100 GREAT CINEMATIC DEATHS
by john cribbs, ian loffill, paul cooney, marcus pinn, christopher funderburg & stu steimer
66. Has no one mentioned Hands Gruber falling to his death in slow motion? Die Hard.
67. Fox, finally fatally crushed by his good fortune, lays down in the subway and dies. Fox and his Friends.
68. "Guess he wasn't half a man after all." A good man takes a bullet in the back. Lee Marvin didn't see it coming. Seven Men from Now.
69. The noble sacrifice of Slurms MacKenzie. Futurama.
70. Cobra Verde makes it to the coast but can't get the boat in the water. Exhausted, the waves consume him.
71. The death that isn't: Fatty takes a shotgun blast. Fortunately for Beavis, there is a remote control nearby. Funny Games.
72. Microwaved Gremlin.
73. The fat cop slips and squishes the deformed baby monster. It actually feels like a tragedy and Bilal once again deserves his revenge. Basket Case 3.
74. "Suzie's gonna get you, Sarge." Frederick J. Frenger expires on a tabletop, poignantly delusional even at the point of expiration. Miami Blues.
75. Lino Ventura catches one in the gut just after he primes the grenade. He goes up in flames along with the loot. He learns this lesson the hard way: Touchez Pas au Grisbi.
76. "Oop!" Lance Henrikson fails to disarm the grenade. Hard Target.
77. The oaf slips on the mansion stairs and blows his own brains out. Out of Sight.
78. At midnight in Dallas, 5 shots from a car window during standard traffic stop. The Thin Blue Line.
79. First felled by stones and then finished off with a boot, it's a brutal end for The Red Balloon.
80. A pointlessly violent car-jacking is matched by a pointlessly dispassionate capital punishment. Decalogue Part V: Thou Shalt not Kill.
81. Jack Burton catches the knife and instinctly flips it back directly into the skull of Lo Pan, the first thing he's done right all weekend. Big Trouble in Little China. He's as surprised as we are.
82. Just after winning the lottery and dodging a highway pile-up, the luckiest guy in the world avoids a kitchen fire, getting his hand caught in the garbage disposal and an explosion... but his luck runs out on the fire escape. Final Destination 2.
83. The tobacco blows out of Charles Vanel's hand and in a flash the other truck is gone. The Wages of Fear.
84. A massive explosion punctuates the final showdown in Dead or Alive, annihilating not only both of our heroes but presumably most of Japan.
85. Menaced by shadows and mauled by a seeing eye dog in an empty piazza. Suspiria.
86. The evil warlord thanks our hero for the best day of his life, just before his severed head bounces down into the toilet, right where it belongs. 13 Assassins.
87. No one can stop the dancing chicken as Stroszek rides the great ski lift to nowhere.
88. Mutating/melting from the toxic waste, the Morgan Spurlock-looking thug is probably happy to get run over and exploded into green goo. Robocop.
89. The clock strikes midnight and time's up for the arch-duke. Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro.
90. "Don't let it happen again!" Play Dirty finds the perfect mix of infuriating, hilarious and tragic as Michael Caine is gunned down by his would-be savoirs.
91. A mentally-fried Damien Young repositions himself with a manic deliberateness around his dying target to unload a revolver’s worth of bullets into the villain from a variety of angles. Amateur.
92. There's still a live girl in the trunk of the car as it splashed into the water off of the dock. Get Carter.
93. Keith Carradine gets sold-out and ends up in a cabin riddled with bullets in Keechie's grandmother's blanket. Thieves Like Us.
[This list assumed Paul has "Baby, I can't make it" from Le Doulos and death by non-consenual buggery.]
94. Blood Feast - Fuad Ramses: Dumpster Truck Suicide
After Fuad Ramses is found out to be the culprit in several ritualistic slayings of slow adult women, the two noticeably greasy detectives corner him and chase him through a desolate and empty dump (I guess? From what I remember it just looked like an empty field) where a garbage truck sits idly with its engine running for no clear reason. Ramses stumbles into the back of the truck before getting crushed by its compactor. A somber moment of cathartic stoicism follows before the sweatier of the two cops declares "A fitting end for the garbage he was." It feels like a line from one of Shakespeare's best sonnets, concisely and adequately illustrating the pathos of mortality and its contrast to Fuad's karmic demise. Had any diligence or care been introduced to this scene, it would lose all its ineffectual charm. Thank Horus that HG Lewis is a businessman first, a filmmaker second, and an artist never.
95. The Conversation - The Director Gets Shitcanned
Say what you want about where Coppola has drifted off to in the past 25+ years, but he can make a million Jacks and it will never change the fact that he made four of the greatest films ever made, in a row, each better than the one that preceded it (Yes, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now are better than the first two Godfather films.) The Conversation might be aping Antonioni's Blow Up but it has something that Blow Up doesn't have: me liking it (I haven't seen Blow Up since I was 19 but I remember hating it enough to swear to never giving Antonioni another chance - almost a decade later and I've now seen Red Desert twice this year, most recently at a screening last week, and have become an ardent defender of Zabriske Point, so go figure) and for another it has that fucking scene in the hotel room. With all the time I have wasted watching movies, it's difficult for me to recount scenes in films that I felt were truly terrifying, but this is one of them; the fact that the murder is virtually inevitable does absolutely nothing to mar the power of its execution, watching it for the first time or the tenth matters little, if at all. It's the greatest sequence in a horror movie that isn't a horror movie.
By and large, The Conversation acts as meditation on guilt. The career of Frank Caul (Gene Hackman) is based entirely on the act of being invasive; he is paid to monitor the conversations of strangers from afar, submitting the recordings to his clients and subsequently destroying the lives of people who he has absolutely no relationship to or has ever met. By the time the murder occurs in the adjacent hotel room, we're already well-saturated in Frank's conflict; the act of the murder, complimented by David Shire's aggressively abstract electronic score (pre-dating most No Wave by nearly a decade) is the ultimate manifestation of Frank's guilt - we find out in the next scene that by proxy Frank is nearly as culpable to this crime as the murderers themselves. When the blood begins to overflow from the toilet it's absolutely devastating, and not because of the fact that there's blood overflowing from the toilet (this is nothing new obviously) but because of the fact that it is affecting on a more real and visceral level - ultimately a human one.
96. Giovanni "John Morghen" Lombardo/"Human Punching Bag" Radice in Everything
I probably haven't watched a movie with Giovanni Radice in it for years (except last year at Cinema Wasteland when I watched House on the Edge of the Park with David Hess sitting behind me), but as I channel the 14 year old version of myself I am reminded of his long list of great contributions to cinema:
- Guy who gets power drill rammed through temples and skull (see above) in City of the Living Dead
- Guy who gets dick hacked off and eaten before then having the top part of his skull sliced off, with brains exposed to be picked and eaten like ribbon candy in Cannibal Ferox
- Guy who portrays Charles Bukowski (Not a bad joke, that's the actual character's name. Look it up) in Cannibal Apocalypse who meets his end in a sewer by having a basketball-sized chunk of abdomen blown out with a single shotgun blast.
The rule of thumb then was if you saw the words "John Morghen" listed in a film's credits you could be damn sure his body get more spotted, blotched, blistered, torn, bruised and mangled than Wilt Chamberlain's dick by the end of his life. Even in the rare instances in which his character was somehow able to avoid the tender cranium-smashing embrace of death it would still remain unlikely that he would exit the film completely intact (full-on chest gashing in House on the Edge of the Park springs to mind.) Despite obtaining some sort of notoriety for his reoccurring role as the human punching bag Radice himself supposedly hates most of the movies where he met glorious disembowelment, at least that is true for Cannibal Ferox which I remember having one of only a few handfuls of entertaining DVD commentary tracks I have ever heard, all because of Radice's relentless criticisms of the movie, which probably isn't unfounded because I'm sure I'd probably hate half these movies on some level if I were to watch them today (House on the Edge of the Park wasn't nearly as fun as it was when I was 14 at least.)
97. Hard Ticket to Hawaii - Bazooka Blow-Up Doll Combustion
It's difficult to isolate a single scene in Andy Sidaris' masterwork Hard Ticket to Hawaii that stands out from the rest of the film, as the film demands to be respected in its entirety. But I suppose if there's one death sequence in the film that really stands out it is the moment when our buff heroes are tracked by a towheaded skateboarder armed with a shotgun and an inflatable blow-up doll for protection. The skateboarder first shoots the driver through the heart, and when asked about his condition he brushes it off, stating "I've been better." Then the passenger reaches into the back of the jeep, pulls out a bazooka and with no hesitation blows apart the skateboarder who lets loose of the blow up doll before bursting into a ball of flames - and for whatever reason our hero shifts to then launch another rocket into the blow-up doll which then explodes into an even bigger fireball, all of this happening within about 8 feet from him.
I don't think justifying why I have included this scene is deserving of any more tedious extrapolation. It speaks for itself.
98. Thief - Frank Checks Out
So far all my "serious" inclusions on this write-up have been climactic scenes involving characters named Frank reaching their absolute breaking point. In The Conversation it is Gene Hackman's Frank coming to terms with his virtually direct involvement in someone's murder, in Thief James Caan's Frank he walks through a house and kills a whole bunch of people. But like The Conversation the music used in this scene is absolutely instrumental to its inclusion. Though the bulk of score was composed by Tangerine Dream the song "Confrontation" which plays out during the ending rampage was done by Craig Safan, who had replaced Tangerine Dream at the last moment after they had already left the country. "Confrontation" gels so blissfully to mass murder that I could not imagine anything else in its place. Probably one of the two best films of the post-Peckinpah era that ends with a contrastingly violent and inspiring mass shoot-out. The other one is State of Grace.
99. State of Grace - St. Patrick's Day Massacre
When it comes to discussions on The Departed versus its predecessor Internal Affairs there's always some heated debate, mostly from 43-year-old virgins. I say they both suck and that State of Grace is really the only film to see dealing with virtually the same concepts of friendship and betrayal in the mob/police dynamic. My opinion holds more weight by the simple fact that I was the ripe young age of 25 when I lost my virginity to a prostitute on a pool tarp that I'm pretty sure was coated in dried cum and blood, and I'm fairly certain half of that blood was still wet at the time.
Although that may seem repulsive to some, and have very little to do with why State of Grace makes it to this list I will attempt to tenuously link the fictional and non-fictional events together by the sheer volume of blood. Because the shoot-out in State of Grace sure has a lot of it, at least three pool tarps worth. It's just as sticky ,bloody and stylized as an early John Woo film but with the advantage of being a solidly better film than anything John Woo has ever made.
100. After Dark My Sweet - Uncle Bud Misses His Flight
Out of the small avalanche of Jim Thompson adaptations that surfaced in the early 1990's After Dark My Sweet remains the only one that I think really got it "right." Most of the English-speaking adaptations for whatever reason seem to really overlook Thompson's knack for deadpan and absurd humor, which permeates his fiction every bit as much as the nihilism and misogyny he is known and loved for. The scene at the airport where Jason Patric's character is trying to avoid a cop who keeps pestering him about his boxing past while Bruce Dern is gunned down across the street is about the purest moment of Thompson's wit ever reflected on screen (at least since Coup De Torchon.)
101. Electra Glide in Blue - You Forgot Your Wallet: Misdirected Hippie Revenge
That 7 minute long reversal tracking shot as Robert Blake sits upright, hunching just slightly forward with his blood pouring out of him, the color a vibrant red, almost matching the hue of the sand and dirt that surrounds him on that desolate stretch of road is something that we'll probably never see in a mainstream PG-rated movie ever again. It took a brilliantly haunting ending like that to transform what I thought was a fairly good movie into an almost certifiably great one.
102. La Grand Bouffe - Piccoli's Browngasm
Years ago I use to love going to Ponderosa buffet, for reasons both similar and dissimilar to most. For one, I am an admitted glutton. The food offered at the buffet, with few exceptions, was absolutely terrible - even compared to college cafeteria standards. The "light" foods always tasted like detergent, and the meat and heavier items was like drinking that acid that sprays out of the facehugger in Alien; your insides were never left undecimated by its immediate path of destruction. But I loved going because it was ridiculously inexpensive (12 bucks for an entree, the buffet, and a drink last time I went, which was probably in 2008.) But even besides that each time was like a horrific yet compelling experience.
I don't know what it was, but Ponderosa and Wal-Mart are the only two places I know of where you can feel like one of the skinniest, healthiest people in the room no matter what your body type. You feel good about yourself, but lose all hope for society as a whole. It's the only place outside of The Learning Channel where I have witnessed entire extended families of people who are all under six feet tall yet tip the scales well beyond 500 pounds. I'm pretty sure I saw one guy wearing a comforter as a sweatshirt - that's absolutely not a joke.
I try not be judgmental of others but you would have to be blind and deaf (the sound of collective exhausted, stunted mouth-breathing completely usurps the canned music) to walk into one of those places and not immediately notice something is very, very wrong. Even walking in the bathroom was an experience in itself - underwear that's been sharted on billowing out of the garbage can, neon hot pink barf sprayed all over the sink, causing physical burn to your retinas if you looked directly into it - yeah, I've seen that. And half the time I went there would always be this station between the main buffet and the salad/sundae bar where a fully dressed clown would be sitting, always alone and always looking completely crestfallen and irreparably broken inside - I've never once seen him/her entertaining a single child. It only managed to facilitate an even greater dimension of surreal sadness to the place - and this was long before I ever experimented with drugs; I can't imagine what it would be like under the influence of psychedelics, but knowing my social anxieties I probably would not be able to cope, and end up like one of those middle school drug education horror stories that never returns from the void.
Another unrelated tangent? Possibly. But the parallels between Marco Ferrari's La Grande Bouffe - a film about a group of gluttonous food connoisseurs that meet up at secluded mansion to enter a suicide pact to literally eat and fuck themselves to death - and my dinners at Ponderosa are just too great to ignore.
The most pivotal scene occurs towards the end of the film when Michel Piccoli finally meets his demise when his body is overtaken by an compulsory eruption of violent diarrhea, almost instantaneously dehydrating as a several liters of liquid shit pour out of him and onto the mansion's veranda. In fact, thinking about my real life adventures and the film itself have become almost interchangeable with one another.
103. White of the Eye - Paul's Explosive Rage
The Wikipedia article for Donald Cammell's White of the Eye states of the film as being a loose remake of Russ Meyer's Supervixens. It seems ridiculous, but there does appear to be some overlapping elements of the two films, but more importantly they both end with the central psychotics clad in dynamite literally blowing themselves apart. In short, it's the only way I want to go.
104. Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Ford Doesn't Get a Bail Out
I know a lot of people hate the film largely for its heavy narration, for me I thought it was a major element of why I loved it. Heavy-handed or not, those last lines before Ford falls are probably the best in recent cinematic memory.
105. Zodiac - The Hurdy Gurdy Man
Although I wasn't hugely into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and actively dislike Panic Room and Benjamin Button, and have since - I think - fallen out of love with most of Fight Club (a great movie when you're a 17 year old angst-infused American male), I don't think I can really deny David Fincher's strengths as a director. His best works tend to be films working with procedure, detail and close examination of a subject (Seven, The Social Network, and obviously Zodiac.) Zodiac, when I first saw it, wasn't anything I found to be overtly compelling honestly, but in the 5 years since its release it has grown on me considerably and probably ranks among my favorite mainstream films of the last decade - it's slow-moving, highly detailed and multilayered, reminiscent of the best films of Alan Pakula or Sidney Lumet.
But even when I wasn't necessarily compelled by the film as a whole, I certainly was gripped by that opening sequence.
Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" has always been a strange song; the lyrics are almost upbeat and 'hippyish' (though the the lines "Down through all eternity/The crying of humanity/'Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man/Comes singing songs of love" feels like a contextually ironic departure) but the actual song, due to its heavy distortion and use of the tambura, is absolutely eerie. The song's transcendent irony comes fully realized in that incredible opening scene in which the Zodiac makes his first known killing/attempted killing of the couple in the car. Although the song was first recorded nearly 40 years before the film's release the matching is so perfect, and so creepy, that it feels like the two were absolutely designed to be together.
106. Dr. Strangelove - Slim Pickens Kills Everyone
It might seem like an obvious and cliched choice, but it's absolutely deserving of its place.
107. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid - Slim Pickens Knocks on Heaven's Door
And I mind as well round out this list with one more scene where the soundtrack makes an impact on the character's death, and one more scene where Slim Pickens is involved. Unlike Dr. Strangelove, Slim Pickens is the only one dying here, and unlike Zodiac it's a film where the music was actually recorded for the film - and the song became more recognizable than the film it was a part of, which is a shame because it's easily Peckinpah's greatest achievement made during a string of great achievements (that pre-Convoy 1969-1975 era of Peckinpah.) Slim Pickens shot in the stomach, past the point of physical anguish and just calmly waiting for death as Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" plays him out is by far one of the most beautiful scenes of one accepting their own inevitable fate ever captured on screen. Though probably the most unrealistic as well (I've never seen anyone get shot in the stomach but I'm sure wailing in physical agony as your body regurgitates blood from any orifice it can find would be a major component of those last few minutes). But who cares. Realism be damned, this is fucking poetry.
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