It seemed to be some sort of rule of thumb with the more iconic of horror baddies – the bigger you are then the harder and much more spectacularly you fall, usually amidst a climatic showcase of visual effects that have stretched the already limited budget of the film to near breaking point. I guess that's part of their enduring appeal. I mean, would Dracula really have been as unforgettable as he is if he was easily snuffed out by a simple baseball bat to the dome? Could you imagine watching a version of King Kong where the ape was simply put down like Old Yeller instead of being shot down from the top of the Empire State building? Some of these deaths have become as iconic as the villain themselves, complimenting the closing of the film with some final reel fireworks. Even a nameless henchman has a fighting chance for some kind of legacy by being dispatched in an adequately violent manner, properly punctuated with a snappy quip by the main protagonist of the story. Some, however, have wandered a little too far, even bordering on being downright asinine and confusing. The culprits usually stem from films of the eighties, the decade all-too-well-known for its excess.
So this list is a celebration of the many deaths of the boogeymen we all love to hate, along with the occasional pit stop to poke a playful finger at the maniacs who bought the farm with more of a whimper than a bang. Beware, for there be spoilers ahead.
FREDDY'S DEATHS IN 'NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET' PARTS 4 (1988) & 5 (1989)
After the huge effects-driven juggernaut that was Dream Warriors proved its worth both critically and commercially, the minds behind the Elm Street series leaned towards style over substance, hoping their increasingly elaborate dream sequences would buy them a few scares and draw in the fans. This was all pretty evident in the climatic Krueger demise sequences of The Dream Master and The Dream Child, sending the bastard son of a thousand maniacs off in a fashion that pretty much defied logic. From then on in the series, it appears that conjuring up a fresh new way to kill the Springwood slasher had unfortunately become something of a arduous chore. In the final few minutes of Renny Harlin's Dream Master, Alice Johnson is the final girl set with the task of vanquishing Freddy. She's the titular Dream Master, you see, yet despite absorbing all her fallen friend's survival talents she's no better off; Freddy has shrugged off everything she has thrown at him. It's down to the ghosts of the children who recite the Dream Master rhyme: “Now I lay me down to sleep. The Master of Dreams my soul will keep. In the reflection by my side...” Cue Alice, who somehow realizes that simply showing Freddy's reflection to him will invoke the spirits of the slain children to literally burst from his body. A success for the makeup effects department, perhaps, but for everyone else who paid their admission price it is a different story.
Freddy’s second duel with Alice Johnson in the fifth, endearingly silly installment of the series, helmed by Predator 2 director Stephen Hopkins, is just plain surreal and arguably a tad muddled. Here, all it takes is being fooled by a ten-year-old boy (Alice's unborn son, able to manifest himself in her dreams) to get Krueger to drop his guard - to what end though, I couldn't tell you. Informing the villain that “School's out,” he shoots something from his mouth, presumably turning the dream demon's own power against him, allowing the souls of Alice's friends to pull him from his very skin, leaving him in an infantile state on the floor. Before you ask, it's not any clearer on a re-watch, either.
DWAYNE'S DEATH IN 'LOST BOYS' (1987)
Three simple words make all the difference. A horror movie monster death that seems to live on and on; the soundbite used in too many metal songs to list; even inspiring the name of a successful hardcore punk band. Getting impaled on a set of wall-mounted deer antlers? That's for pussies. Leave it to one of the lackeys to exit the film in style: shot through the chest by an arrow fired by Corey Haim and pinned to a huge amplifier to die a horrible electric death amidst a shower of sparks and the awful warbling of Rick Springfield's “We're Gonna Have A Good Time Now.” The humanity. Three simple words, one snappy quip – “Death by Stereo.”
PINHEAD'S DEATH IN HELLRAISER BLOODLINE (1996)
This is arguably the most definitive of the cenobite deaths in the entire series. After three films this is the one occasion where Doug Bradley's Pinhead isn’t sent packing to hell, but to oblivion. Surely there's no way back from that - ceasing to exist entirely? To date, if you really want to get pedantic (and you should expect this from a devout Hellraiser fanboy like me) Kevin Yagher's film still remains the ultimate fate of ol’ needle face. The film series’ time line advances no further than this. Lured onto the space station Minos in the year 2127, Pinhead stands before Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay), the descendant of Phillip L'Merchant, French toymaker and creator of the Lament Configuration puzzle box. The design has evolved over the years, and it is revealed that the very structure they are standing in is a big trap to burn away the cenobites that have hounded his ancestors since the box's construction. The station folds in on itself, becoming a giant puzzle box, then triumphantly exploding. Sure, it's all a bit Death Star by way of Event Horizon, but there's something poignant about seeing the black pope of hell pinned against the wall as gravity shifts, his shark black eyes now giving way to signs of humanity. There's a look of genuine fear on his face as the fire engulfs the room leaving him time to utter his last word, “Amen,” a response to Merchant's taunt,“Welcome to oblivion.” Merely one last sardonic quip aimed at Christianity or did the sudden introduction to mortality inspire a last minute change in faith?
DEATH OF THE SHARK IN 'JAWS' (1975)
Not only one of the finest examples of our beloved genre, but Jaws is hands-down one of cinema's purest forms of filmmaking genius. For the duration of the running time Steven Spielberg shows us very little of the titular beastie – simple lurking point-of-view shots with that John Williams score and the occasional glimpse of a shark fin are all that’s needed. The result? Pure, white knuckle terror that pays off in pure horror as the great white reveals itself for one final showdown with it's hunters. With his boat chewed to smithereens, Amity Island police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is about to go down with the ship and into the waters with the shark. The only chance he has is that gas canister lodged in the shark's teeth. “Smile, You son of a-!” Boooom! His shot lands and the shark is obliterated in a shower of brain matter and gore. Brody can finally make that long journey home – and we all needed crowbars to remove us from the edge of our seats.
FREDDY DIES IN THREE DIMENSIONS IN 'FREDDY'S DEAD' (1991)
So after dragging out the series perhaps a little too far, this was the chapter ostensibly dedicated to laying the famous dream slayer to rest, once and for all. With a huge following of fans chomping at the bit to see how the story reaches it's conclusion, you'd think that the big wigs at New Line would be well aware that this is one crucial sequel to get right. Sadly, Rachel Talalay's film belly flopped horribly, even with the enticing lure of a 3D finale – an optimistic move, considering stereoscopic horror filmmaking hadn't really advanced much since Friday The 13th Part 3 in 1982. On paper, this sounded promising. Kreuger, now completely devoid of any menace, is wisecracking and quipping his way from one overblown dream sequence to the next like a homicidal Bugs Bunny. How is the iconic Kreuger vanquished once and for all? Pretty much the same way Heather Langenkamp's Nancy Thompson did in Wes Craven's original nightmare way back in 1984. Dragged from the dream world into this one by the woman revealed to be Freddy's estranged daughter, Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane), he is violently beaten to a pulp, then has a pipe bomb buried in his chest. He wearily sighs his last word “Kids” before exploding into a dozen miniaturized versions of himself, like the final boss in an old 16-bit beat 'em up. I wasn’t quite of age to catch this in theatres on release so can't really comment on the ambitious use of 3D for the finale, finding myself among those who made do with a VHS transfer of the film and some shoddy glasses with red and green lenses included in the box. For many people my age, poor old Freddy Kreuger finally met a piss poor end, drowning in a vague blur of red and green.
JASON DIES IN 'JASON GOES TO HELL – THE FINAL FRIDAY' (1993)
The Friday films may be deliriously silly, but many of us wouldn't have them any other way. So goes the chapter that would ostensibly see the hockey masked lunatic follow in the footsteps of a certain dream demon and finally put his teen killing days firmly behind him. Sure, after what even hardcore series fans would admit is a series low point, we get enough special effect fireworks for our buck as Kane Hodder's Jason is dragged to hell by a pack of weird muppet-looking hands, the result of having a mystical dagger buried into him by way of a roundhouse kick. It's the aftermath that puts this particular demise into legend. After the dust has settled and everyone has gone home, convinced that they have put the worst behind them, a gust of wind reveals Jason's mask, partly buried in the dirt. A very familiar razor glove punches out from the dirt, snatching the mask from sight. So began years of fevered fanboy speculation as to where exactly this image would lead. It wasn't until 2003 that we would all find out.
CHUCKY DIES IN 'CHILD'S PLAY' 1 & 2 (1988 & 1990)
Chucky may very well be a little foul-mouthed plastic doll but that doesn’t stop him from being one big pain in the ass to kill, with a tendency to rise from the grave almost as often as the Terminator. Six year old Andy (Alex Vincent) proves himself to have a knack for survival, trapping the pint-sized killer behind the fireplace in an effort to defend himself and his mother from a doll possessed by the spirit of Charles Lee Ray, known in his former life as the Lakeshore Strangler. Chucky makes a plea for the young boy's mercy by bleating, “We're friends 'til the end, remember?” before Andy sets him alight, sending Chucky screaming around the house, engulfed in a ball of flames. Brad Dourif's superb vocal work makes the chaos all that more effective. It doesn’t stop there however, as he still finds the energy to march slowly towards Andy and his mother Karen. Even decapitation fails to halt him, his charred, disembodied head barking orders at the rest of his body to kill a police officer.
The arguably superior sequel takes the gag and runs with it, only this time bigger and better – after the Chuckster realizes it is way too late to perform the voodoo ritual that will prevent him from being trapped forever in a Good Guy doll, all bets are off. Andy is of no use to him now and it’s a simple case of psychotic revenge, stalking Andy and his foster sister Kyle (Christine Elise) through the Good Guy doll factory. Losing his arm after trapping it in machinery, he replaces it with a razor-sharp shard of steel, making his stump a deadly weapon. Sewn to the spot on one of the conveyor belts, he is dragged into one of the machines to be painfully chewed up and spat out in a steamy heap like an old dog toy before finally being doused in boiling paint. Yet he still comes back, albeit seriously deformed in a glorious display of old-school animatronics, for one last scare. Kyle forces an air pump down the poor doll's throat that pumps him with so much air that he bursts like some kind of horrifying piñata. Poor old Charles. Back to the Good Guy club house in the sky for you.
MASS ELECTROCUTION IN 'GREMLINS 2' (1990)
Joe Dante's larger-than-life special effects laden horror comedy sequel could only really end in a huge lavish musical number - and why not? We've had a transsexual Gremlin, a flasher, one whose body is becoming a giant vegetable and even Hulk Hogan turned up to smack some common decency into the mischievous little mites (for those who managed to catch the theatrical version). The 'smart' Gremlin has now led the entire batch into the lobby for a huge rendition of Frank Sinatra's “New York, New York” to kill some time as they wait for the sun to go down, which is their chance to get out into the Big Apple and spread throughout the general population. It's down to Billy Peltzer to save the day, turning on the building sprinkler system so that he may douse the batch and unleash a Gremlin whose entire being is literally electricity. The Gremlins are all horribly electrocuted, a sequence that probably saw legendary make up effects artist Rick Baker and his team working around the clock.
DEATH OF HELENA MARKOS IN 'SUSPIRIA' (1977)
This horror villain demise gets a mention on our list just for its shit-your-pants-scary factor alone. Sure the film is perhaps more infamous for it's earlier deaths that are much more visually shocking, but for sheer dread, the killing of the head witch and founder of the dance academy was a perfect exclamation point for the film. Struggling to get to the truth behind the violent slaying of her friends, young dance student Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) has found in the sleeping chamber of the head witch of the coven. Her god-awful wheezing has ceased and we see only her shadow, which rises and turns to camera – to us - which still to this day chills me to the bone. Desperate to put an end to the madness, Suzy arms herself with a stabbing weapon and draws back the bed curtain to discover that the witch cannot be seen. Amused by the girl's confusion, Helena begins cackling and re-animates the corpse of Suzy's friend Sarah to attack, giving the poor girl moments to live. It's a miracle that she spots the outline of the witch on the bed and quickly stabs her, stopping the murderous corpse in its tracks and somehow sends the entire Academy into self destruct mode like an old James Bond film. A very brief , yet unforgettable final encounter none the less.
BILLY LOOMIS COMES BACK FOR ONE MORE SCARE IN 'SCREAM' (1996)
So Ghostface is unmasked – it's actually Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) and his high-strung acquaintance Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard). Disposing of Stu by way of a television to the head, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is saved by over-zealous news reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox). Both the killers now foiled, it seems that Kevin Williams' ground breaking script has one more post-modern gag up its sleeve before the audience gets to see the credits roll. Horror movie obsessive Randy Meeks (Jaime Kennedy) gives caution to Sidney, who goes back for one last look at Billy. “Careful. This is the moment when the supposedly-dead killer comes back to life for one last scare.” Boo! Sure enough, Loomis lunges forward, but only to be met with a bullet right between the eyes from our final girl. “Not in my movie.”