in waves, ebbing as tastes become saturated, only to soak fans again half a decade later with renewed karo tides.
Because of this, every generation of fans will have a fresh high water mark of trauma to point at, proclaiming it to be the most ghastly of gooey grotesque. In selecting the worst ways to die in a horror film, certain criteria were required: scenes had to be impactful, they had to be brutal, gruesome, and most importantly they needed to stick with the viewer. Since not even Andre the Giant was an island (and I'm no brute squad), I've asked the help of a few friends from around the horror sphere. They brought a wide spectrum of splatter to the table, as well as a few surprises.
Mr. Lobo, horror host of Cinema Insomnia , on air personality for Zom-Bee TV, and grand master of the Sleepless Knights of Insomnia fan club, starts us off with a cornucopia of terrors:
Suffocated/eaten from the inside out by an impossible number of Cockroaches. In the Dark.
Seeing the the aftermath was bad enough. Mr. Pratt sits on the floor with his mouth agape as vermin of the insect variety erupts from his face. This guy was a germaphobe...the moments before in the dark with these things trying to hide inside him must have been beyond any nightmare.
THE BEYOND AKA SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH (1981)
Face eaten off by Spiders
Ok. Spiders are not insects--this is way different than the scene in Creepshow. You are lying on your back and incredibly slow puppets of Spiders with pipe cleaner legs crawl up on you and pull your face off in chunks. You know it's fake looking and impossible--yet, it's still happening to you because you awakened an ancient evil.
THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1962)
Burned alive in your own lab amidst the shrill laughter of your decapitated spouse.
Put yourself in Dr. Bill Cortner's shoes--this was to be the site of his greatest work. His "right hand" man bled out in the corner(a good runner up for horrible death) after getting his arm ripped off. His wife's head was about to be transplanted to the body of a sexy model. Now hating him for what he's done she coaxes The Creature in his closet, the sum total of his mistakes", to break out. It bites a chunk out of his neck and paralyzes him, sets the lab on fire, and leaves with the model. The flames engulf him along with the mocking laughter of his wife. In the original script it was even worse, as rats came out of the walls and attacked his head.
Head explodes from psychic energy
People discount a head explosion--writing them of as quick and painless. This must have been agonizing...energies probing and vibrating inside your head. You can't get to it--you cant stop it...like 10,000 ringing toothaches topped with a migraine in a microwave. At some point you know the head explosion is coming...that's probably the worst part. At least it's over when you go pop.
Mr. Lobo casts quite the wide net of unnerving cinematic demises. I'm pleased to see The Beyond (my favorite Fulci film, make his list. What amazes me is that he was able to narrow down the death selection from that film to just one; the acid face melting scene, and Schweick's crucifixion/lye burning opening could both put up their own fight for worst ways to die.
Our second contributor took an entirely different track. James Harris, fellow horror writer, and proprietor of Doc Terror, submitted a vividly descriptive treatise that may actually inflict phobias upon you.
Amicus' Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Maj. William Rogers in the story Blind Alleys.
Maj William Rogers subjects a home for the blind to abject cruelty, rationing their meals to the point of starvation, forbidding them additional blankets during the coldest time of the year and creates a near feudal state within a once comfortable shelter for men with nowhere to turn. Maj. William Rogers treats his dogs to the best meals and creature comforts that the very men in his charge should be afforded. This eventually leads to the death of one of the blind men, a good friend and one who should not have passed so soon.
The response to this military rule, this cruelty... rebellion. The blind men challenge Rogers' authority eventually incarcerating him in a closet for long period of time while they build something (he is unable to see just what). When he is released he comes to realize they have constructed an elaborate maze with which he is forced to make his way to freedom. The maze is lined with razor blades forcing him to cut himself if he wishes to escape. The whole time, Rogers hears his dogs barking... starving. He makes his way through the maze, bloody and tired only to realize that he is at the very door where the dogs are being kept. The blind men release the very hungry dogs on to the very bloody Major Rogers, his only escape is through the razor blade lined labyrinth... then they shut off the lights and force him to feel his way if he wishes to be free (as a blind man might be forced to feel his way), the hungry dogs making good use of their former master as food, a succulent bloody morsel.
You can watch the whole segment, starting at the 1:02:00 mark.
If James' encapsulation doesn't give you the shakes, you may be dead already (or a robot sent to covertly watch mankind in devious preparation for future conquest). For my own selections, two gruesome brutalities instantly sprung to mind; one for the way it languishes upon the point for far longer than viewers can comfortably stand, and the other for the way that it holds sway over the dark corners of my fear box to this day.
Eye gouged on an enormous splinter
This moment is unforgettably burned into the retinal rear wall of every eyeball to ever view it. Poor Paola (Olga Karlatos) shutters a wooden slatted door in an effort to bar the path of a pursuing zombies. In a cacophony of cracking island teak, her once reassuring barricade is transformed into a hellacious barb, on which her eye will shortly be gorged. As the zombie pulls her face ever closer to the instrument of Paola's impairment, there's an audience expectation that director Lucio Fulci will cut away at the final moment, either out of decency or due to the difficulty of realistically shish kabobing an eyeball on film. He doesn't relent, keeping the camera inches away as the audience screams inside louder than Paola does out loud.
Creepshow 2 (1987)
The Raft segment
Tom Savini scarred me for life (and I'm not talking about his cock-gun featured in From Dusk Till Dawn). The first time that I saw Creepshow 2 was around age ten. It's certainly a lesser sequel to a greater first installment, but The Raft segment has never left my consciousness. Four college kids swim out to a stationary raft on an abandoned lake, only to be menaced by a black gelatinous blob. Beefy Deke has the best chance of swimming to the shore and retrieving help, but the blob seeps up through the cracks in the raft, violently wrenching the college boy through the planks before horrifically digesting him. To this day, I do not swim in lakes.
With so many turbulent ways to pass beyond this mortal veil, we've only just scratch the surface of what the horror genre has traumatized audiences with over the past century. What would you say is the worst way to bite it in a horror film?
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
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