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The best horror movie kills, ranked

Since the genre’s inception, horror movies have presented audiences with death scenes so memorable that they have made killing off characters in films its own art form. Whether it’s because of their creativity or the emotional impact they inflict, these horror movie deaths killed the competition to become the best in cinema.

With Halloween right around the corner, here’s a ranked list of the 18 best kills in horror movie history.

Warning: Some of these images are graphic in nature and depict scenes of violence and death.

18. It’s hip — and deadly — to be square (American Psycho)

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As Patrick prepares to kill his drunk business rival, Paul, he builds up frightening and comedic suspense as he talks about Huey Lewis and the News. The unnerving joy he exudes dancing around the apartment and talking about the band conveys his violent anger boiling past his charismatic surface.

The scene reaches a crescendo when Patrick plays Hip to Be Square and drives his ax into Paul’s body. His rage finally bursts forth as the song plays in the background, with the lyrics summing up how Patrick’s conformist and consumerist lifestyle created such a bloodthirsty murderer.

17. Leatherface’s first kill (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre — 1974)

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While Kirk and Pam search for a nearby swimming hole, they come across a mysterious house that holds unfathomable horrors for both of them. Kirk is the first person to walk inside, and as he searches the place for someone to help them, Leatherface comes out of nowhere and bludgeons Kirk with a meat tenderizer.

But this one hit doesn’t kill Kirk, who rattles around on the floor, his brain desperately clinging to life until Leatherface hits him again and drags him into the next room. Kirk’s death comes completely out of nowhere, and the gritty realism in its execution makes the scene much more unsettling.

16. Michael’s first kill (Halloween — 1978)

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On Halloween night 1963, Michael Myers stalks his sister Judith throughout their home, with the film presenting everything from his point of view in one uninterrupted take. Holding a kitchen knife and wearing a clown mask, Michael walks up to his sister’s room as she brushes her hair and stabs her to death. He then runs outside to his parents, who take off his mask and reveal that the cold-blooded killer is just a six-year-old boy, making this sequence even more shocking.

Though Judith’s unconvincing screams somewhat cheapen this scene, it still succeeds in introducing the darkness gestating within the young Michael Myers. His blank stare and lack of movement after being unmasked make him look like an emotionless killing machine, which aligns with Dr. Loomis’s claims that Michael is pure evil. John Carpenter’s chilling and suspenseful score also sets the mood perfectly as Michael enters the house as a child and walks out as the Haddonfield Boogeyman.

15. The monster drowns Maria (Frankenstein — 1931)

The Creature encounters a little girl in Frankenstein.
Universal Pictures / Universala Pictures

In what begins as a harmless playdate, Frankenstein’s monster comes across little Maria as he wanders through the wilderness. Instead of being frightened of him, Maria kindly offers him flowers and shows him how to make them float in the lake. The monster is overjoyed to be playing with his new friend, but his childlike innocence causes this scene to take a terrible turn.

The monster tries to make Maria float in the water like her flowers by throwing her into the lake, not knowing that he is hurting the poor girl. As a result, Maria drowns, and her father later assembles a mob to hunt down the scared monster. One can’t help but gasp as the monster quickly kills this innocent girl, and the fact that he wasn’t trying to kill her and had no idea that she would die in the water makes her death even more horrifying.

14. Gabe chums up Abraham (Us)

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After the Wilsons find their vacation home invaded by the Tethered, Gabe gets the short end of the stick when he gets hobbled and dragged onto his boat by his evil clone, Abraham. Gabe gets the upper hand by knocking Abraham into the water, but the boat’s lagging motor starts up again, causing him to fall in with him. Gabe gets back onto the boat, but Abraham reappears and nearly stabs him with his scissors. Fortunately, Gabe slams his fist on the motor to turn it back on and grinds his doppelganger into bloody chum.

Part of what makes this kill so great is the buildup, as the film showed Gabe struggling with the motor earlier in the film. While this seemed to be a very small detail at first, to see this faulty motor save his life makes for a truly excellent payoff.

13. Georgie’s death (It: Chapter One)

A child encounters Pennywise in the sewer in It.
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This is one of the most haunting horror movie openings in recent memory. When Georgie loses his paper boat after it floats into a storm drain, Pennywise the Dancing Clown appears and offers it back to him. But when Georgie reaches into the drain to take the boat, Pennywise grabs his little arm and bites it clean off his body.

Though Georgie desperately tries to claw away, the evil clown grabs him and drags him into the sewers. The opening scene of this Stephen King movie showed audiences that even a sweet child like Georgie wasn’t safe from Pennywise’s wrath. Also, the graphic depiction of Georgie’s death proved to viewers that the filmmakers weren’t going to hold back on the bloodshed with this horror remake.

12. The Burning Man (The Wicker Man — 1973)

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After spending the whole film trying to rescue a girl he believes will be sacrificed in a pagan ritual, Sgt. Howie is horrified to discover that the people of Summerisle lured him to the island to sacrifice him. Though he begs everyone to look past their religious beliefs and spare him, arguing that it won’t give them a bountiful harvest, Howie’s pleas fall on deaf ears and he is imprisoned in a giant wicker man statue that is set ablaze.

It’s chilling to watch the islanders happily sing as they burn this innocent man alive. His death at the hands of these people shows how much their religious devotion has blinded them to the horrors they are carrying out, making for a finale that will be seared into audiences’ minds long after the credits roll.

11. Birthday bash (The Omen –1976)

A nanny hangs from a noose in The Omen.
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Here’s a birthday party that won’t soon be forgotten. As Damien celebrates his fifth birthday with his family and friends, his nanny, Holly, encounters a mysterious Rottweiler that gives her an eerie and hypnotic glare. Not long after that, as Damien continues to play and enjoy his party, everyone hears Holly call out to Damien from the roof of his house.

With a smile on her face, Holly steps off the roof and hangs herself with a noose, smashing through a window and scarring everyone for life. Her death comes without any warning, and the way this normal person is driven to suicide makes for a haunting introduction to the horrible powers at work in the film.

10. Chris impales Dean (Get Out)

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There’s so much to love about this creative kill. In Jordan Peele’s modern horror classic, a deer that Rose hits with her car is used to symbolize Chris’s dead mother, who died in a hit-and-run when he was a child. Though Chris is traumatized by the deer’s death, Rose’s father, Dean, shows no remorse for the dead animal and wishes for all deer to be killed, which turns the deer into a symbol for Black people in general.

After Dean and his family torment and imprison Chris so they can hijack his mind and body, it’s satisfying to see Chris drive Dean’s mounted deer head into his throat. Not only is it fittingly ironic to see Chris impale him using the animal he hated so much, but it feels as if Chris is claiming vengeance on behalf of all the innocent Black people whose lives Dean stole.

9. Tina’s death (A Nightmare on Elm Street — 1984)

Tina is killed on the ceiling in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
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Freddy Krueger reveals his terrifying power with this unforgettable kill. After tormenting Tina in her nightmares, Krueger chases her through the dream world until he finally pins her to the ground. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Tina’s body is sliced open and pulled out of her bed and into the air by an invisible force.

Johnny Depp’s “blood geyser” death scene is worth mentioning, but Tina’s demise arguably has the greatest impact on the film. At this point, it is clear that Freddy Krueger is more than just a bad dream, and the way Tina is rendered helpless to his will shows how he is very much the god he says he is in the dream world. Tina’s boyfriend can only watch in horror as this unseen evil paints the walls and ceiling with her blood.

8. Breaking the glass ceiling (Suspiria — 1977)

A woman lies dead on the ground in Suspiria.
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After Pat flees from her dance school, having learned of the witchcraft being practiced by its staff, she is targeted by a mysterious assailant. As her friend screams for help inside her apartment building, Pat gets stabbed by her attacker again and again until she breaks through a skylight, falling to her death as she hangs on a noose. If that wasn’t bad enough, some shards from the window she fell from impales her friend, killing her too.

Director Dario Argento displays his distinct style of “giallo” horror with this captivating kill. With such colorful and gory visuals, heart-pounding music, and brutal and intricate murders, this scene looks and feels more like a dance through Hell itself, effectively setting the stage for the film’s voyage into the world of the dark arts.

7. Face freeze (Jason X)

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Jason X is undoubtedly the most reviled Friday the 13th film, as it showed the franchise jump a cosmic shark by sending Jason Voorhees to space to kill more teenagers. But the one good thing to come out of this film was Adrienne’s creative death scene.

After Jason wakes up aboard the starship Grendel, he immediately resumes his killing spree by dunking Adrienne’s face in liquid nitrogen. Then, with her head completely frozen, Jason slams it into the counter and smashes it into bloody chunks. It’s a devastatingly cruel and, pardon the pun, cold way for Jason to dispatch someone, and it shows he is not playing around this time.

6. Charlie loses her head (Hereditary)

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After young Charlie accidentally eats a cake with nuts in it, she suffers an allergic reaction and her brother, Peter, rushes her to the hospital. On the way there, Charlie sticks her head out the window as she gasps for air. When Peter swerves to avoid a dead animal, the former’s head gets knocked clean off her body after it collides with a telephone pole.

Since young Charlie was seemingly set up to be a key player in this film, her suddenly dying in such a gruesome accident in the first act makes for a heart-stopping twist. The scene also stands out for not showing Charlie’s decapitated head right away, instead focusing on Peter’s traumatized face as he refuses to turn around and accept what he did.

5. Death by defibrillator (The Thing — 1982)

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As the research team suspects one of their own of being a murderous, shape-shifting Thing, crewmember Norris appears to suffer from a heart attack and stops breathing. Copper attempts to revive Norris by using a defibrillator, but when he tries to administer a shock to the latter’s body, Norris’s stomach opens up, revealing a giant mouth that bites Copper’s arms off and kills him.

This inventive and unexpected death scene shows just how sneaky the Thing really is. Here, the alien was able to hide in plain sight while the crewmembers turned on each other before taking them out in such a surprising and grotesque manner, throwing off both the characters and the audience. All in all, this scene is a masterwork of creating suspense and jaw-dropping special effects, both of which have made The Thing a timeless cult classic.

4. Cutting the cord (Ghost Ship)

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This film opens on an ocean liner with a bored young girl sitting alone at a dance party full of adults. The ship’s captain then offers to dance with her, and she starts to enjoy herself. While the night starts well enough, everything changes when someone turns on a device that tightens the ship’s wire cord. This sends the cable flying across the dance floor at full speed, slicing through every partygoer except for the little girl.

The film as a whole isn’t particularly loved by fans or critics, but this inspired opening massacre left a lasting impression on audiences, with even hailing it as one of the best introductions in horror movie history.

3. Brody shoots the shark (Jaws)

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In the third act of Steven Spielberg’s horror classic, Chief Brody finds himself going face-to-face with the great white shark terrorizing Amity Island. All alone on a sinking ship, armed with nothing but his rifle, Brody starts firing bullets at the approaching beast, hoping to hit the scuba tank in its mouth.

At the very last moment, Brody shoots the tank and blows the shark to kingdom come. Though shooting an oxygen tank wouldn’t blow up like that in real life, it still makes for a rousing conclusion worthy of cinema’s first summer blockbuster.

2. The chestburster (Alien)

20th Century Fox

After the crew of the Nostromo frees Kane from the alien facehugger, they all relax and have dinner, unaware that it will be their last meal together. As they all eat and enjoy each other’s company, Kane suddenly has trouble breathing, and the rest of the crew scrambles to save him.

Though it looks like he’s choking at first, in an unforeseeable twist, something begins forcing its way out of Kane’s body until it shoots out of his chest in a fountain of blood. The fact that the rest of the cast didn’t know that Kane would die in such a bloody fashion made the scene even more realistic.

1. The shower scene (Psycho — 1960)

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Was there really any doubt that this would rank as the best horror movie kill of all time? After deciding to return the money she stole from her boss, Marion Crane unwinds as she takes a shower in her room at the Bates Motel. Though it seems like Marion has been cleansed of her sins and can finally gain peace, someone wielding a kitchen knife walks into the bathroom and yanks back the shower curtain.

With so many rapid cuts, the claustrophobic setting, Janet Leigh’s screaming, and Bernard Hermann’s screeching score, this unexpected but iconic death scene pushed the boundaries in terms of violence and sexuality in cinema when it was first released, especially since it showed the film’s protagonist getting killed off early in the story. Even though pretty much everyone knows about Marion’s tragic death scene, it still hasn’t lost any of its power to frighten audiences.

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Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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