Whenever people find out I write about horror films for a living, I always get the same question: "why do you like that stuff?"

Depending on my mood, the answer can be philosophical, snarky, or just plain honest. The honest answer is that I take a perverse glee in watching people die horribly in pretend circumstances. I admire the ingenuity of the screenwriters who come up with awful ways to send people to the afterlife, the FX technicians who bring these horrible visions to the screen, and the actors and directors who work so hard to give them emotional impact (or in some cases, just gross us out). There are no shortage of fantastic death scenes out there, and I'm going to be shining the spotlight on them in the weeks and months ahead. Hopefully some of these will pique your interest in seeing the films they came from--or if you've already viewed them, give you a fond trip down memory lane.

Jump past the break for my first clip, a segment from Lucio Fulci's classic 1980 Italian horror flick, City of the Living Dead.
Fulci's City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell) has no shortage of classic death scenes (including the infamous "girl ralphing up her intestines while Michele Soavi looks on in horror"), but there's one that stands out above all the rest: John Morghen (aka Giovannni Lombardo Radice) taking an industrial-sized drill bit to the head.

Morghen, who many of us have hailed as "the perennial whipping boy of Italian horror cinema" and "the hardest dying man in show business" earns both titles in this sequence--conceived by Fulci and frequent collaborator Dardano Sacchetti and executed by FX artists Gino de Rossi and Franco Ruffini.

Morghen plays Bob, an odd guy wandering around the town of Dunwich. When strange things start happening, some of the locals think Bob might be responsible, including Mr. Ross (Venantino Venantini). When Ross then comes home and finds Bob and his daugher in his workshop, well...things don't go well for Bob.

It's always been somewhat fashionable (even in horror circles) to bag on Fulci's technical skills as a filmmaker. I'll agree that the Godfather of Gore's films often suffered from wonky editing and budgetary constraints, but I've never accepted that Fulci was unskilled. I think this segment demonstrates that Fulci was quite capable of creating visual tension in his work. The editing of this scene is very traditional, but it's effective in building dread before the brutal payoff. It bears a bit of resemblance to the Olga Karlatos "splinter in the eye" sequence in Zombi in terms of rhythm, but I think this City of the Living Dead segment is more technically refined.

Ruffini and Gino de Rossi's special effects work is suitably gruesome, utilizing a mixture of fake drill bits on a real head and traditional prosthetic appliances. Morghen and Ventanini do their part, too, selling the struggle and fear to give the sequence a pleasing emotional pitch. Morghen seals the deal with an audible clack as his teeth slam shut for the final time.

In the pantheon of Morghen death scenes, his work in City of the Living Dead is in the upper echelon. It's not as awesome as his demise in Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox, but it's not as understated as his fate in Soavi's Stagefright, either. What it is is one of those death scenes everyone remembers once they've seen it--and for that reason, it's one of the Death Scenes We Love.

categories Features, Horror