Suggested Audio Candy:
 Jerry Goldsmith “The Omen”
 The Offspring “Beheaded”
For our second outing into The True ABCs of Death, there could only ever be one option. The beheading is of particular interest to me as I have one image on constant loop in a small cavernous corner of my mind; that being David Warner’s decapitated head rotating perpetually on that sheet of wayward glass. That’s right Grueheads, at the end of a long day, when I decided to boot down and enter sleep mode, that is the screen saver which greets me without exception and I’m actually okay with that. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Jennings, and shed an internal tear when he finally succumbed after providing Robert Thorne with such a staunch ally as he got into scrape after scrape. But what a kill!
Richard Donner’s The Omen provided one of my very first run-ins with unbridled terror and, while other kids my age were getting their kicks from watching The Goonies dig for hidden treasure, I was frantically attempting to pull up that hand brake with the power of my mind and avert the catastrophe. The ominous audio alone induced cold sweats but accompanied by such unforeseen optical anguish, I nearly soiled my breaches. Donner had no intention of letting me off the hook either. Numerous agonizing slow-motion revolutions ensured that the very moment I believed it to be safe to look back at the screen, I was greeted by its penultimate pirouette. Ironically, Donner also gave us The Goonies and I believe this was his way of apologizing for wrecking our childhoods.
I have witnessed the departure of a vast abundance of spuds from their fleshy roots over the years and can state with assurance that you never forget a good beheading. Pamela Voorhees’ face-grid of teeth also made its journey at funeral pace although it’s hard to argue she didn’t warrant it after skewering footloose Kevin Bacon beforehand when all he wanted to do was to dance. The head in question eventually made a reappearance for Steve Miner’s Friday The 13th sequel, only this time Ginny used it as a bargaining tool.
Now call me pedantic and I’ll remind you that I can see down your cleavage, but isn’t it a bad idea to offer up the disembodied bonnet of one’s dear mother as an olive branch? Perhaps wearing Pamela’s teeth on a thigh bracelet would have settled the poor boy even more. Or maybe she could have fashioned a cello using her intestines as strings and played him a lullaby. In the history of dick moves, that one ranks up there pretty high.
A personal darling decapitation of mine came from the most unexpected of locales. David Slade’s 30 Days of Night was never less than a solid vampire feature but hardly pushed the envelope with regards to splatter or, at least, not for its first two acts. Suddenly, it’s as though Slade just cried “fuck it!” and any previous restraint was relinquished as he revealed his mean streak in no uncertain terms. The subtraction of poor Billy’s top box was a cumbersome exercise and three solid blows were required to separate his neckline from its stubborn root. By the penultimate chop it hung off-kilter, attached by a diminutive gargling thread of coarsely carved flesh. Truly an awe-inspiring moment, this caught me unawares after a bucket load of passable CGI and a tone not nearly as portentous beforehand.
Who could forget sea-faring Ben Gardner? This pillar of the community’s bonce made an appearance sub-aqua, scaring the infinitely affable Hopper out of his wet suit in the process. Mischievous Jaws left this token donation rigged inside a sunken vessel and when called upon it bounced up like a buoy, minus a peeper, in possibly one of the most startlingly unexpected instances of manufactured knee-jerk shockorama ever committed to celluloid, or at least during my filmic upbringing. Even my nightmares’ nightmares had nightmares for a long stretch afterwards which probably wasn’t aided by the fact I viewed the scene habitually, each time with digits glued across my face while always allowing myself ample exposure between my trembling fingers to suck in every nanosecond of that drawn out jiffy of movie mastery.
Meanwhile mainstream movies like Highlander and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade mirthfully introduced decapitation into the mainstream and it has remained a popular means of dispatch ever since. On the lighter side, British funny man Kenny Everett even had a crack. This wasn’t with his ham-fisted DIY sketch, although I recall uproarious severance there, but in the form of Ray Cameron’s delightfully camp 1984 horror comedy Bloodbath at the House of Death with emperor Vincent Price and buxom blonde bombshell Pamela Stephenson in tow. This was, without question, one of the most innovative amputations I’ve ever seen as the weapon of choice was… roll the drums… a can-opener. Sheer demented brilliance!
Walter Herzog’s splendid 1972 feature epic, Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, featured another grand decapitation and who better than the late Klaus Kinski to do such dirty work? After sensing potential mutiny, Aguirre calmly informs his comrade that “That man is a head taller than me. That may change” before stepping up like Happy Gilmore and unleashing his nine iron. As he head vacated its fixtures and fittings and rolled off into the hay, his victim couldn’t resist one final run of the mouth. Brain activity is known to persist for 2-3 seconds after receiving the chop and this put that theory into practise quite brilliantly. For a film shot at the turn of the seventies, this remains one of the most masterful beheadings in cinematic history.
Numerous motion pictures depicting POW Camp atrocities have featured bouncing barnets and most recently, Steve Zahn had his head deduced in another Herzog film, Rescue Dawn. I had always held mild contempt towards Zahn. Everyone has that one actor who grates on them purely by existing and this maddening moronic quarter-wit really makes my teeth grind. The mere sound of his voice is frighteningly akin to Quint scraping his dirty nails down that chalkboard and, should my eyes make contact with his beaming face; my desire would be to dislodge it from his shoulders sharpish. Obviously Walter felt the same furious anger as he did away with it before the eyes of his horrified buddy, played by Christian Bale. All of a sudden an immense feeling of melancholy washed over me. Damn you conscience! Don’t get me wrong, I still feel compelled to smack Zahn’s face every time I see it but as long as his appearances are incredibly infrequent, I see no reason to hate on him any more than is necessary.
One necktie party I will never fail to have off pat one is a particularly grisly head slice from James Glickenhaus’ 1980 vigilante feature The Exterminator. Right at the offset, barely had the StarVision logo faded from sight, and that bayonet cut through a hapless prisoner’s throat as if it was Swiss cheese. Primarily it appeared a nasty gash but, as the head slid backwards from its foundation, it became something far more ghastly. To this day, few decapitations have twisted my gut with such effortlessness. For a couple of years in the eighties, you didn’t fuck with Robert Ginty.
Perseus took Medusa’s head for a spin in Desmond Davis’ 1981 fantasy blockbuster Clash of the Titans and it appeared the only way to stop this bitch from causing mayhem. She proved herself a more than able adversary with a rather one-sided round of musical statues and Perseus did what a true titan would in such sorry circumstances and snuffed the problem out at the very root. After relinquishing the gorgon of her serpentine curls and stowing the head in an old burlap sack, he used it against the Kraken earning himself significant kudos and rescuing the shackled babe in the process. I would imagine she reciprocated by giving him head and like to imagine that entailing turning him to stone using Medusa’s head once again and running off with his favorite sandals.
Of course, I can’t mention decapitation without a tip of the Crimson Quill towards the great Stuart Gordon. His 1985 gore bonanza, Re-Animator, featured a good-humored and decidedly randy head in a Petri dish. When Barbara Crampton read the script to discover the scene where David Gale went down on her, she probably considered it to be worth a shot so you can imagine her distress on learning he intended on doing so independently from the rest of his cadaver. I’m pretty sure I counted over 2-3 seconds and he was certainly cognizant as he perused her wares with his lustful licker.
In other news, James Isaac’s sturdy slasher The Horror Show, callously rebranded House III, featured a disembodied bonnet in a deep fat fryer as Max Jenke prepared to tuck into his full English breakfast at the local whistle-stop cafe while Howard R. Cohen’s benign spoof, Saturday the 14th, found a home for another top box amidst relish at the McCarthy family table, while the brood carried on their daily routine utterly oblivious.
Wes Craven was responsible for some very good movies during the eighties but his 1986 misfire, Deadly Friend, was a fairly insipid affair apart from one moment of movie magic. Anne Ramsey (from The Goonies no less) played Elvira Parker, an old hag with a mean spirit and face like a bag of rusted nails. A basketball was the murder weapon on this occasion and, as it bounced off her slapped face, said face burst like a colostomy bag. Not so much decapitation as obliteration, this proved a rare source of stimulation in an otherwise uninspired film and gave us lessons in freeze-frame as we sat merrily with VHS remote in hand attempting catch it precisely at the slam dunk.
I learned that technique from watching David Cronenberg’s Scanners in 1981. One of the most emblematic pieces of imagery from the entire epoch, the anchorman’s exploding head holds up to this day, even in freeze-frame. What started as a tense nervous headache evolved into full-blown migraine, before concluding in a sickening detonation of cranial fluids and membrane. Again not strictly decapitation but something every bit as rewarding.
Jesús Franco passed away this year and is remembered more for his skin flicks than his horror films but in 1981 he ventured into a far darker province with Bloody Moon. Not what you would call fine art by any stretch of the imagination, it did however become notorious for one gruesome beheading by means of the serrated edge of a colossal circular saw. Regrettably, the head that plopped off the assembly line resembled a mannequin’s but it was still sufficient to outrage hot-headed DPP executives and was branded as a video nasty for its crimes. Laughable really; it had the appearance of a Girl’s World styling head (apologies for the analogy, three older sisters!) and was so economically implemented that it became an object of hilarity rather than terror.
With a similarly shoe-string kitty, Scott Spiegel’s Intruder fared somewhat more favorably in 1989. It boasted a head dissection with another industrial death tool. Sheared off horizontally, the two halves of this coconut were then left unevenly pieced back together for the final girl to stumble across later. Once more, the suits got twitchy and the scene was callously cut from the running time upon its VHS release, only to be reinstated further down the line. If any budding filmmakers are looking for ideas on how to stretch those dollars to the hilt, then I would implore them to look no further.
Umberto Lenzi’s 1981 exploitation flick Cannibal Ferox provided us unparalleled dark remuneration as Mike Logan, having already had his member carved off and devoured before his bulging eyes like a hot dog with cheese, found himself bolted underneath a bench with only his forehead visible topside. One of the famished cannibals then proceeded to produce a machete and pop off his summit like a primed pimple leaving behind a banquet of brain matter for his ravenous ravaging pals.
Six years later, Peter Jackson got in on the act also. In cult classic Z-movie Bad Taste the affectionately named bearded teacher’s pet Robert (played by Jackson himself) chowed down with comparable glee, only this time armed with a dessert spoon for consumption of the sundae bloody sundae. While decidedly crude by today’s standards, Jackson made light of such a darkened act playing for belly laughs over endeavour to outshine Lenzi.
Special mention must be made of Adrián Cardona and David Muñoz’ rambunctious 2012 short, Fist of Jesus. The messiah multiplied those two little fishes, using them as projectiles and making short bloody work of the slowly approaching undead, who shuffled to their fate like leisurely Zulus. Only God knows what he could have achieved with five loaves of thin-sliced bread.
This next decapitation is open to great debate as it arrived at the conclusion of Halloween H20 and involved no other than Michael Myers himself. Ramming him against a tree didn’t work so Laurie took matters into her own hands and, in spite of his very best silent pleas and outstretched hands, swiftly removed cut him down to size. The problem was that Halloween Resurrection had to clear up this mess and, to its credit, the revelation that it was, in fact, an incapacitated paramedic behind that mask sporting a crushed larynx, got Rick Rosenthal out of a bind. For the following fifteen minutes, it was looking pretty favorable for this eighth entry, but alas it didn’t last.
My personal darling of recent times has to be Matt Farnsworth’s The Orphan Killer. Fallen choir boy Marcus Miller goes to great lengths to free his prey’s head from its bearings. This particular head-fuck gets right down there as the blade severs the arteries and then, in a gruesome trophy moment, the barnet is held up, claret all around. It’s a particularly nasty moment and one of the most gratifying decapitations I’ve ever been exposed to.
Alexandra Aja’s Haute Tension hit the ground running with not one but two decapitations. The first was merely suggested as our killer discards a head after using it to pleasure himself in his truck. The second provided the real meat and potatoes and offered American studios their first indication as to Aja’s deft hand with regards to inventive splatter. A wall unit was used to dislodge a head trapped between the banisters and, after one fateful slide, proved itself the very best in home execution furniture, leaving a sickening spray of claret spritzer in its blood drenched wake.
Indeed, there are simply too many magnificent moments to declare in one article. I could scribe a bible on the multitude of iconic decapitations from within the annals of horror but instead I bat the disembodied head back to my treasured Grueheads. My closing Chip Off The Old Block gallery is your whiteboard my savage siblings, yours to fill with any beheadings I have negated to include. It gives me no finer pleasure than to play devil’s advocate, and give you the tools to share in such splendorous slaughter. It’s our duty to keep the heads rolling so, please, feel free to give me all the head you possibly can.
Chip Off The Old Block
Okay then Grueheads, it’s time for a head count. Remember, should I have excluded any particularly memorable decapitations, then free to leave your comments in the basket below and watch out for my rigged guillotine blade. I will endeavor to include any blocks suggested and we can fertilize this shit like Katy Perry’s Twitter following. It’s not like there is any shortage of heads rolling. Don’t let it all be for nothing. Tell you what, just to get things moving, I shall give us a head start.