It’s getting closer to Halloween, so it must be nearly time for what is now the annual release of the latest in the Jigsaw series as Saw 4 opens in UK cinemas on October 26th. Revitalising the horror box office in recent years, the Saw series can truly lay claim to some of the most inventive and gruesome deaths on screen, so we thought what better time to publish our much-debated Top Ten Gruesome Onscreen Deaths.
What defines gruesome? Of course, gruesome usually mean visceral (especially in cinema), either in a “gross” way, or a humorous “splatter” way, yet as Number 10 in our list proved, it need not necessarily always be graphically explicit. Quite often it's the subtletly of an implicated death that can lead to a top gruesome scene.
We’ve tried where possible to limit the choices - hence only one cannibal film - yet as ever, there are films that did not quite make the final cut. Special mention then must also be made of such films as Gaspar Noe’s brutal fire extinguisher bludgeoning in Irreversible, Takashi Miike’s Audition, the sideboard decapitation in Switchblade Romance, the slice’n’dice in Cube, many, many Argento moments, and brutal slashings from old nasties such as The Last House on the Left and The New York Ripper.
Read on below, kicking off with the squirming demise of one of the gang in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as Pam finds her end in Leatherface’s den.
10 .The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) Death by Meat Hook After Pam is totally freaked by skeletal objets d'art, Leatherface promptly introduces her to Mr Meat Hook. The pain and horror is all over Pam's face, as she gropes at the hook behind her, trying in vain to stop what is happening. Leatherface has the good manners to give her a special chainsaw show, as he saws her mate Kirk up into tiny pieces on the table in front of her. Restraint is Tobe Hooper's greatest attribute here - it's all done with sound and unpleasant, gore-free imagery. Genius.
9 .Day of the Dead (1985) Death by Gut-ripping When Rhodes (Joe Pilato) is shot after underestimating zombie Bub's aim, he adopts a bizarre stuck-to-wall walk down the corridor, before finding a door that should lead him to safety. But it doesn't – instead there are scores of undead to greet him, and Bub fires another shot to safely deliver this military issue meal to Romero's munchers. One group promptly dig into Rhodes' torso, ripping it apart, while another (who obviously prefer leg meat) pull his legs away from his body, trailing his twisted blood up the corridor. "Choke on 'em!" Funny, and a bit disgusting.
8 .Cannibal Ferox (1981) Death by Cannibals Poor old John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) - he certainly had a few good death scenes during the 80s (see also City of the Living Dead for his second appearance on this list), In Ferox, Morghen plays Mike, a racist coke-head who swears a lot, kills animals and gropes the girls. His initial capture and castration is tough enough, but then he has his cock cauterised giving him just enough time to escape. He’s soon captured again though, losing his hand, before finally having the top of his sliced off and his brains eaten by the hungry natives. Lovely.
7 .Robocop (1988) Death by Melting / Car Smash Actor Paul McCrane is unlucky. We saw him getting killed as Jack Bauer's estranged brother in 24, but before that we saw him getting struck down by a severe case of Helicopter on the Head in ER. Twenty years ago though we have Robocop, where Crane suffered an equally horrific demise. One minute he's being smashed into a huge tank of Industrial 80s Sci-Fi waste, then he's walking around like The Incredible Melting Man. And then it's not long before he comes worse off in a head on collision with Clarence Boddiker's grey truck, literally recolouring the windscreen permanently. Yeuch.
6 .City of the Living Dead (1981) Death by Household Appliance When a volatile father finds local Bob the local perv (John Morghen again) hanging out with his daughter in the garage, he doesn't welcome him with a cup of tea. Rather, he welcomes Bob by putting his head in a vice and inserting his fixed drill into his skull, thus rendering him a dirty perv no more. This is good Fulci fare even though widely considered to be classic 'Fulci gibberish', but don't let that put you off - expect the usual excess, which includes death by vomiting up intestines. And yes, there are maggots.
5 .Ichi The Killer (2003) Death by Torture Torture is always one of the worst ways to go out, but in Ichi the Killer, punk gangster Kakihara takes things to extremes when he captures a rival gangster whilst in search of his missing boss. The unfortunate victim is then suspended from hooks and chains dangling from the ceiling as ‘Smiley-face’ Kakihiro teases a few needles through a few fleshy parts (including the cheeks and tongue which look disturbingly real) before treating us to some nice close-up scenes of melting skin as boiling fat is poured over the victim’s bare body. Not very nice.
4 .Scanners (1981) Death by Exploding Head This should be a lesson for us all. When dealing with Michael Ironside you have to be very careful, as he's very good at organising resistance fighters here on Earth (like in V), chasing Arnie across Mars (like in Total Recall), organising teens into soldiers (like in Starship Troopers) and making peoples heads explode using the power of his mind. The later is, of course, what he did in Cronenberg's 1981 psychic masterpiece Scanners and with it’s fantastically gory slow-motion splat explosion, I don't think any of us will ever forget it.
3 .Hellraiser (1987) Death by Hell Demons ”We’ll tear you soul apart” screeched the Cenobites, but we never thought that they’d actually go ahead and do it with a body. Of course, we all know now that you really shouldn’t play with a magic puzzle box that seems to move of it’s own accord, but Frank wasn’t to know that was he? After managing to completely rebuild his own tissue through the blood of Julia’s murders, the Cenobites finally step in and with their flying hooks and chains proceed to stretch Frank’s face and tear him to pieces. ”Jesus wept” indeed.
2 .Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) Death by Eye-spiking When Dr Menard leaves his sultry wife (Olga Karlatos) at the house while he performs pointless tasks at his hospital shack, her boredom is relieved when a zombie tries to invite himself in for tea. A struggle ensues at the door, which is when a huge splint frees itself and our resourceful deadhead grabs Olga’s hair, pulling her face, painfully, slowly, towards the splint. As is typical Fulci, it's not left there - we get to see Karlatos' eye impaled on the spike from front and side angles, before the splint breaks and spoils all our fun. Eye kebabs, anyone?
1 .Saw 3 (2006) Death by Trap After a vegetarian-friendly episode involving rotten, minced pig meat in a silo, Jeff discovers Timothy in a rather sorry situation - his head clamped in a rotating lock, and his legs and arms spiked into twisting submission. Jeff must detach a key from a cord attached to a shotgun trigger in order to stop the torture, but fails to do so in time, as Timothy's bones snap, crackle and pop, his head clamp ceasing rotation at the 180 degree mark. Extreme unpleasantness from the Saw series – plenty of choice there, then.
For more information on all the traps featured in the Saw series to date, visit this terrific Wikipedia page.