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10 Gnarliest Horror Movie Decapitations

The horror movie genre offers many grisly delights, but none is as pure and satisfying as the decapitation. We rank the gnarliest actions from the most wicked of movies.
Horror Lists Decapitations
By  · Published on October 14th, 2021

October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best horror movie decapitations is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.

When it comes to horror movie punctuation, decapitations are exclamation points. There’s no coming back from them! [Editor’s note: Re-Animator‘s Dr. Carl Hill would disagree…]  Audiences can’t help but reply to such visual screams with an echoing shriek. “Oh, damn. Michael Myers ain’t playing in this sequel.” However, when discussing separating heads from shoulders, the franchise slashers are grammatically inferior. They’ve got strong strokes, but their scrawls are chicken scratch compared to the lethal literati found on this bloody battlefield below.

The genre is littered with lobbed melons, and selecting the very best required careful examination of horror cinema’s gnarliest efforts. We’ve got severed heads wearing shock, fleeing craniums expressing terror, and jumping skulls cheering glee. Many types of faces leave their bodies, covering every tone within this beautifully wretched arena.

These popped tops were voted on by Chris Coffel, Rob Hunter, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg ShieldsAnna SwansonJacob Trussell, and myself. Now, go grab a bowl of popcorn and drop it in your lap. But keep an eye out for tall strangers standing at your six, because you don’t want your topping to interfere with your movie snack’s carefully measured seasoning. Let’s keep your big brain attached to your nervous system as you enjoy our look at the best horror movie decapitations.

10. High Tension (2003)

High Tension Decapitation

Regardless of what you think about High Tension and its many twists and turns, there’s no denying the impact of its violence. Director Alexandre Aja paints every inch of his frame in gore, giving his killer a variety of weapons to slice and dice victims in increasingly cruel and gruesome ways. 

Aja doesn’t waste any time giving the audience what they want either; this squirm-inducing decapitation is the first death in the movie! If something this brutal is just the beginning, no wonder it’s called the New French Extremity. Aja takes us to the very extremes in the opening moments of his debut film, so we’re left to wonder just how much further he’ll drag us into the darkness as we barrel towards the divisive finale. (Jacob Trussell)

9. Dead Alive (1992)

Dead Alive Decapitation

Dead Alive is a cornucopia of murder. Celebrating a particular decapitation amongst so many bodily atrocities is tricky. Can one moment top the lawnmower melee? But, maybe, the better way to go, or at least, the more fair option, is to consider this cranium decimation against all other cranium decimations. Yo, that’s how this list works, and that’s why Dead Alive hits the ninth spot.

Baby Selwyn emerging from within poor Rita’s face, tearing it apart and straight off her shoulders, is an unforgettable image when spliced next to other horror flicks hoping to achieve such profound gore. As it is within Peter Jackson’s monster mash, it’s merely just one horrendous minute amongst the other 103 horrendous minutes. Dead Alive is an endurance test, begging its audience to run screaming for the hills, but the movie rewards with an infinite playlist of incomparable carnage for those who stay. (Brad Gullickson)

8. Day of the Dead (1985)

Day Of The Dead

Most decapitations happen quickly — a quick swing of the ax, a fast slice of glass, a fifty-mile-per-hour slam into a signpost — but they only get more horrifying the slower they unfold. To that end, this beheading remains a favorite.

The undead have breached the gates and Pvt. Torrez is outnumbered. They take him down, and as hands grasp for purchase on his flesh, others puncture his eyeballs — and pull. His skin and neck muscles pop, veins and arteries stretch until they burst and spray precious blood, and through it all, his screams and wails of pain go unheeded. As his body becomes a feast, his head is carried away. God bless George Romero and Tom Savini. (Rob Hunter)

7. 30 Days of Night (2007)

Days Of Night Decapitations

If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. After his buddy Billy gets bit by a bloodsucker damning his future into a monstrous one, Josh Hartnett’s Sheriff Eben is forced to bring his shiny silver ax upon his neck. 30 Days of Night doesn’t want to give the wrong impression. Chopping a bloke’s head off is not a swift endeavor. Eben has to bring that bright ax down on Billy several times before his noodle splits from his torso. The whack-chunk sound effects are gnarly, and the film never blinks from the bloody endeavor. It’s a mean action with Eben and the audience feeling every inch of it. (Brad Gullickson)

6. Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary Decapitations

When Hereditary first hit theaters, trailers depicted it as a film about a creepy kid who clicked her tongue and brought chaos upon her family. So imagine audience shock when said creepy kid Charlie (Millie Shapiro) loses her head, quite literally, early on in the film. And not in a clean-cut sort of way. She is begrudgingly taken to a high school party by her brother Peter (Alex Wolff), who really just wants to smoke weed and impress the cute girl in his English class. But then Charlie eats a piece of cake full of nuts. She is deathly allergic to nuts. As Peter is rushing her home while she suffers anaphylactic shock, she sticks her head out of the window to try and get fresh hair. As she claws at her throat, Peter swerves and, well, Charlie smashes her head on a light pole.

What ensues is perhaps the most traumatizing five minutes in contemporary horror cinema as Peter refuses to turn around and acknowledge the horrors in the backseat of the family car. Only the next morning, where he hears the agonized howling of his mother (Toni Collette), does the true gravity of the situation sink in. Plus, the camera flashes to a long take of Charlie’s decapitated head sitting on the side of the road, crawling in ants and covered in gore. Hail, Paimon. (Mary Beth McAndrews)

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)