The Art of the Kill: Unveiling the Edgiest Deaths in Horror Cinema

The scream that reverberates through the theatre, the shadow that leaps out of that dark corner – the whole tense, three-dimensional experience of watching the horror movie is a tour through anticipation of death, from its echo to its echoes. There are many reasons why horror movies are attractive to their millions of viewer, but the cutting edge of life vs death is surely one of them. There is immense creativity in the way death is shown in horror films – creativity that, at least in my case, feels as much appealing as disturbing. The film In A Violent Nature is the latest in this genre to be constructed around a series of memorable murders conceived with the help of new technological and imaginative possibilities. Chris Nash, the film’s director, recently revealed his favourite three deaths in horror history. Here they are.

EDGE of Your Seat: Unconventional Deaths in Horror

The Cold Grip of Death – Jason X

Perhaps the one scene in the entire genre that remains on the absolute low temperature edge of novelty is the liquid nitrogen murder in Jason X. Here the ghostly mass murderer Jason Voorhees dips his victim’s face into a vat of liquid nitrogen, chills it to the bone, and then crushes his head against a table. Nash claims it’s this death that he likes best because it’s so imaginative and final. ‘It’s just a great kill,’ he says. ‘It’s fun because it’s really inventive.’ This scene represents the bracing edge of just how cold horror movie deaths can get – a mash-up of science fiction and gruesome fantasy.

The Deadly Nature of Vegetarianism – Creepshow

Not all deaths require gore to function horrifically; some require the psychological frisson of sticking with you after the fact. That’s the death in *The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill*, a short in the anthology Creepshow. It has comedy to it at first, when Stephen King appears as Jordy and takes a bit of detailing from some alien plants. But it’s through that dark humour that Jordan sinks, covered in the alien plants and infested inside. Nash likes this death because ‘it reads as sort of alien and strange and really disturbing’. He points to it as one that edges into our fears not through the violence itself but through the story we’re left with after the electricity is back on.

The Nightmare of Reality – A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street brings the edge of horror perfectly into the edge of fantasy: Johnny Depp is dragged into his bed, where he becomes a human geyser, spraying blood on the walls before spurting it out like a hose. ‘It was just a lot,’ Nash says of the memory of watching it as a kid. ‘The really, really frightening thing was, it’s right there, it’s at the edge of existential terror, and it’s your nightmare coming to life.’

PUSHING the EDGE: The Evolution of Death in Horror Cinema

The Cutting-Edge Techniques Behind On-Screen Deaths

With the help of better prosthetics and digital effects, it has become more possible for filmmakers to be truly inventive with their death scenes, as well as to push the limits of what is physically possible on screen. This is especially true of films such as In A Violent Nature, which use a combination of gore and realism to give the audience an experience like they are actually there watching the acts unfold and perhaps relish the graphic violence before their very eyes.

The Psychological Edge

In addition to viscera, they’re often the deaths that implicate our psychological fears by turning our expectations in on themselves – what we see when we see. Starting with the birth of cinema itself, the corpse always seems just behind the curtain, flickering in and out. It demands our attention precisely because we are aware of it – aware that it will one day be our own. This is what draws horror to death’s doorstep and offers its most precise critiques of humanity itself.

The Future of Fear

However, as technologies of depiction and storytelling become more sophisticated – as the law becomes more permissive, or at least less stringent – filmmakers will find new edges of representation for death, as a horror trope, to skate upon, offering audiences ever more sophisticated and chilling tropes and moments for the end. The edge of the grave, as it were, is increasingly edgier for the filmmaker’s art, offering theatres full of shudders.

The EDGE of Death in Horror Cinema

Perhaps the key to grasping the continuing attraction of horror lies in the understanding that, more often than not, it isn’t fear we find most gripping but the reaction – usually a combination of shock, horror, fascination and disgust – to the onscreen death. To put this another way, while horror is fundamentally about death, it’s not a morbid form of entertainment. Instead, it is a medium that pushes the very limits of the art form – a place where filmmakers can imaginatively confront us with our worst fears, forcing us to interrogate the foundations of the human condition. Death scenes, like Chris Nash’s personal favourites, are what drive this genre: grimly entertaining, fear-inducing, yet never far from a subtle, underlying tenderness.

Ultimately, the end of horror and its gaze at death are as diverse as they are fascinating. It’s alright, in fact it’s essential, for the snow to be cold and the zombies to be grotesque. Those edges are what keep us at the edge of our seats, regardless of our personal tolerance for morbidity. As *In A Violent Nature* and others like it continue to grow and widen, what will we make of the morbid curiosities that draw us in?

Jun 03, 2024
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