Typically I’d line an article of this nature up with a nifty little introduction. This time around, I’m just going to hit you with something of a disclaimer: Compiling this list was extremely challenging. There are countless scenes depicting heads being severed from bodies, in countless different pictures.
And quite a few of them could easily be considered strong enough to make this list. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. You’re likely to agree with some of these choices (there’re a few safe calls, I admit), and you’re probably just as likely to disagree with a few.
If you’re feeling as though I missed a masterpiece, drop a line. Who doesn’t love watching cranial destruction?
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan: Let’s first acknowledge the fact that there are a number of severed heads that have flown about in the presence of a Voorhees. Pamela’s own noggin went flying in the first rendering of this never ending story, and some wild hillbilly lunatic’s was sent sailing through the evening sky after Hockey Face got tired of his high-pitched dirt bike and feminine screams for his mommy in the fifth outing. And without really breaking it all down, I’m certain a few others lost their tops after inadvertently stumbling upon the murderous Voorhees familia. But none scream such volumes of awesomeness as that of Julius Gaw, who actually got his melon obliterated during a session of fisticuffs with the iconic slasher. That’s right, an actual fist fight… which Julius was winning prior to the come-from-behind haymaker Jason landed. Ironic that the only character in the entire film that seemed to have a hint of a personality drifting about in his head eventually had it punched right off his shoulders without the slightest regard.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space: Never talk shit to an evil looking clown that shoots popcorn. Those bastards have hands, wicked, wicked hands. After damaging a goofy (but damn creepy) clown’s goods, one would-be tough guy gets more than he bargained for: a boxing match with the Killer Klown. One well-placed right to the jaw signals the end, of existence. The connection is made, the head comes away from the body, and flies into a trash can. And the hooligans stare on in fearful awe. You’ve got to love a shot like this. Who doesn’t want to see the bully swallow his just desserts?
30 Days of Night: Hey, you get two picks from one picture! 30 Days of Night> wasn’t just a startlingly brilliant vampire film, it was ultra-violent, extremely gory and surprisingly well acted (who knew Josh Hartnett had that performance in him?). And this earned a wide theatrical release? There must be a God. Roughly 55 minutes into the film we eye our first onscreen lopping. Watching John Riis have his neck hacked away at by a terrified Eben isn’t pretty, but it is wondrous. It looks abnormally realistic. We’re talking truly unsettling realistic. And after the shock of that jarring scene has finally had time to fade from the forefront of your memory, it all happens again – and this time it’s even fuckin’ worse!! The similar demise of Billy Kitka is nauseatingly ingenious (and marginally more graphic), simply because we thought the beheading business was firmly behind us. Nope, this one leads right up to the movie’s grand finale, and holy shit is it a disgustingly perfect shot. For my money, it’s the single greatest decapitation to ever see showcase in a major motion picture.
Evil Dead 2: Everything about this movie screamed humorous, drunken entertainment. Even a head soaring through the air. Or a head pinned in a bench vice, its lips still flapping away. Ash is one groovy son of a bitch, and this is one groovy scene that always stands out in the memory. There isn’t much more that need be said: The Evil Dead films are astounding and boast amazing shots.This just happens to be one of them.
The Omen: I’ll raise a little hellfire here by announcing my abhorrence for this film. It’s okay to hate me, but hear me out. The Omen never worked for me because the story itself felt particularly drawn out, tugged along by a director who failed to recognize that 15 fewer minutes could have elevated an often boring piece (I’m not sorry, dammit; it’s how I feel!) into a highly gratifying slice of celluloid. The downtime between the amazing shots just lasts too damn long, so much so that they steal away from the jolting scenes. And the jolting scenes are unbelievably impressive. The impalement shot is an absolute joy to behold; the sliding glass pane that separates Jennings’ head from his body is just a totally different animal. Shocking, shocking stuff that looks as though it would have been a better fit in an outright exploitation film. For the record, I’m glad it’s in this film, and not just another exploitation film. This was a true highlight.
High Tension: Most creative decapitation on the list? Quite possibly! There’s something to be said about the savagery of this particular execution, if for no other reason than the fact that we just don’t see this gruesomeness every day. For those who’ve forgotten this riveting sequence, High Tension’s villain (I won’t specifically identify the killer, in the off chance that you’re one of about a dozen people alive who haven’t seen this amazing flick) actually uses a dresser to take one head clean off. I mean gone in one hasty motion, nothing but blood splatter lingering. This is one of the moments that established Alexandre Aja as a certified powerhouse of horror, and he followed it up with a few more equally impressive moments as the picture progressed (come on, you know you got a kick out of the “oral” scene). His body of work henceforth speaks for itself.
Cigarette Burns: Many will argue that Cigarette Burns was the last truly great film John Carpenter made (I’m actually quite the fan of The Ward, believe it or not). I’m not mad at anyone who stands by that assessment, as this was a highly disturbing production crammed full of aesthetics designed to ignite revulsion and real fear. And there are some very haunting visuals to boot, it’s not just the gratuitous violence that stands out. However, that gratuitous violence is at times completely inescapable and unforgettable. Case in point, the decapitation of that poor broad who’s tied to the chair of some strange sadomasochistic freak who happens to be in possession of a massive blade. It’s no wonder Daryl Dixon is so well versed in disposing of walkers – the poor guy’s been witnessing beheadings for about a decade already. He’s got a huge edge on Rick!
Se7en: We never actually see the severing of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in Se7en, but it still earns placement on this list, and for good reason. Few pictures capture emotions as David Fincher’s awe inspiring shocker managed. Even fewer successfully blend genres of film. This was a perfect hybrid flick. And this particular moment was the ultimate less is more scene, in which we were gifted a bit of honest movie magic. It’s hard to manufacture an emotionally crushing visual… without a visual – David Fincher and Brad Pitt (who proves here like never before that he’s far more than just a hunky dude, he’s a supremely talented thespian) made it happen, and it was legendary beyond fathomable reaches. No one saw the impact of that fateful encounter coming – many predicted the great reveal, most certainly – but none anticipated the heartbreaking response we all experienced.
Hatchet: In 2006 Adam Green set out to bring the hulking slasher of the 80s back to prominence. With the return of the beast also came the return of over the top gore and preposterous comedy. It sounds like a moronic idea, but Green really hit a homerun with Hatchet and his nasty creature, Victor Crowley. The brand epitomizes everything that ever rang as fun for those of us who grew up on genre tapes in the 80s, and the man is owed a sizable measure of debt for such a feat. The fact that he was able to keep the wheels spinning for three movies is admirable. Many prefer the first of the Hatchet films, and when you see the gore and you catch the jokes (there’re plenty of subtle lines that may go unnoticed upon a single viewing, in addition to the blatant punchlines), it’s no challenge understanding why. Among the many amazing shots in this campy future classic is a scene in which sleazebag faux-porn director Doug Shapiro gets decapitated, Linda Blair style. Victor literally spins this douche bag’s head around 360 degrees before popping it free of the spinal column. Nasty, but well played.
Sleepy Hollow: What really need be said of this picture? The whole damn flick is decapitation after decapitation! Fortunately for viewers of the macabre, Tim Burton knows exactly how to make such a violent act look unpleasantly believable.
Wrong Turn: Do half-decapitations count for this list? Eh, we’ll make an exception… or two. A pair of things that have always seemed logical to me: One, avoiding inbred cannibalistic rednecks will probably prolong the lifespan, and two, climbing trees is dangerous business. I’ve never run into flesh eating hillbillies, but I once saw a kid plummet from the top of a good 50-footer, smacked the ground so hard he snapped both of his forearms in half. No thanks, I’ll keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. Apparently Carly never saw a kid come falling out of a tree and break his bones in pieces. If she did happen to see something of that nature, she forgot, and went and got herself stuck up in a tree where maniac man eaters swing like wild monkeys. One even swings an ax, splitting that ridiculously cute face right in two.
Dead Snow: Nazi zombies? A chainsaw clothesline? One decaying head completely shredded in a single swoop? Brilliance in its truest sense. Dead Snow is a riotous feature, stuffed full of laughs and memorable characters. The legion of undead hatemongers even echo long after viewing. Outpost may have really kicked off the Nazi zombie craze, but Dead Snow took the concept and ran in a totally different direction. It’s a direction that proves every bit as entertaining as anything you’ll find in the Outpost movies (which I enjoy quite a bit, for the record), although the tone is dramatically different. Sick, sick movie, with some tasty gore to devour!
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