Arthouse horror has been all the rage recently, with so many movies that utilize slow-burn storytelling and cinematographic camera shots that feel more in common with French New Wave than they do grindhouse cinema. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it certainly helps add to the genre by making the films feel more respectable and more critically acceptable. But let’s be honest: most of us are in it for the kills. From the gore-tastic slaughterfests of the 60’s and 70’s drive-ins to the balls-to-the-wall fountains of CGI blood in the 2000’s, horror fans love nothing more than a gnarly arterial spray. Creative kills can make an otherwise terrible movie great, and if it comes from a great movie? Well that’s just even better. As a side note, while there are certainly honorable mentions for this list that could’ve come from franchises that already have a kill in the list, we’ve decided to limit these deaths to one per franchise. Sorry, Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street!
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
10. WIRE DISSECTON: GHOST SHIP (2022)
2002’s Ghost Ship was a terrible movie, one that would be just another forgettable popcorn flick that was barely worth the celluloid on which it was printed… except for that one scene. The film opens with a dance floor on a cruise ship, populated by hoity toity passengers in a ballroom extravaganza. Suddenly, a line breaks free from its mooring and zips across the crowded room, slicing all of the passengers in half. It’s an unexpected (and unexpectedly awesome) scene, one that almost would make the entire movie worth watching if the rest of it had been nearly as good as its opening scene.
9. THE RACK: SAW III (2006)
How do you make the most cringe-worthy kill in a series that’s full of the bloodiest and goriest sendoffs in horror? Well, you strap a dude to a four-sided cross, where each side turns in opposite directions, and you move each limb as slooooow as possible. There’s not a lot of things that make me look away, and God knows the Saw franchise is full of the gnarliest kills known to man. But holy hell, this one is more brutal than normal, and it’s by far the hardest kill in the series to watch.
8. JAWBREAKER: HATCHET (2006)
The Hatchet series is filled with fantastic death scenes, all done with 100% practical effects from a collection of some of horror’s best effects masters. The original film, with effects by John Carl Buechler, is the best of the bunch, most notably the scene in which Victor Crowley tears the topo f someone’s head off by grabbing the top and bottom of their jaw and letting it rip. The kill gets extra points for visibility, a 360 degree camera shot that spins around as we see every last drop of blood (and the flopping tongue that remains.) It’s not the first kill of the movie, but it certainly sets the tone for what comes after.
7. CURLING IRON CRAZINESS: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
While far from the bloodiest kill on this list, this one is one of the more shiver-inducing kills in horror. Camper Judy is killed by having a hot curling iron jammed into her nether regions, the audience witness to her screaming pain before she is smothered by a pillow. At a certain point, you’d think the pillow would be a welcome end to the torment. I dare you to watch this scene without crossing your legs in sympathy.
6. SLICED BREAD: FEAR STREET: PART 1 - 1994 (2021)
I honestly wasn’t expecting a whole lot from Netflix’s Fear Street movies, maybe some dumb popcorn teen horror that was a good way to kill a couple of nights. Needless to say for anyone that’s watched them, what we got instead was a rad-as-hell trilogy of films with some truly awesome scenes, including an “I-can’t-believe-they-went-there” finale to the first film that sees Kate, main character Sam’s best friend, get shoved head-first into a bread slicer. The camera never pulls away, and we get by far the bloodiest scene in the entire series as Kate’s face gets sliced to pieces. Having the kill in the first film of the trilogy helped to set the tone that all bets were off and there weren’t going to be any safe spaces for these teens.
5. BOOKCASE BEHEADING: HIGH TENSION (2003)
Fans of the genre now know that director Alexandre Aja wasn’t going to pull any punches with his death scenes, but we didn’t expect the kills to be so shocking and creative until High Tension’s killer beheads a man using a bookshelf and a stairway banister. It’s one of those cover-your-mouth-in-shock scenes that are a horror fan’s delight, and in a movie with one of the most flabbergasting twists in horror history, the bookcase scene is perhaps even more stunning. It’s a great introduction to the New French Extremity, and one that’s impossible to forget.
4. UNLUCKIEST GYMNAST: FINAL DESTINATION 5 (2011)
I’ve already ranked this number 1 in my Final Destination Deaths list, and in a series known for its Rube Goldberg-ian creative deaths, this one is the most elegantly prepared. As each piece of the puzzle slides into place, the audience expects electrocution, decapitation, perhaps even the character being thrown into a giant fan. What we did not expect is for Candice to fold into herself like the world’s worst contortionist. It’s a shocking scene, and one that elicits a gasp or a scream from nearly every audience member.
3. HUMAN MARIONETTE: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
Freddy Krueger is known for his creative kills in the NoES series, but there are perhaps none more creative than Phillip’s death in Dream Warriors. His arms and legs are slashed open, his tendons are pulled out to become puppet strings, and he is manipulated by Freddy into jumping to his death from the top of a building. It’s not the grossest death in the series but it’s one of the most helpless, with plenty of people watching Phillip die without ever realizing what’s actually happening to him. In a series based on unrealistic kills in people’s dreams, this one is the most creative of all.
2. FREEZING FACIAL: JASON X (2001)
Jason X is far from the best movie in a series that has some real stinkers, but it’s got some truly magnificent kills (which is all we’re looking for from these types of movies anyway.) This movie, taking place on a space ship, finds Jason cryogenically frozen and awoken in the 25th century on a spaceship. You generally don’t want to slight the Voorhees family, and Jason gets his revenge in style by freezing a woman’s face in liquid nitrogen and smashing her now-solid skull into a desk. It’s a fantastic kill in an underrated movie, and it’s one of the most creative kills in all of horror.
1. LAWNMOWER MAN: DEAD ALIVE (1992)
Ask a bunch of horror movie fans about the goriest movie ever made and you’ll be surprised how many will talk about this early-Peter Jackson film. In a movie filled with as many laughs as scares and some of the grossest scenes ever put on film, the lawnmore-zombie-mowdown ending takes the cake as the most creative death scene in horror. Our hero Lionel finds himself absolutely overrun by the living dead, but they’re no match for his lawnmower, which he uses to toss buckets of blood and guts around his home’s foyer. It’s a seemingly never-ending scene, and by the time it’s all said and done, there’s not a bit of the house that isn’t covered in gore. Using a lawnmower to kill someone might not be the most creative idea ever, but the sheer volume of kills, the copious amount of bloody intestines, and the length of the scene, which clocks in at more than three minutes, helps this one take the crown in our list.