Most horror fans will tell you that above all else, the key ingredient in a cracking horror film is a masterfully crafted atmosphere. Once you have this as your basic foundation, you can pile on all of the bells and whistles.
But even the biggest horror snobs surely must admit that you simply cannot beat a shocking death scene. They're often the first things that spring to mind when a classic horror movie is mentioned; as crucial as atmosphere and suspense undoubtedly are, it's often the creative, groundbreaking or stylish kills that help cement a horror film into 'classic' status.
We remember Zombie Flesh Eaters for its infamous eyeball gouging scene; we remember City of the Living Dead for the intestine vomiting and head drillling; and we associate entire franchises like Final Destination, Saw, Friday 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street with little more than their impressively original kills. What films such as these have in common is that their characters exist solely as fodder with which to play around with new and exciting methods of killing.
However, as will become apparent with the following selections, often the most memorable deaths in classic horror aren't necessarily celebrated for their creative methods. Yes, the vast majority of us do appreciate a good reverse bear-trap, but some of the death scenes that have made the biggest impact on the genre have been as simple as a stabbing or a hanging, done damn well.
Of course, it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead.
10. Philip - A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Of all of the deaths in the big franchises known for their ‘increasingly creative dispatches’ approach, the infamous puppet master murder from Dream Warriors is the most deserving of a mention.
While none of the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels came close to matching the brilliance of the original classic (admittedly, Part 3 had its moments), each of them – even the shoddiest efforts – are packed full of admirably inventive kills. It must be said that none are especially creepy or sinister, largely owing to the fact that Freddy had been reduced to little more than a wise-cracking prankster. Philip’s death is the exception: it’s actually a genuinely unsettling scene.
Freddy pulls out Philip’s tendons from his feet and wrists, transforming him into a human marionette. He manipulates the poor lad’s ‘strings’ and walks him to a high ledge, positions him teetering on the edge, and severs him free to fall to his death – all the while the other institutionalised kids are watching and pleading helplessly through a barred window below.
This death scene is every bit as goofy in concept alone as the others that would follow throughout the rest of the series, but it’s the one Nightmare sequel kill that allows Freddy the sinister edge that had made the first movie frightening. Perhaps excluding Tina’s nightmare sequence in the original, this is the scariest Freddy has ever been.