While there’s certainly a time and place for subtlety in horror films, sometimes you’re just in the mood to see some good old-fashioned onscreen bloodletting. Forget what the media tells you; watching senseless, gory murder after senseless, gory murder is a relatively healthy way to get out your frustrations. After all, it’s only make-believe (at least for those of us able to distinguish fantasy from reality). That being said, some of the most effective movie murders have actually taken place off-screen; whether through the use of sound effects or the mere suggestion of violence happening just beyond that closed door, what you work up in your mind is often more terrifying than anything the filmmakers could show you. Nevertheless, there’s always a part of the gore-hound in me that can’t help but feel slightly cheated by a quick cutaway just as the killer is about to finish off his/her victim. There are tons of examples I could cite, but the following ten are the ones that stick out most in my mind.
Film: Seven (1995)
Victim: Tracy Mills (Gwyneth Paltrow)
Killer: John Doe (Kevin Spacey)
The shock ending of Seven relied on Paltrow’s death being kept off-screen, but my morbid curiosity still couldn’t help but get the best of me. How, exactly, did the whole thing go down? Also, given that the actress in question is the squeaky-clean, golden-locked, unabashed elitist Gwyneth Paltrow, it would’ve been kinda fun to see her (character) die. At the very least, Fincher could’ve given us a glimpse of Paltrow’s “pretty” severed head.
Film: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Victim: Heather Donahue (Heather Donahue)
Killer: The Blair Witch?
We just have to assume Donahue bit the dust, since we see absolutely nothing except her camera being knocked to the ground in the final scene. It’s too bad, considering how insanely annoying she’d grown by the third act. By that point, it frankly would’ve been tons of fun to witness her character suffering an agonizing death at the hands of the Blair Witch. That goes for the two dudes as well; after being forced to listen to those three oafs squabbling amongst themselves in a forest for 2/3 of the film, god knows we deserved the release.
Film: Let the Right One In (2008)
Victims: Conny (Patrik Rydmark), Jimmy (Rasmus Luthander), Martin (Mikael Erhardsson)
Killer: Eli (Lina Leandersson)
Method: Dismemberment, Decapitation
Having been horribly bullied myself in junior high, the ending to sweet coming-of-age vampire movie Let the Right One In was a dark fantasy come true, with Oskar’s tormentors getting their comeuppance in sensationally grisly fashion. Not that we actually got to see much of it – only a couple severed body parts drifting down into the pool from above, and the aftermath – but it would’ve been nice to witness the havoc as Eli plowed through the fuckers like a raging maniac. Yes, the underwater shots were very effective, and it was certainly a more artistic way to go about illustrating the slaughter, but the 12-year-old in me still yearned to see those bastards get their comeuppance up close and personal.
Film: Alien (1979)
Victim: Lambert (Veronica Cartwright)
Killer: The Alien (Bolaji Badejo)
Method: Likely stabbed through the head with the Alien’s “second mouth”
While we do see some of Lambert’s body when Ripley discovers she and Parker’s bloody remains in the coolant room, her actual death occurs off-screen. Granted, her frantic, strangely orgasmic breathing and final scream are insanely chilling – without a doubt some of the most terrifying audio ever recorded for a film – and the Alien tail slithering around her ankles and up her thigh gives the impression of, shall we say, interspecies rape. Fans have debated endlessly over whether Lambert was indeed “despoiled” before death, and the suggestion alone is chilling to contemplate. As for me, I’ve mulled this particular scene over and over in my head after every viewing, and I can’t help but morbidly wonder what exactly went down in that dark room.
Film: House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Victim: Denise Willis (Erin Daniels)
Killer: Dr. Satan (Walter Phelan)
I know it’s sadistic, but we did wait the entire movie to see the kind of damage Dr. Satan was capable of inflicting, and then Zombie left us hanging by cutting away (no pun intended) just as the carnage was about to begin. Granted, it was probably an appropriate way to end the movie; like most off-screen deaths, there’s some artistic value in suggesting rather than showing. Nevertheless, the sound of an electric surgical tool being fired up just before the credits gave us a rather potent visual to ponder in our own heads.
Film: The Black Cat (1934)
Victim: Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff)
Killer: Dr. Vitus Werdergast (Bela Lugosi)
Method: Skinned alive
In this infamous climactic scene from director Edgar G. Ulmer’s early horror masterpiece (very loosely based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story), the tables are turned on Satan-worshipping architect Hjamar Poelzig when Lugosi’s tragic hero chains him up to an embalming rack before proceeding to skin him alive with a scalpel. We only see the deed performed in silhouette (this is 1934, after all), but I’ll bet legendary makeup artist Jack Pierce would’ve had great fun creating the gory effect had he been given the chance.
Film: Predator (1987)
Victim: Billy (Sonny Landham)
Killer: The Predator (Kevin Peter Hall)
Method: Likely stabbed to death or impaled
Billy’s intentions may have been good, but let’s get real: he only bought the remaining three characters about 6.5 seconds of escape time (for such a bad-ass, he sure did go down easy). We at least get to see the Predator ripping Billy’s skull and spine from his dead body later on, but unfortunately we aren’t shown the final few moments of the Navajo’s life – only his high-pitched screams as the alien does some undoubtedly fucked-up, painful shit to him. Given that he threw away his gun for his final “battle” with the alien hunter on the log bridge, let’s just assume method of death was being sliced and diced (that whole Predator honor thing).
Film: The Hitcher (1986)
Victim: Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
Killer: John Ryder (Rutger Hauer)
Method: Ripped in half
In one of the most queasy scenes in movie history, Rutger Hauer ties Jennifer Jason Leigh between two trucks, hops in the driver’s seat of one, steps on the gas and…well, your mind can fill in the rest. It’s going to have to, since you don’t actually see her death on screen, merely the cringe-inducing sight of the actress struggling as her body is stretched to the limit (although you do get to hear some sweet body-ripping sound effects). While the Michael Bay remake does showcase the same scene (this time with a male character) complete with its gory climax, I’d much rather have seen the gruesome effect utilized in service of the far superior ’86 version.
Film: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Victim: Barbra (Judith O’Dea)
Method: Presumably eaten alive
Let’s face it: Barbra was fucking annoying, and it was a relief when the bitch died. I was only sorry we didn’t get to watch as the zombie hordes ripped out her intestines and proceeded to feast upon them. Funnily enough, in real life Judith O’Dea is now owner of a firm called O’Dea Communications, which specializes in “oral communications training.” Tee-hee.
Film: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Victim: Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp)
Killer: Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund)
You might argue this doesn’t count given how gory Glen’s death scene is, but the fact remains that we didn’t get to see the nightmare sequence that would’ve explained exactly how his body was turned into a spewing crimson volcano. Did Freddy throw him into a giant blender? Chew him up and vomit him out? Melt his body down, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style? It’s a cool scene nonetheless, but it can’t help but make you ponder the “nightmarish” details of Glen’s explosive demise.