True ABCs of Death: J is for Jugular

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Rick Wakeman The Burning

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I feel it’s time that we go for the jugular. Over the years I have been exposed to literally thousands of dispatches and there have been numerous highlights amongst them. However, there are certain surfaces slightly more malleable than most and the neck is certainly one of them. I never much cared for polar neck sweaters although it’s astonishing to me that I didn’t spend my long hot adolescence summers wearing them after what I have been subjected to over the years. From simple throat cuts to the punctured larynx and Adam’s apples with a bite taken out of them, it has always proved a particularly effective way of turning my stomach. Ergo, I shall explore as many here as my memory banks allow and together she shall explore the reason for its eminence.

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What better place to start than with a little-known gem from 1978 which got straight to the gristle. Richard Marquand’s The Legacy told the tale of six heirs to the worst kind of inheritance, who become marooned at an ancient country mansion and caught up in a rather disheartening paradox. For the hapless Roger Daltrey, the words “don’t worry, I’m medically trained” likely still ring in his ears nearly four decades later. After choking on a miniscule chicken bone at the dining table during hors d’oeuvre, it was all looking a little grim for rock star Clive, even more so considering he only ate the ham and pâté. It got quickly worse for Daltrey after one of the guests performed a somewhat failed tracheotomy, leaving him sworn off KFC for life. Needless to say, chicken was off the menu the following evening and The Who didn’t tour for a while afterwards.

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Throat cuts were commonplace right through the eighties and numerous promiscuous teens were ventilated in this manner. For me, two instances stood head and shoulders above the rest and both came courtesy of Sultan of Splatter, Tom Savini. The first was Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday The 13th as Pamela Voorhees claimed her very first scalp by dispatching hitch hiker Annie. After realising that Camp Crystal Lake had not been programmed into the Pamela’s sat-nav, the youngster made a swift run for it, swift being the operative word. She made it barely a few feet before ending up cornered by a tree where mommy commenced to give the pretty co-ed a sound ventilation with her hunting knife. The true beauty in this particular dispatch was the manner in which the slit opened up, first revealing white matter before the deep red glugged forth from her gaping wound.

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Savini was also responsible for this kill’s main necktie challenger a year later in Tony Maylam’s criminally unsung slasher behemoth, The Burning. This time it was the turn of sweet-natured Karen who, after unwisely agreeing to a midnight swim with walking sperm bank Eddie, was soon left cursing the very existence of oestrogen. Eddie predictably came on a little too strong when suggesting he drop his anchor and poor Karen rebuffed his advances, making a hasty retreat back to the relative safety of the shoreline. As she waded out from the swim, proudly displaying her dense eighties thicket, to discover all her clothes had been scattered in a trail around the immediate woodland, we just knew skullduggery was afoot.

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Things appeared to be looking up for the girl as she tracked down first her panties (dagnabbit), then shirt, and finally her sneakers. However, just as she thought she had solved the riddle, Cropsy’s shears made their first appearance and opened her vocal chords with one telling slash. As she held on to her fresh cavity in abject horror, the blood loss proved too acute, and it proved to be her final swim. This wasn’t as technically accomplished as Annie’s throat slice and was shrouded in shadow as opposed to being orchestrated in broad daylight, but it resonated on a different level entirely. Most slashers, Friday The 13th being the chief culprit, were content to slay hateful characters, but here was a fresh water-lily not deserving of such a cruel demise. In addition, Maylam had been patient before playing his hand, catching us totally off-guard as finally broke his duck with those devilish garden shears.

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If Eddie thought that he had dodged a bullet, then he was very much mistaken as the very next day he set out on a one-way white water search and rescue expedition as a result of Karen not returning to base camp. They say safety in numbers and, indeed, he must have felt pretty secure surrounded by four other campers as their makeshift raft drifted downstream. If The Burning was to bow to convention then the very worst that could happen would be for the group to dock, split up, and fall foul in single file. However, Maylam threw a whole litter of cats amongst the pigeons, as they located the first of their missing canoes.

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Quite how Cropsy managed to keep such a low profile was anyone’s guess but, as he rose from the stern with steel blades glimmering and open for business, it just didn’t matter anymore. Within seconds, the entire party had succumbed, and Savini must have been rubbing his hands together by the time it was Eddie’s time to suffer. The shears found a new home dead center of his larynx and, to this day, the effect still holds up magnificently. One could hardly argue that he didn’t deserve his rough justice as he got off rather lightly the previous night after attempting to coerce Karen into walking his plank. It’s called karma son.

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Gormless grouch Glazer got it even worse as he received both blades through his voice box, before being hoisted from his feet and into a nearby tree. Savini was clearly having a ball by this point and setting out a template for exquisite throat FX which is still now rarely matched. If Eddie had it coming, then Glazer didn’t possess the human minerals to observe and evade.

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Once again, The Sultan of Splatter outdid himself in one of my favourite ever dispatches…period. Joseph Zito’s The Prowler is often overlooked and that saddens my soul as, of all eighties slashers, its tone was perhaps the most ominous. The kill in question involved another late night dip, this time for Lisa after growing tired of the watered down punch and deciding to get a few widths in. After receiving the heel of the GI’s military issue boot square in the nose, the convulsing water baby was grabbed with absolutely no intention of being given the kiss of life. Instead she was provided with a rather grisly introduction to his bayonet.

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In the uncut version Savini lingered for some time, tantalizing his addressee as the elongated blade played her throat like a fleshy cello. As her limp cadaver dropped lifelessly sub-aqua, an air bubble materialised from the open wound and this provided the happiest of accidents for Savini. While he was in seventh heaven, Cindy Weintraub who played Lisa appeared far less chipper in an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette as it took numerous takes before The Sultan was satisfied. I’m fairly assured that the very next thing he did after shooting this scene was to return to his trailer and spank his petulant monkey. Every time I watch this glorious scene, I echo that sentiment.

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Meanwhile, in the same vicinity, Miss Allison later received the bayonet to a similarly fleshy area, this time with puncturing effect as opposed to horizontal, and it was back to the trailer for Tom.

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I would feel miserly not returning to Camp Crystal Lake at this point as another perforated appetite stood out as one of the eighties’ defining kills. This time it involved Kevin Bacon and he was reprimanded for his footloose antics, upon being grabbed from beneath the mattress and agonizingly skewered. The hand that rocked this particular cradle was none other than Savini’s of course and the dispatch was shot from differing vantages for audiences both sides of the Atlantic. That shit wouldn’t have happened to The Hollow Man. Instead of harming fledgling Bacon’s career, it ended up fast-tracking him to fame as the scene has long since been regarded as one of the all-time greats.

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Moving on, but not straying too far, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter opened with a particularly nasty hacksaw incision as frisky morgue attendant Axel, played by Police Academy klutz Bruce Mahler, paid the price for watching one too many workout videos when he should have been bagging and tagging. After feeling the jagged edge slide through his throat as though it were butter, Voorhees decided that he wasn’t done yet, and proceeded to yank Axel’s head a full 360. I don’t wish to harp on about Savini but he had returned to the series after having no involvement with the previous two entries. Moreover, he was paired a second time with Zito and those two must have been double trouble as The Final Chapter was easily the bloodiest of all the sequels and arguably the best.

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Dario Argento’s Phenomena featured a truly mind-boggling moment at its close as long-suffering Jennifer Connelly finally dashed expectantly towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Running up a hilly incline to the open arms of savior Morris, she was horrified to witness him losing his head just before the point of embrace, courtesy of an unhinged fishwife brandishing an oversized sheet of metal. Connelly’s assailant then made the critical error of spending far too long on her monologue and was put to task by none other than a chimp with a switch blade.

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Never one of Argento’s more logical outings, Phenomena took insane to a whole new level, ending on a lighter note as she finally got her cuddle…with a knife-wielding simian.

The Cranberries Zombie

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No article about exposed jugulars could dream of overlooking fellow Italian wizard Lucio Fulci and, like Savini, he loved nothing more than letting it linger. His 1979 near-masterpiece, Zombie Flesh Eaters, will crop up habitually during The True ABCs of Death sequence but this time I shall not be frothing at the mouth over that wonderful eye gouge and, instead, I’m taking it back to far earlier as the marooned party catch first whiff of the somewhat rancid coastal air. The scene to which I refer involved Susan as she was mauled by a freshly risen flesh eater. Talk about wrong place, wrong time.

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The zombie however must’ve thanked his lucky stars after performing his morning stretches to find a nice tender cut of lean nape dangling suggestively before his barely opened eyes. Never one to turn his nose up at a free meal ticket, the soil shuffler logically engaged in a brisk nibble and a grand bite it was too. Removing a hefty portion of her windpipe, he left a fractured bone jutting from her new orifice as she gargled any remaining fluids. Fulci’s film wasn’t what you’d call light on grue but he outdid himself on this occasion, enraging easily ruffled censors and delighting just about everybody else in the process.

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George A. Romero’s Martin stands tall as one of the finest films of its epoch by my reckoning and a magisterial John Amplas took a rather unique approach to siphoning the blood of his victims. In one masterful scene, he drugged his quarry, and the slow working toxin left him juggling numbers somewhat. In one room was his hard target, a beautiful woman whose deep red spritzer he wished to quench upon. Outside in the elements, steadily slackening his grip on consciousness, was her fuck buddy and, to Martin, this unnecessary distraction just had to go. Using a discarded tree branch to fashion a sizeable opening in the man’s throat, regular business then resumed and he returned to his buxom blood donor. Guess who was pulling the strings? I’ll leave this one to your imagination.

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Another Romero masterpiece, Dawn of The Dead, supplied us with a doozy right at the offset as a hysterical woman leapt excitedly into the arms of her slightly off-colored spouse and instantly regretted her decision to hug it out. After deciding that her forearm tasted good enough to eat, her blighted beau moved to her lovingly prepared neck, taking a sizeable chunk of it with him, leaving one hell of a love bite. Then, to add insult to injury, he left her to do the washing up. Is it any wonder we’ll all be screwed if the zombie apocalypse commences? In unrelated news, scientists are already suggesting this to be a distinct possibility. It may be time to invest in that dish washer.

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I feel it is time to bring us up-to-date and, in particular, a movie I watched for the first time only last night. Despite being bettered by its stellar sequel, V/H/S is one of the better modern anthologies and featured a particularly conclusive throat gouge as Sam received an agonizing incision to his pliable neck tissue. It was sufficient enough to provide instant oral hemorrhage and was followed up instantaneously by a telling second strike. This time his aggressor was far more persistent, carving through tendon as the retching man gargled his deep red mouthwash in a rather disparaging wake-up call.

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The second rental, V/H/S/2, featured a similarly nasty neck ravaging during its standout segment Safe Heaven. Gareth Evans’ rambunctious offering wasn’t shy on the coulis and one poor unfortunate had his throat excavated in delightfully sinister fashion. What makes both the aforementioned kills that much more gruelling is that the found footage format isn’t historically known for its grue. Evans clearly didn’t read his brief as there was plenty nasty about this video. This vignette typified the phrase “going for the jugular”, featuring everything from mass cult suicide to a winged demon being birthed before our disbelieving eyes. We didn’t relish cutting the cord on that one.

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It pains me to end there as the jugular happens to be something of a specialty to me. Both my peepers and my throat are beyond precious commodities and my least-favored demise would entail either being infiltrated. Sure, polar necks don’t really tickle my sickle, but because of guys like Savini, Fulci, Zito, and Romero, I do wear a neck brace constantly.

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Click here to read J is for Jason

 

Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Director’s Cut 2015)

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Necks Please

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Sometimes it’s better to let pictorials do the talking on your behalf and the jugular seems simply primed for further examination. It’s a cut-throat business for damned sure and, the moment you don that claret bow tie, there can be only one outcome. I pity the fool that attempts to slice my trachea as I suffer from chronic acid reflux making me little more than a plain-clothes xenomorph. Remember that any opportunists. I’d recommend stabbing both my legs as right now I can’t feel either of them due to sub-zero conditions. I just knew I should have worn my woolen scarf you know. Anyhoots, anyone for bacon?

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