Horror fans love the genre for many reasons–scares, suspense, mystery, and monsters. But let’s face it, we also love it for the gore. Many of the most popular horror movies are also the most gruesome, and there are few moments in them more satisfying that an exploding head. When a director wants to create a truly show-stopping moment, nothing drops jaws faster than the sight of a human head erupting in glorious slow-motion. So let’s take a look at some of the juiciest exploding heads in horror, in no particular order…
Chopping Mall (1986)
This wildly entertaining mid-’80s cult favourite not only has one of the best taglines of all-time (“where shopping can cost you an arm and a leg”), it also contains a spectacular head explosion. It’s the story of shopping mall security robots which malfunction and start to kill partying teens, and it includes the laser detonation of one unlucky girl’s cranium.
Galaxy of Terror (1981)
Galaxy of Terror was one of many, many low budget sci-fi horror movies that followed in the blockbuster wake of Alien. Produced by B-movie king Roger Corman, the movie focuses on the crew of a crashed spaceship that is infiltrated by a terrifying tentacled creature. In one juicy highlight, the ship’s resident psychic–played by former Happy Days star Erin Moran–has her head squeezed so tightly by the extraterrestrial aggressor that it bursts open.
For many horror fans, special effects whiz Tom Savini is as important of a figure as many of the genre’s greatest directors. Best known for his pioneering work on George Romero’s zombie movies, Savini also lent his gruesome skills to a variety of the ’80s’ key slasher movies. In the ultra-sleazy 1980 shocker, not only does Savini engineer an amazing shotgunned slow-motion exploding head, he also plays the unlucky guy who gets wasted. That’s talent!
Final Destination 3 (2006)
The Final Destination series delivered many memorably gory moments, and of course, there’s an exploding head in there. It features in the third movie, as one character celebrates cheating death while working out in a gym. Sadly for the poor fella, death catches up with him seconds later and piledrives his melon into mush.
Halloween VI: The Curse Of Michael Myers (1995)
Hardly the best of the many films in the Halloween series, The Curse Of Michael Myers is really only notable for being Donald Pleasance’s final appearance in the franchise, and for featuring a lead role for a young Paul Rudd. There is a great exploding head in there too, as Michael puts so many volts through one victim’s body that his entire noggin erupts. Shocking.
Also known as The Titan Find, this is another post-Alien space horror cheapie. The movie is little-remembered, but between the dodgy dialogue and lumpy acting, it does feature a doozy of an exploding head. One unfortunate crew member has his brain infected by an alien parasite, but before he can kill his former crewmates, a laser blast obliterates his head.
Before making this year’s horror hit Jigsaw, Australian directing brothers Michael and Peter Spierig helmed this stylish tale of a world inhabited by vampires where blood is scarce. In an early scene, a doctor played Ethan Hawke is testing a blood substitute on a fanged volunteer. Unfortunately the replacement liquid has the unfortunate side-effect of causing its subject’s brains to detonate.
The Prowler (1981)
Another slasher favourite with some classic Tom Savini-assisted cranial mayhem. This one comes near the end of the movie when the killer is revealed–so we won’t spoil it and say any more, as this is definitely one the best stalk ‘n slash movies of the era. Suffice it to say that the crazed murderer of the title is dispatched in the goriest way possible with a shotgun at point blank range.
Deadly Friend (1986)
So far we’ve had exploding heads via lasers, gunshots, infected blood, and alien tentacles. But the prize for the most ludicrous example surely goes to Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend. Hot from the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven made this tale of a dark love story between a teenager and his murdered high school sweetheart Samantha, whom he brings back to life via some vague ’80s tech. The studio was unhappy with Craven’s more subtle and less gory first cut so demanded he shoot some extra splatter for the fans. One such scene is the amazing, uproarious moment where the Samantha obliterates an old lady’s noggin by throwing a basketball REALLY hard at her.
Saw III (2006)
With all the torture and mayhem unleashed across the eight movies in the Saw series, it’s not surprising there’s a couple of exploding heads in there. In Saw III, a doctor spends virtually the entire movie wearing a collar made from shotgun shells. If she cannot save the life of John Kramer–aka twisted murdering mastermind Jigsaw–the collar will explode. She succeeds in her task, but her blundering husband undoes all her hard work by then killing Kramer, condemning his wife to an extremely unpleasant death.
Saw IV (2007)
The next Saw movie also had a prime moment of cranial carnage. One of Jigsaw’s victims is placed in a trap with his head positioned between a pair of giant ice blocks on mechanical arms. No prizes for guessing if he escapes or not. Splat!
Planet Terror (2007)
Planet Terror was Robert Rodriguez’s half of Grindhouse, his and Quentin Tarantino’s double-feature homage to classic exploitation movies of the 1970s. This madcap tale of alien possession and mutation features non stop comedy splatter, and the moment when Lost star Naveen Andrews gets his head blown gloriously apart remains a highlight.
The Fury (1978)
Brian De Palma’s psychic thriller doesn’t just feature an exploding head–it has an entire exploding body. The movie’s main villain, played by pioneering indie director John Cassavettes, meets his truly spectacular, well-earned demise at the hands (or rather, the mind) of heroine Amy Irving.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
This is Tom Savini’s third entry on this list, and one of the most iconic exploding heads of all time. Near the start of George Romero’s zombie masterpiece, a SWAT team storms a tenement building to force the residents inside to give up their dead. In the ensuing chaos, one of the soldiers gets a bit trigger happy and blasts an unlucky guy’s brains all over the room.
And finally, the grandaddy of all exploding head movies. David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci-fi horror classic features an unforgettable scene in which evil Michael Ironside uses his psychic powers to “”can” the mind of a doctor testing him. It’s one of the most famous scenes in horror, and still packs a punch.