It’s hard to pick your favorite movie kills because there are so many. The only downside to horror is: the more you see them, the less effective they are. Part of what makes horror powerful is its potency, and its power to scare, and once you know what’s behind the door, it’s not scary anymore. So, I always judge a horror movie based on how horrified or scared I was the very first time I saw it, because the haunted house is never as scary the second time. However, over the years, there are certain kills that, no matter how many times I watch them, it gets me every time, and then part of the fun is showing them to your friends and seeing them get got.
These are my favorite gory moments.
WARNING: Extremely violent and NSFW. Proceed at your own risk.
Zombi 2 (1979)
Lucio Fulci, who they call the “Godfather of Gore,” made a movie called Zombi 2. Now, there is no Zombi 1. But Dawn of the Dead, when it was released in Italy, was called Zombi, so the producers very cleverly tricked people into thinking it was a sequel to Dawn of the Dead. It has spawned, more so than anything else, the modern zombie craze by this one scene, which is: a zombie fighting a shark. Fulci was the first one to ever think through the logic of, What happens if a zombie goes underwater? Because since it doesn’t need to breathe, it can just walk underwater. So, there’s a scene of a beautiful, topless Italian girl in a G-string swimming, and she sees a shark. She goes to hide behind coral and she sees the zombie. Now, this is a low-budget movie that was made for $250,000, and they actually put the zombie and the girl in a tank with the shark. And there are no cuts—it’s all tied in to the same frame. It’s one of the best scenes ever because the shark—a real shark—takes a bite out of the zombie, and then the zombie bites the shark, and it swims away. The guy in the zombie makeup was the shark’s trainer, and they must have drugged the hell out of this shark because it’s actually a shark attacking a zombie. During the shooting of Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino and I described the scene to Brad Pitt and he had never seen it, and Quentin got his 35mm print of it and showed him Zombie vs. Shark.
Zombi 2 (1979)
That scene is actually outdone by another scene in the movie. By the end of the movie, you kind of forget about the zombie vs. shark scene, because it’s not really tied in to the plot. Now, this movie starred Tisa Farrow, Mia Farrow’s sister, who’s one of my favorite actresses from that period. There’s a scene where a zombie attacks her, breaks through a door, and there’s a splinter sticking out. So, the zombie grabs the woman’s head, and pulls it. If you remember the needle going through Princess Leia in Star Wars and how terrifying it was as a kid, it’s basically that. The needle goes through the woman’s eye, and it just takes forever. It’s one of the most punishing scenes ever. Fulci really turned the horror genre on its head. Fulci’s gore was operated, over-the-top, and realistic like no other. He really took it to another level.
Takashi Miike was a huge, huge influence on Hostel. The torture scene in Audition where she cuts the leg with the butcher’s wire is so horrific. And then the acupuncture needle under the eyes! Audition is a brilliant movie about perfection, and the Japanese stereotype of wanting a perfect little subservient woman, and this man holds this fraudulent casting to find a new wife. Even though it’s creepy what he’s doing, and totally sexist, and he gets what’s coming to him, you do feel bad for him. It’s also about how people are blinded by love and obsession to the point where they don’t even listen to their friends’ warnings. It’s a brilliant exercise in tension just building up to that one horror scene, and the scene is relentless.
One of my favorite recent scenes is in Caché, the Michael Haneke film. That throat slit is so real, so jarring, and so matter-of-fact. This guy is in the back of the room and you absolutely don’t see it coming. Just the way he slices, the way the blood sprays—it’s so real, and effective.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Is this a great movie? No. Is this one of the great trashy pieces of slasher cinema? Absolutely. There’s a scene where a kid goes sledding, and the guy pops out with an axe, and then you see the sled rolling down the hill, and the head rolls down after. I saw that movie with my friend, Jeff Rendell, who starred in the Grindhouse trailer I did for Thanksgiving, and before we shot it, we made everyone watch this movie. And it still holds up. I remember I was 12 years old and saw this scene, and I actually threw my popcorn I was cheering so loudly.
I’m actually going to do a screening of this movie soon. I own a 35mm print of it because it’s going out of circulation, and me and Tarantino are buying up these old prints to preserve them. This is the Holy Grail. The Spanish title is One Thousand Cries in the Night. There are two sequences. There’s one where the killer gets into the elevator, casually hiding a chainsaw behind his back, has a conversation with a college girl, and then just pops it out and saws her arms off. But there’s another sequence that’s really effective where she goes from the tennis court to the locker room, and the killer takes out a chainsaw and cuts her in half. This girl is petrified because it’s so low-budget, they really used a real chainsaw. Filming this thing almost cut her head off, but the actual cut of the slice is so realistic, and so horrific. I remember seeing Scarface and feeling ripped-off that I couldn’t see the chainsaw cutting the guy’s arms off, but this satisfied that for me. It’s pure exploitation. And afterward, the undercover investigator who’s posing as a tennis coach, has one of the greatest lines after: “Bastard, bastard, bastard!”
Starship Troopers (1997)
The brain bug. There are so many great moments in Starship Troopers, but that scene, which is the old science-fiction trope of "They’re going to suck your brains and gain your knowledge," was so effective when the brain bug puts the spike in the guy’s head and sucks his brains out. The little, shriveling head! I think Starship Troopers is a brilliant satire and an underrated masterpiece. Geeks love it, but it never caught on with the mainstream the way it deserves to. It really holds up as a great, great film.
Piranha 3D (2010)
I’m biased because I get killed in the scene, but the attack on spring break is so much fun. Alex Aja is so detailed in the kills, and two kills really stand out. One is when two rescue workers are pulling a girl onto the shore, and as they’re carrying her, one of her legs just splits in half, and her guts spill out. And there’s another one where a girl’s hair gets caught in a boat’s propeller blade, and they rev the motor, and it just rips her face off.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
The first great gore gag that anyone saw was the eye-slit in Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. I’d seen photographs of it as a kid in film school, and that scene got everybody. It’s so real. No one had ever really done anything that violent in a film before. It’s still so unbelievably effective, even in black and white.
One of the scenes that really traumatized me the most was the chest burst in Alien. That really got me as a kid. Knowing that Veronica Cartwright, the actress, didn’t really know what was going to happen and Ridley Scott really captured their reactions, I took a lot of that with me to my sets. I tell the actors generally what’s going to happen and what they need to do in the scene, but not really tell them to that extent what’s going to happen. And you get incredible reactions.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
(Ed Note: For a clip, rent it yourself. It’s gross.)
Cannibal Holocaust is hard for people to watch because they killed a lot of animals in the movie, and the director talks about how the ‘70s were a different time, so when you wanted a meal, you went out and killed a pig or chicken and ate it. But the ending scene where the guy gets castrated is pretty impressive, because the guys playing the natives are real natives. They were people living in trees. And they grab his dick and cut it off on camera, and you know that it’s makeup, but you’re still wondering, How did they not almost cut this guy’s dick off? It’s satisfying to watch it happen to this guy after he’s raped the native girls. With my new film, The Green Inferno, we shot in the Peruvian Amazon, and they had never seen a camera before, or electricity, or television, so we had to conceptually explain to them what a movie was. And getting them to do the killing scenes, where they’re ripping people’s hearts out and eating them, they thought it was the funniest thing ever.
As told to Marlow Stern.