- Gruesome death scenes in movies, both horror and non-horror, can leave a lasting impact on viewers and make them unforgettable.
- The Saw franchise’s “The Rack” trap from Saw 3 is particularly sickening, as it slowly twists the hapless Timothy’s limbs to the point of popping.
- The climax of Hereditary features Toni Colette’s character sawing her own head off with piano wire, a disturbingly unforgettable death scene.
The death of movie characters has become an accepted reality of storytelling, but some few films blur the line between artistic vision and overly-gratuitious violence. It’s very easy to argue for freedom of expression through a cinematic medium, arguing for the execution of an artistic vision on behalf of creatives no matter how profane it may be. It’s quite another experience to actually stomach some of the most nauseating vile deaths that movies have to offer, burning horrific images into memory that aren’t sure to fade any time soon.
Unsurprisingly, many instances of exceedingly brutal death scenes come from horror movies, a genre that thrives on violence and mayhem as its bread and butter. However, some non-horror movies stand out with particularly shocking death scenes that outdo their fear-focused counterparts, upping the stakes of the drama with powerfully visceral kills that sell the emotional weight behind a given film’s themes. Whether they’re shockingly gory or simply painfully realistic, some of cinema’s worst death scenes are impossible to forget.
10 Timothy Is Put In “The Rack”
As a franchise that is largely responsible for the explosion “torture p*rn” horror movies in the early 2000s, the gruesome deaths of the Saw franchise’s traps could fill out a list all their own. One particular standout comes from Saw 3, with Jigsaws use of “The Rack”. When Jigsaw refers to a trap as his personal favorite, audiences know they’re in for some pain, as the hapless Timothy’s limbs are slowly twisted to the point of popping by the nefarious mechanical contraption. This trap is so sickening it actually makes Jeff, who’s son Timothy had killed, forgive him, not wishing the pain on even his worst enemy.
9 La Tenia Is Beat To Death With A Fire Extinguisher
The artsy French thriller Irreversible shoved audiences into the deep end, with raw depictions of sexual and physical violence that caused viewers at the Cannes Film Festival to walk out in disgust. The film comes out swinging with the depiction of the film’s antagonist, La Tenia, being slowly beat to death with a fire extinguisher. Beyond the realistic brutality, this death is made particularly shocking by the film’s reversed order of events that robs the audience of the context, putting the cheers of the onlookers and the identity of the real La Tenia, who manages to escape punishment, outside the grasp of the viewer’s understanding.
8 Annie Graham’s Takes A Piano Wire To Her Own Head
Known for producing some particularly disturbing horror movies, Ari Aster’s filmography is full of horrific deaths that almost bring the lauded horror director’s sanity into question. One of the most unforgettable of these comes at the climax of Hereditary, in which Toni Colette’s character, pushed far beyond the brink of demonic possession, slowly saws her own head off with a razor-sharp piece of piano wire. From the sickening sound to the unnervingly stiff Colette’s disturbingly stiff performance, this death proves why Hereditary is one of the scariest films in recent memory.
7 Frank Cotton Is Torn Apart By Hooks
A horror franchise populated by sadomasochist demons that thrive on torturing people, it’s no wonder that the Hellraiser saga has some excruciatingly painful-looking death scenes. Despite being released in 1987, the special effects of Frank’s wince-inducing death still hold up today, as he’s slowly flayed alive by the Cenobite’s hooks. Even though Frank Cotton was far from a good person, his agonizing demise at the hands of the inter-dimensional punishment gluttons is still hard to look at; “Jesus wept“, indeed.
6 Olga Performs Her Last Dance
Remaking the Italian horror classic that is Suspiria was a tall order, but director Luca Guadagnino proved he was up to the challenge by delivering one of the most raw, disturbing death scenes ever put to screen. Taking place at a ballet academy run by witches, the occult forces at work notify poor Olga that her spot as top student is being overtaken by the new American, Susie, with a paralyzingly-painful dance. As Susie dances, she unwittingly mangles Olga one limb at a time with overwhelming telekinetic force, twisting her into a human pretzel with enough pain to make her vomit and urinate in between sobs of terror.
5 Deputy Nick Is Scalped And Cut In Half
One of the most shockingly gory Westerns ever made, Bone Tomahawk features the single most brutal death scene to ever be featured within the genre. After being captured by a ruthless tribe of cannibals called the Troglodytes, Kurt Russel’s Sheriff Franklin Hunt can only watch as his deputy, Nick, is scalped, gagged with a spike, and then violently split in half crotch-first, screaming all the while. Nick’s screams are impossible to unhear as the nauseatingly realistic scene of intense violence plays out, juxtaposing the Sheriff’s attempts to somehow console Nick throughout the event.
4 Alex Is Mauled To Death By A Bear
At first, Backcountry appears to be a relatively unassuming nature-survival movie, depicting a couple whose relationship is on the rocks becoming increasingly frustrated with each other as they get more and more lost through the film’s namesake. However, the Canadian film doesn’t pull its punches with a sudden and jarring detour into intense violence, as one character is pulled kicking and screaming from his tent to be mercilessly eaten alive by a black bear. The gore of this grisly death comes out of nowhere, leaving viewers just as terrified as Alex’s girlfriend Jenny, as the sounds of his screams serve as the only score.
3 Paul Is Absorbed By The Blob
The Blob (1988)
A remake of a campy, if well-known, 50s B-movie, it’s surprising to see that The Blob has one of the most memorably uneasy kills of any horror movie. At one point, the gelatinous creature begins subsuming the powerless Paul, slowly dissolving him with its acidic form while encasing his face in a terrifying layer of semi-transparent goo. The acid is so strong that Paul’s arm is pulled off when a fellow student attempts to save him, compounding with this death’s inherent shock value in its killing of the protagonist of the original film.
2 Natalie’s Death
Wind River is a character-driven murder mystery that quickly makes a sharp detour into uncomfortably horrific territory, traumatizing audiences with tonal whiplash and a frighteningly true-to-life depiction of sexual violence. The film centers around the murder of a young Native American girl named Natalie, tracing a winding path of suspects through an isolated reservation. When the murder is finally shown via flashback, it’s a hard-to-swallow sequence of escalating violence that fills the viewer with equal parts rage and sorrow, making it a hard scene to watch and an even harder one to forget.
1 Nicky Santoro Is Beaten To Death
Martin Scorsese has a particular talent for romanticizing the mafia lifestyle, luring the viewer into a false sense of security before violently pulling the rug out from under them with a sudden and vicious show of violence. Perhaps none of Scorsese’s movies do this better than Casino, which took the director’s trademark brutality to the next level with the deaths of Nicky and his brother Dominick, who are both slowly beaten to a pulp with baseball bats before being buried alive. From the moment Joe Pesci’s narration suddenly cuts out, the haunting sounds of cursing and aluminum on flesh are forever etched into the viewer’s mind.