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The best death scenes

BodyDouble-Drill.jpgI was chatting with Louise (friend, reader and helper on Filmstalker) and we started discussing the best character deaths in film. Now I can't remember why we went on the topic, just that we ended up there and as soon as she mentioned it my mind was off and racing.

There are some superb character death scenes and immediately we picked out one each, and before long we had a list. However I'm going to keep this to a few and leave the comments for your memories of the best on screen deaths and why.

The first that we both sprang to was for Final Destination, now you'll forgive me if this is a spoiler, but it's hard not to be when we're talking about character deaths. This is the simplest, quickest, and most surprising character death I've ever seen as one of the characters is chatting away and steps onto the road, still chatting, only to be hit full frame by a bus traveling at speed.

There's no warning, no big build up for tension, and certainly no indication of anything happening other than her chatting and crossing the road. Our attention is diverted perfectly and when the bus hits it hits us just as hard. It's a huge surprise and a great scene.

That was it for me and my mind was on overdrive, and the next one I came up with was a bit more obscure, from Body Double by Brian De Palma.

The film builds up this voyeuristic connection between the main character and a woman he spies on each night from his apartment, the audience begin to feel that connection too, and so when we see an intruder in her house we all begin to panic.

De Palma builds the tension and suspense superbly, and the lead races from his house to the woman's and gets inside to try and save her. Unfortunately there's a rather large dog that pins him to the floor, just underneath her bedroom where the intruder has her pinned to the floor.

That's when the intruder picks up a large industrial drill, a drill with a huge bit attached to it, and turns it towards the helpless woman. I remember her dress getting caught and twisted in the drill bit as it pushed towards her, and the camera cuts back to the lead still pinned by the dog.

He looks to the roof hearing the screams and the sound of the drill, and as he looks up the bit breaks through the roof dropping blood to the floor.

I remember it as a very strong scene and it's stayed with me ever since, in fact the whole film has.

Then I leapt over to another film that proved very formative in my early days, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original of course.

There are two scenes from that film that stay with me to this day. The first is, what I think is the first death scene, where one of the men is hit over the head with a sledgehammer and when he falls to the floor his feet just keep kicking and jerking against the metal floor, a very freaky moment.

The other death scene is the infamous meat hook scene, where our recollections of the scene are very different from the actual moment. Many remember seeing a woman being placed onto a meat hook, it pushing through her chest and shirt, which is actually a moment we never see on screen, however our minds make the moment seem even more terrifying. It doesn't end there for the poor victim though, she is then placed in a freezer before she's dead and when the freezer is opened later she proves she's still got some life in her.

There are other cracking death scenes that came to mind, the shower scene from Psycho, the fire extinguisher to the face in Irréversible, the kerbing in American History X or the incredible surprise shooting of Jack Vincennes in L.A. Confidential.

So I'm going to stop now before I run through too many and let you tell us what your favourite, most scary, or most horrible death scenes in film are, and above all tell us why.




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I seem to remember this all started with a trip to Subway for lunch. I chose not to turn right in my car and risk being hit, and you said you would have. Which then went onto a conversation about how that's how people die in real life, out of no where. Cheerful lunchtime conversation!

The scene in Final Destination is one on my list, I remember watching it and not expecting it at all. I'd also have the kerbing in American History X, that made me wince. I'd also add, in no particular order:

1. Wolf Creek: The whole head on a stick thing made me turn green.

2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day: When he turns his hand into a sword like device and shoves it through people's eyes.

3. Casino: without trying to spoil anything some people get beaten to death with baseball bats. The sound effects were spot on, horrific.

Saw a pretty cool one yesterday in 30 Days Of Night, vampire punchs another vampire in the mouth and rips his brain out in the process. Ive seen so many cool deaths in movies but cant think of any right now!!

Scanners - the first head-popping.

Gremlins - the old woman on the chair-lift

Silent Hill - the roasting (I found that one very uncomfortable to watch)


As a nomination for worst movie death scene, I submit:

End of Days - [SPOILER] Arnie star-jumping onto a sword for no real reason.

Was thinking bout this at work and a couple of classics are the decapitation in The Omen (1976) when a glass sheet flys off a runaway trailer and decapitates a guy whose head spins round severa times before hitting the ground, also the first chest burst in Alien and also in Space Balls, at the end of the movie where a guy has an alien burst from his chest and then the alien does a little song and dance number along the bar, hilarious.

One of the funniest ones I've seen is the girl in the garage in Scream. She tries to escape through the cat-flap in the floor and the killer simply presses the button which opens the garage door *squish!*

Scariest hmm, well i probably haven't seen very scary ones as normally i'm hiding behind a cushion!

One that never leaves me is the reporters death in hot fuzz, you know he's going to die, but you don't expect his head to go up in such a gory and comical fashion!

The one that has always stuck out in my mind is Tim Roth getting cleaved in Rob Roy.

The best from my memory is Clarence's dad shot by The Sicilian in True Romance.

Deep Blue Sea .. Samuel L. Jackson come to mind - just plain funny :)

Aliens & the stomach was most terrifying when I saw it aged about 10. m0stly.

Most horrible death that I wouldn't wish upon anyone (using the word anyone loosely) is Om's death just before intermission point in Om Shanti Om. He gets beaten stupid, is set aflame, blown out of a window due to a gas explosion & then hit my a moving car. Unfortunately the doctors couldn't save him.

There is only one:

THE WICKER MAN - original, haunting, and drawn out without any sort of musical score.

--
(A recent one perhaps not as iconic as the ones above because it's effective in such a low key manner, is that of a certain character in Michael Clayton...a murder that is brutal in its silent methodical execution)

This is funny, The Guardian just did a feature on this in their weekend entertainment newspaper supplement.

Glad to see we've got a better list, and that some of the last entries here are bringing up some classics.

With topical news though, what about the death of Quint in Jaws?

Looks like the Guardian is filmstalking now too!

Love the topic! The Final Destination bus scene is a favorite of mine. I remember the first time watching that movie and my jaw dropping as I covered my mouth to muffle a gasping scream.

One of my favorite funny/cheesy/ridiculous is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Paul Rubens' character takes a very loooong time to bite the dust.

A disturbing death scene that haunted me as a teen was from Nightmare On Elm Street 3 when Freddy uses that girls veins as puppet strings and then has her jump to her death.

Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy is fighting that muscle guy near the plane and then he gets whacked. Yeah...we don't see it, but it still makes me shutter.

Yeah, or at least great minds think alike. They should get me to write some of their print articles for that magazine!

They should get me to write some of their print articles for that magazine!

They really should Richard, instead of just nicking all your ideas!

SPOILER ALERT! Assuming that not all of you haven't seen The Godfather films and if not, then shame on all of you! ;)

One of the best death scenes has got to be Vito Corleone's in The Godfather - dying whilst playing with his grandson in his garden, to me it speaks a lot about how he has withstood assasinations, only to die peacefully. And who can forget the way Sonny Corleone died, I mean that was some way of being ambushed! No wonder his father whilst asking all of Bonasera's (the mortician) powers to make him at least look presentable to his mother can't help but exclaim in tears, look how they massacred my boy!

Ditto with Michael Corleone in The Godfather III who died of old age and just laid on the ground only with a dog beside him, which was a real pathetic and sad way to go. And then of course the way Darth Vader died in the arms of Luke Skywalker, still drives me to tears that!

Yep Simone, as far as great death scenes go, it's hard to beat the Godfather movies. I saw part 1 at the NFT the other day and was blown away by how great it looked on the big screen.

The list so far's pretty comprehensive but I think we should add Sean Connery's death in the Untouchables. Gave new meaning to the phrase 'scenery chewing'.

Oh Tim, I am jealous! I have only seen The Godfather III on the big screen! Please tell me you've seen them all? :D

Ach! You beat me on The Untouchables! And you know what's even more annoying, was when Frank Nitti told Ness, I said your friend died screaming like a stuck Irish pig and we know what happens next. HAH!

Rich - Have you contacted them, with regards to doing articles for them?

I have to go for Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black.

It's just so comical but a quality death scene IMO.

Couple more: Christopher Walken's final game of Russian roulette in the Deer Hunter and Jimmy Cagney 'on top of the world Ma' in White Heat. It might not make it into a list of the best death scenes but the one that probably had the biggest impact on me was Obi Wan in Star Wars, just because I saw it as kid at an age when I didn't expect to see good guys getting killed in movies. Of course as we found out it wasn't exactly the most final death but the eight year old me still got a lump in his throat.

Hi Simone, I've seen Part III in the cinema too, but still haven't watched Part II on the big screen. I'm keeping an eye out as somewhere's bound to show it eventually.

Of course! Obi Wan (the original of course) was a superb death scene. Totally agree that moment really hit me hard when I was younger. Good one Tim.

Of course! How can I forget Obi Wan's death scene?! I suppose I still get points as I did mention Darth Vader mind.

Tim, are you like on a mission or something to watch The Godfather films on the big screen? You mentioned bus pass in another topic so you must be living in the UK, London most likely? Where did you see the original Godfather on the big screen then?

Hi Simone, at the National Film Theatre. It's part of the South Bank complex by the Thames. They show some great film seasons there, and you get the chance to see a few of the classics on the big screen they were intended for. The NFT's one of the nice things about living in London...shame about the crime, pollution, over crowding...

The BFI of course! Thanks for that Tim. I just bookmarked their website and see what's coming up soon.

I frequent the National Theatre and the nearby places because I am also a huge theatre fan, I think the National is showing the Noel Coward film Brief Encounter for free on Valentine's Day.

Hmmm.. maybe I should pop down and catch it as the Nationals not too far from where I work and it's one of the few David Lean movies I haven't seen.

Tim I would of gone too, but there's something about it being shown on V-day that I am not comfortable with. Tell me how it went though!

I remember Body Double sequence was a favorite of Patrick Bateman's in American Psycho (the novel, not the movie). Had a lengthy passage on the whole thing. I'll have to think a while on this one.

Oh no...does that make me a Scottish Psycho?

No idea :D

The Billy Batts death scene from Goodfellas is one that I have always "enjoyed". The movie opens with Henry, Jimmy and Tommy driving in the car and then we hear a banging from the boot (trunk). They stop the car, go to the back and open up to see a bloodied and bludgeoned Frank Vincent lying inside gasping for air. Then we're brought back to the "beginning" of the story, only for us to finally catch up with Billy Batts halfway through the movie. I always found it such a great way to open the movie in such a shocking situation, only for us to find out how it came about later on.

And how has this feature reached 29 comments with nobody having mentioned the Paul Allen murder in American Psycho. This movie really made me sit up and take notice of Christian Bale, and I think that it's during this scene that he is at his psychopathic best. The meticulous preperation of having the floor and furniture covered with newspapers and plastic, along with his brand new axe and raincoat is surreal. Then his choice of Huey Lewis and The News' "Hip To Be Square" simply raises the hilarity factor of the scene. The coupling of the comedy and the shock of the murder make this a truly memorable death scene.

James there are tons that we're missing, but that is a cracker. I just saw the film the other day and I was surprised how good it was, and that scene is pretty damn good as far as death scenes go.

Believe it or not Richard, I first saw American Psycho almost 8 years ago on a transatlantic flight to Florida. I was pretty taken aback that they were showing this violent and adult-natured picture as an in-flight movie, especially with kids on board (I too was only 16 at the time).
Luckily it was only showing on one of the selection of channels we all had, so the kids were probably glued to Toy Story 2 or whatever other animated feature they had decided to show. But the fact they had the option to switch over and see Patrick Bateman dismember somebody to the bittersweet pop delight of "Hip To Be Square" always horrified/amused me in a strange kind of way.

Wow! That's a film I would never have thought to have seen on an airplane, that and of course any Airport film!

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