On Monday I promised you two kills for my penultimate post on this list and, dammit, you’re getting two kills!
But first, I have to admit something: this is becoming increasingly bittersweet. On the one hand I’m thrilled and excited to write about these entries at the top of the list; scenes that have awed and terrified me since I was a young’n. But on the other hand, it’s making me sad that soon this project will be complete.
When I first had the idea to act as curator over a list like this I toyed with the concept of merely listing out the movie titles along with a tiny blurb about which kill I was picking. Like, maybe list #21-25 one day, then #16-20 another day, and so on. But I came to this notion of doing one kill at a time and it seemed like a more complete way of not only listing the kills, but also expounding upon my reasoning for their inclusion. It seemed more personal, and as silly as a list like this is, it does feel personal.
I’m so happy I chose to do it this way, because I’ve enjoyed every second of it. But, sadly, that means I’ll soon be finished with something that’s given me such joy. This has been downright fun.
Now, let’s get to it! Strolling in at #2 is Tobe Hooper’s gas-powered classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
I first came to this film somewhere in my mid-20’s, and it didn’t quite stick with me. It was too much of everything: too much set decoration, too much overacting, too much of the dinner scene, too much running, too much Franklin. The end product felt like itching an open wound with a piece of sandpaper.
I wasn’t able to comprehend its purpose. The cacophony of elements amounted to the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer to the head. But each element is essential in creating a pure cinematic experience, which this film is to its very core.
The late Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen’s book, Chain Saw Confidential, details some critical, albeit cruel, tactics that director Tobe Hooper utilized during the production process that netted the end result. Whether it was incessant script tweaking with co-screenwriter Kim Henkel, or childish bickering about shot angles with director of photography Daniel Pearl (a credit Hooper fought against because he didn’t like the word “director” to be part of anyone’s credit but his own), or creating working conditions that deliberately affected the actors’ actual sanity in order to extrapolate a mood and a performance; it all served a purpose. And every bit of it is on the screen.
It’s a film that feels uncomfortable, maniacal, and downright odd. It’s as real as surrealism can get, almost like the film has pores that secrete Texas BBQ sweat, gasoline, and blood. That’s what makes it special.
The scene I have is the granddaddy of them all in this franchise: Kirk goes night-night.
Kirk (William Vail) and his girlfriend, Pam (Teri McMinn), wander off from the rest of the group in search of a watering hole and come across a neighboring house. Their van is low on gas so they approach the house to ask for some help, but no one answers the door.
Kirk freaks Pam out by jokingly handing her a human tooth that falls out of God-knows-where. She storms off, and he keeps banging away on the door looking for any sign of the residents. As he continues knocking, the door swings open, prompting him to call out even louder.
Then he hears what sounds like squealing, and sees a room with a red wall adorned with animal skulls. He takes a single glance back at Pam, pauses a second, and then decides to walk in for a closer look, not knowing his skull is about to meet the business end of a sledgehammer wielded by a 6’7″ man-child wearing a slaughterhouse apron and a mask made of human skin.
The trip is what sells it. Such a simple, strangely human bit to add and it makes the whole thing work. Kirk stumbles just a little on his way in, which allows the camera to start from that lower perspective. And then, as he’s regaining his balance, it pans up to reveal the feral beast appearing from nowhere, who crashes that sledgehammer down onto poor, defenseless Kirk like slaughtered cattle.
Then there’s the death twitch, followed by a second swat of the sledgehammer, and ultimately Kirk is thrown aside like a sack of dead meat, punctuated by the ominous crash of the sliding metal door. It’s a scene that could only work with exactly all of the elements it presents. A true product of master craftsmen.
And, as promised…BONUS KILL!
Note: this was always intended to be on this list and, likely due to old age, it was forgotten until recently.
Swimming into what I’m affectionately calling #2B on the list is Steven Spielberg’s oceanic nightmare, Jaws (1975).
In a way, I’m glad I got to pair these two scenes together in one post. They’re both effective and affecting because of the talent of the filmmakers behind and in front of the camera.
The malfunctioning mechanical shark that plagued the production of Spielberg’s blockbuster is well documented as both a blessing and a curse. While it would have caused serious frustration during filming, the sparse use of the shark creates an aura around it, taking it to almost mythic proportions. When it pops out of the water, you have no idea what you’re in for.
Which runs parallel to the protagonist’s sense of what they’re up against: they definitely needed a bigger boat.
I don’t feel the need to regale you with a detailed plot breakdown of Jaws. Three dudes go out on a boat to hunt a killer shark and find out they’re in over their heads.
The real treats are the screenplay, the music, the direction, and the acting – so, basically, everything. All of these elements exceed expectations in what amounts to be a killer fishmovie, but even that statement would be selling the movie short. This is the film that taught the world that a killer shark movie could be a “film”. It’s not that the writing, acting, and directing are great for a creature-feature: they’re great for any film in cinematic history.
The characters are flesh and blood, and even a mindless killing machine exhibits more character traits than most movie stars are capable of. Mix that together with the skillful juxtaposition of moments of revelry and horror, the iconic score from legend John Williams, the sheer number of quotable lines (one of which I’ve already repurposed for myself), the underwater photography, and the numerous unforgettable scenes and you’ve created a cocktail that would go on to define the blockbuster film as we know it.
The scene I’ve chosen needs little introduction: our beloved Mr. Quint (Robert Shaw) comes face-to-face with that which he has hunted his whole life, and it’s as terrifying and brutal as you could imagine.
I’ll leave it at that.
Ok, I hope you enjoy both clips and stay tuned on Monday (Memorial Day!) for my #1 overall pick on the list of The Best Horror Movie Kills of All-Time!