In a comedy we remember the gags. In a drama, the moments that made us cry. But in a horror film we remember the kill scenes! The scenes that make the audience gasp in terror, turn away in disgust and if the filmmakers are lucky, run screaming from the theatre.
Over the years the horror genre has evolved. From the early days of silent German expressionism in films like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” to the James Whale Monster films of the 1930s and 40s; to the Hammer classics, gothic horror. Horror and sci-fi looked to invasions (alien and radioactive monsters) during the Cold War.
Religious horror dominated the late 60s and 70s thanks to the Unholy Trinity (Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen). The modern slasher film was born in the 70s with films like Black Christmas and Halloween. Horror went international in the late 90s and 2000s with countless adaptations of Asian films like Ringu and Ju-On. Recently we went through the “torture-porn” era thanks to directors like James Wan and Eli Roth.
What unites horror fans of any genre is our ability to tolerate what others won’t on screen: the brutal, often disgusting killing of people in horrible ways for our bloody enjoyment. Sit back and enjoy the 32 Best Horror Movie Kills.
32. Final Destination 2 (2003 – David R. Ellis)
Scene: I need a barb wire fence like I need a POLE in the head!
When Final Destination came out in 2000 it cornered the market on inventively grisly ways to kill people. In many ways, the Specter of Death took the mantle from Jason of the Friday the 13th series.
The plot in the original was simple; a kid has vision of his plane crashing and wakes up and gets his friends thrown off. Death comes to collect “those who got away” and collects them in some horrible ways. Each sequel attempted to up the ante in terms of on screen violence. By part 3 the already “over the top” kills were getting stale and too ridiculous to care.
The series hit its best strides (and by that I mean death scenes) in 2003’s sequel. First is the unbelievable highway accident vision that introduces us to our new cast of characters. But for my money, the best scene in a series filled with ludicrous kills is when Kat (Keegan Connor Tracy) somehow survives a car crash where a pipe impaled her headrest.
As workers try to free her she lights up a cigarette. When they slam the chainsaw into her car it triggers the airbag sending her head back THROUGH the pipe killing her. The cigarette drops in a pool of gasoline triggering an explosion that sends a barbwire fence shooting across a field slicing Rory (Jonathan Cherry) into thirds. This is just a totally extraordinary clusterfuck of awesome gore and violence. The best part is that after 2 horrifying deaths by inconceivable coincidences, the other characters have faces of NO shock whatsoever.
31. House of Wax (2005 – Jaume Collet-Serra)
Scene: Does this movie need Paris Hilton? Yeah, like a hole in the head
The second remake of House of Wax (best done by Vincent Price in the early 50s) gets a bad rap for one reason: Paris Hilton. It really is a cool little horror flick with some legit creepiness, a cool looking bad guy and killer special effects. Unfortunately the casting of Hilton (a pariah from sex tapes and shitty reality tv) made critics take an instant dump on the film. At very least she was cast with full intention of giving audiences what they wanted; a gruesome death scene.
After her boyfriend is killed, the waxed faced killer stalks to her to an abandoned garage. As she peeks to see where he is, he hurls a sharp pole through the car window through her head; the impact sending her down on the pole, slowly sliding face-first down. As one last insult, Waxy-face steps on her head to slide the pole out. It’s almost worth dealing with her acting just to watch this scene. It wouldn’t be as cool if it were any other “actress”.
30. High Tension (Haute Tension) – (2003 – Alexandre Aja)
Scene: Staircase decapitation
For some reason, the French have cornered the market on sick gory violent horror. This film, along with others (Frontier(s), Martyrs) has gone to extremes to showcase awful torturous violence. When a film starts with a trucker receiving “road head” and then TOSSING THE HEAD OUT THE WINDOW, you know you are in for something special in terms of gore. Aja did NOT disappoint.
Marie and Alexa are vacationing at Alexa’s parents’ house when they are stalked by an unknown trucker who svagely kicks in the door and goes to town on Alexa’s parents first. Starting downstairs with her dad, he wedges his head between the staircase and using a heavy piece of furniture as a battering ram, severs the head sending blood spewing everywhere. It is a total WTF moment in a film that just keeps upping the ante. There’s a great scene with a table saw at the end, but I won’t spoil that.
29. You’re Next (2013 – Adam Wingard)
Scene: Blender, anyone need a blender?
You’re Next was one of the biggest surprise of 2013. It starts pretty routinely for a modern horror film. A family is having a reunion at their reclusive country home when a group of masked killers invade using crossbows, axes and other weapons. Midway through the film, the writers pulled a 180. It goes from random killers invade a house to survival film in which Erin (Sharni Vinson) turns the tide and uses a meat pounder to… pound one of the animal masked villains to death. We soon find the killers were hired by one of the children to kill their family to ensure they receive the inheritance. Erin has other plans.
After offing another animal-masked villain, Felix and Zee (the son and girlfriend who arranged the killers) attack Erin stabbing her through the shoulder. With no other weapon around Erin grabs the blender and smashes it over Felix’s head and then (in a moment that made me scream with joy in the theatre) she sticks the blender on his head and TURNS IT ON!!! You want more? She pulls the knife out of her own shoulder and stabs Zee right on top of the head. GIRL POWER!
28. Cabin in the Woods (2012– Drew Goddard)
Scene: The elevator from hell
Cabin in the Woods is simultaneously the biggest homage to the genre, and the most original genre film in years. Five nubile, weed smoking college students head to a cabin in the woods where an unknown force is dictating their demise. How will they die? What demonic force will kill them? PLACE YOUR BETS!!!
When the two remaining kids make their way into a secret elevator they realize that they are pawns in a much bigger game. Their elevator is surrounded by other elevators each containing a creature, monster, or nightmare that could’ve been sent to kill them (they chose redneck zombie family). They get off and shelter themselves inside a control room and press the red “purge” button.
When the soldiers are sent to stop them, they’re greeted by EVERYTHING! A wolfman, a giant man eating snake, flying bats, a demonic clown, a family of masked killers, a hellish cenobite, zombies, etc; you name it, it’s killing someone. To a lifelong horror fan this one scene was like all our dreams (or nightmares) come true.
27. Dead Alive (Braindead) (1992 – Peter Jackson)
Scene: Lawnmower massacre
Nearly a decade before he took over Middle Earth and became a living Hobbit, Peter Jackson was a chubby little horror director making odd ball movies filled with crazy characters and gallons of gore. The most impressive and blood splattered is “Dead Alive” in which Lionel’s overbearing Mum, Vera is bit by a Sumatran rat monkey and the bite seemingly kills her. Unfortunately she comes back as a zombie and starts killing everyone, and poor Lionel (Timothy Balme) realizes soon the entire town is being infected by his grotesque zombie mum.
It’s up Lionel to slay the zombies and take back his house and for that he needs a special weapon… a lawnmower! According to IMDB, the final climatic battle was the bloodiest in film history using 300 liters of blood pumping at 5-gallons a second! The best part; a bonus kill in the kitchen as the baby zombie rips through woman head. As you watch this clip, just think… Oscar winning director!
26. Saw (2004 – James Wan)
Scene: Reverse bear trap
You know you’ve hit it big when the studios are greenlighting sequels after your film’s opening weekend. James Wan and Leigh Whannel crafted a slick original horror film in 2004 that’s way more psychological that gory and horrific. It was the Saw sequels that upped the ante and helped create the “torture porn” subgenre. In reality the filmmakers were making homage to Italian giallos of director Dario Argento and others.
The franchise is known for its complex traps that leave victims to make choices that decide their own fates and sometimes the fates of others. The best trap, the most iconic of the series and perhaps the goriest scene in the first film is Amanda’s reverse bear trap. Shawnee Smith plays Amanda and wakes up with her head locked in a medieval looking contraption. She’s told by Jigsaw (through his famed puppet) that in order to escape she’ll need the key located in the stomach of her cell mate lying on the floor. “Live or die, make your choice.” Amanda grabs a scalpel and murders her cellmate frantically digging through his intestines to find the key to barely escape her own jaw-dropping (exploding) death.
25. American Psycho (2000 – Mary Harron)
Scene: Hey Paul! Can I “Axe” you something?
Christian Bale became an instant mainstream star thanks to his performance as the wonderfully psychotic sociopath (or is he a sociopathic psycho?) Patrick Bateman in this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s sadistic novel, in which a wealthy trendy pop-culture loving and materialistic lawyer is actually a complete psycho; dismembering bodies, hurling chainsaws while naked, and murdering homeless people in the street. It’s the little things to drive Patrick to such extremes.
When fellow lawyer Paul gets a slightly nicer business card, or gets reservations in the hot spot Patrick couldn’t, he needs to go. Recent Oscar winner, Jared Leto is Paul who drunkenly accepts an invite up to Patrick’s swag bachelor pad. The room looks like it was designed by Dexter; plastic wrap everywhere. After calming Paul with some hip Huey Lewis tunes, he surprises him with a wonderfully cheery axe murder.