Really, despite the hard outer skull the head is a delicate thing. In the movies its even more so as its a visceral image, having a head cut off, sliced open, shot at and blown apart. It often is the last moment of a scene because you can’t really top a head splat and also because for the character involved it just so FINAL. Here are ten head hits of various different types that have affected me over the years. There are a couple of obvious ones because no list can be complete without those two, but I’ve even ventured outside the horror genre, such is the power of head death imagery. Have fun:
David Warner in The Omen
The most obvious one, and for many years was the raining champ of severed heads. When you talked about The Omen, you talked about when David Warner had his head sliced off by a pane of glass. It was truely shocking at the time, and like, of course, all shocking things from yesteryear it is hard to see what the fuss was all about now. The set up, which is a bit like part of the game Mouse Trap is kind of ludicrous, the head looks as fake as the Mona Lisa smoking a fag and the multi angle, slow mo shots of the head coming off again and again are just crazy. Actually I kind of like that bit. In a mainstream studio movie who would show a hideous death from numerous angles in slow motion nowadays, huh? No one I tell you, no one. And of course director Richard Donner was immediately snapped up to do Superman after this. Of course he was, of course. The seventies: lots of drugs, lots of weird decision making.
Tom Savini in Maniac
Legendary make up effects artist Tom Savini had a life size dummy called Boris he’d take with him to which ever film he was working on. Boris would inevitably end up in most of the movies. He’s a zombie who has his head blown off by the swat team at the beginning of Dawn of the Dead. In Maniac he plays Savini himself, as innocent victim of the title character, his head blown off by the double holding a swan off shotgun. Who was holding the weapon? Only Savini himself, concerned the stuntman might not hit the right part of his own fake head. Its enormously meta before that was even a thing.
You do not have a list of head destruction without mentioning Scanners. Its the best head bang ever, hands down. Its weird to think that the promotional clips that got relased when the film was first in the cinema always had the built up to this moment. So even on stuff like Pebble Mill on One, the BBC they would show Michael Ironside going head to head with some baldy chap in a battle of minds. The other guy would start looking worried, then sweaty, then grabbing the collar of his shirt, then shaking violently, and then… it would cut away to Magnus Magnusson talking about house plants.
Waspy Youth in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
If there’s one thing we all know about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre it is that, despite its violent title, it is in fact incredibly bloodless. Nightmarish and brutal yes, but there’s not actually much in the way of the red stuff. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 aims to correct that in its opening scene. The stupid “youths” smugly showing off their driving skills down the dark highways of Texas deserve everything they get but when Leatherface takes his weapon of choice to this cream jumpered fellow you still feel sorry for the guy and that horrific headache he’d have the next morning.
Head Garrote in The Prowler
The Prowler is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a very good film. It does, however have some very good effects, courtesy, once again, of Tom Savini at the height of his powers. The movie does indeed have another lovely head explosion at the end of the film, almost certainly using Boris the dummy again (although by this point he was apparently getting a bit wiffy) but for the sake of variety I’ve put in this lovely moment when The Prowler sticks a dirty great big knife through this poor “teenager” (he looks about thirty) from top of the skull out through his jaw. It’s the rolling of the white eyes and the firm grip that sell this head wound. The person doing the grip was Savini himself of course.
Conans mum in Conan
The least gratuitous one on the list and also the most emotional. Young Conan holds his mother’s hand when they are rounded up by the villainous Thulsa Doom and his cronies only to see said hand fall away from him as his mother is beheaded. Of course being a little Conan, Doom was not to know that he would grow up to be a massive Arnold Schwarzenegger who would exact a similar, bloody revenge.
Spanish Guy in Aguirre, Wrath of God
Werner Herzog’s classic is a very serious film, even with Klaus Kinski at his maddest. But for all it’s high brow commentary about the destructive nature of humanity, it still has time to have a hilarious gag where a man counting to ten is beheaded and his severed head still keeps on counting. Okay, so the still above make it obvious that the actor is just buried in the ground up to his neck but you’ve got to love the reverse-chicken in the farmyard joke of it all.
Ash in Alien
I think we forget about Ash in Alien but at the time he was almost as shocking as the chestburster. Just two years after all the elaborate but decidedly metal robots in Star Wars here was a machine that was organic, and not in a nice, human fashion but milky and slimy like it had been created in a very large test tube. When Ash starts to attack Ripley it is with a rolled up magazine which he forces into her mouth like a phallic nightmare, then he starts squirting out creamy fluids everywhere before Yaphet Kotto comes along and bashes him about til his head flips backwards. Even then he keeps on fighting and spurting. Only at this moment do we realise that there has been something as alien as the Alien itself on board the ship all along.
Doctor Hill in Re-Animator
This isn’t so much a head removal as a head insertion. Whatever you may think of Re-Animator, okay, no, whatever I make think of Re-Animator (not a big fan ) I can’t deny that this scene is the most ludicrous and the best bit of this or most other films in the eighties. Doctor Hill’s unhealthy obsession with Barbara Crampton goes beyond the grave where he literally tries to give her head even when his has been cut off. The fact that the scene was cut from the UK release is a shame because it elevates the rest of the film to new levels of insanity where you think they can’t actually do that can they? No? No!!! Oh yep, yep, they’re doing that, right there.
Little Girl in The Beyond
There’s a girl in this film who despite being as creepy as hell manages to last all the way through the film until the climax when she gets possessed and has her head blown open by the heroes. You can see the background through the hole in her head. When I saw this at the age of fourteen this was my idea of heaven. I was a very weird fourteen year old, and let’s face it, i still am. Happy Halloween folks.