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 morgue scenes in horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
If you’re a character in a horror movie, there are certain locations you really want to avoid. Venturing into the basement is rarely a good idea. And a “relaxing” getaway to a cabin in the woods tends to end in tragedy. You’re also probably going to want to stay clear of hedge mazes and cemetery plots. But today, we’re here to slap on our scrubs and talk about another of the genre’s greatest recurring locales: the morgue.
Sandwiched between the clinical and the ghoulish, on-screen morgues are a rich staging ground for all manner of shambling shenanigans. Whether they’re treated with dramatic severity or ice-cold tongue-in-cheek, any time a horror movie morgue pops up on-screen, you know you’re in for a good time.
Below, we’ve assembled ten of the best horror movie scenes set in a morgue. All told, it’s interesting to note the similarities (we have multiple third-act blowouts) and the differences (mostly in tone). Expectations abound, but morgue scenes never fail to keep us on our toes (an impressive feat, considering the ID tag and all…). So hop off the slab and have a peek at our autopsy of the top ten horror movie morgue scenes, as selected by Rob Hunter, Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, and yours truly.
10. Dan vs. Dobbs – Dead & Buried (1981)
As misanthropic and morose as anything else Dan O’Bannon has ever written, Dead & Buried tells the story of Potters Bluff: a charming little town where a suspicious amount of people are being horribly murdered. When Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) realizes that some of the townsfolk aren’t as “alive” as they should be, he probes into the history of the town’s weird coroner-mortician, William Dobbs (Jack Albertson). Sure enough, Gillis discovers that Dobbs is creating a hypnotized undead army out of the townsfolk. After shooting Dobbs and burying his wife, Janet, Sheriff Gillis returns to the funeral home only to find the mad mortician is very much alive. Well, kind of. He’s undead too. And so is Gillis, who gapes at his own fetid flesh in horror. In this town, it’s just undead corpses all the way down, baby. (Meg Shields)
9. Martini, anyone? – Body Bags (1993)
Every horror anthology needs a framing device; a slick way to justify and contextualize the omnibus of campfire tales that make up its runtime. In the case of Body Bags — the solution was simple: put co-director John Carpenter in cryptkeeper makeup and have him rattle off puns in a morgue. Brilliant. Melding the dark sensibilities of a late-night horror host with the meta-textual charm of Carpenter doing sight gags with severed heads and intestines, Body Bags repositions the morgue as a comedy club for depraved freaks like you and me. The best horror anthologies operate on some level of ghoulish comedy anyway, so why not, you know? — live a little! (Meg Shields)
8. Is this your corpse? – Diabolique (1955)
Relief washes over Nicole when she reads in the paper that Michel’s body has been recovered. She and Christina worked so effortfully to drown and dispose of that a-hole, but his corpse refused to cooperate, preferring to sink and vanish within the neglected swimming pool. The cadaver’s disappearance suggests something impossible, his living via natural or supernatural means.
But! The cops have his body, and she’s off to the morgue, eager to put her eyes on it. Eager and scared. Severely worried too. Simone Signoret plays it all as she makes her way to Michel’s body, but what she finds there is not what she wants. Michel remains missing and exists somewhere beyond the morgue. The reality of this will ultimately culminate in one of cinema’s greatest scares. For now, we enjoy the morgue appetizer and prepare for the bathtub meal. (Brad Gullickson)
7. Roll credits – Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
It’s a testament to Scott Glosserman’s profoundly slept-on horror comedy that even its end credits sequence is a worthy addition to this list. After several meta shoes have dropped, it would seem that newly minted slasher villain Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) has given up the ghost. After all, he’s just a man. And men don’t tend to survive getting their skulls crushed in industrial apple cider presses. Then again, nothing says “iconic slasher villain” like coming back from certain death. To the tune of The Talking Heads’ delightfully on-the-nose “Psycho Killer,” the credits roll over a morgue’s security footage. And, sure enough, the ostensibly cold corpse of Leslie Vernon lurches up to dispatch the nearest orderly. It’s the perfect stinger to top off an already twisty tale: Leslie Vernon had a plan for everything. Including his death. (Meg Shields)
6. Powell’s portal to Hell – The Void (2016)
Typically, when horror films feature a morgue scene, it’s all about the proximity to the recently deceased that surfaces the creeps. Not so fast, says The Void, a sly ode to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, with a heaping helping of hooded cultists and cosmic horror vibes for added flavor. While there are bodies covered by white cloth on gurneys, the corpses aren’t the horror here — that honor goes to the flayed body of a psychotic doctor, a glowing triangle that acts as a bridge between this world and somewhere beyond comprehension, and a hulking monster violently birthed in a gush of blood and guts. It’s these unique elements that make this morgue scene a moment you can’t tear your eyes away from. (Jacob Trussell)
5. Rise and grind – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Few horror villains have died as many times as Jason Voorhees. And while his body tends to “never be recovered,” now and then, he winds up at the morgue. One of the best instances of this takes place in the not-so-final Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which kicks things off with the goalie-masked slasher villain all but six feet under. Luckily for him (and unluckily for all present), the morgue Jason’s brought to is operated by nymphomaniacs whose horniness rouses the sleeping giant faster than any lightning bolt or infernal curse ever could. Easily the goofiest entry in the franchise, Final Chapter makes its tonal intent known by immediately having two orderlies make out under the shadow of Jason’s corpse. The detail that this big boy is simply too huge to fit inside a body refrigerator is the icing on the cake. (Meg Shields)
4. Ginger headshot – The Beyond (1981)
Lucio Fulci was never a filmmaker preoccupied with logic or narrative sense. And nowhere is that more evident than in his loose “Gates of Hell” trilogy. Bookended by City of the Living Dead (1980) and The House By the Cemetery (1981), The Beyond features a scene in a morgue that’s as grimly nonsensical as anything else in the master’s filmography. A young redhead girl waits while her mother pays her respects to a deceased loved one, but she runs in after hearing her mother scream.
What happens next? Well, a giant jar of acid (commonly found in morgues, we guess?) spills on her mother’s face, obviously, covering the floor with mom-flavored goo. Later on, it’s the ginger’s turn to creep others out in the morgue as she and the film’s protagonists run and gun while dodging zombies… only to see her dispatched with a glorious shot to the face that blows half her head off. In a movie filled with undead corpses, bloody squibs, spiders eating a man for dinner, and more, this, my friends, is the money shot. (Rob Hunter)
3. Peeling back the layers – The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
If you’re a fan of horror movie morgues (you’re in good company), you doubtlessly saw this list entry coming a mile away. Pat yourself on the back, but be mindful of the formaldehyde. It tends to stain. While this under-sung gem of the mid-2010s is, admittedly, all morgue scene all the time, one moment is especially etched into our minds, so to speak.
As our father-son mortician duo progress with their autopsy, things get even more confusing when they start to (literally) peel back the layers. To their horror, they find the underside of the deceased’s flesh is riddled with arcane symbols; esoteric spells that match the tooth-wrapped cloth they found moments ago in her stomach. How is this possible when she shows no exterior trauma? Who put the sigils there? And what on god’s green earth are they for? Why the boys didn’t immediately send for a priest at this point is beyond me. Then again, you try to tell Brian Cox that he’s in over his head. (Meg Shields)
2. Ice to meet you! – Jason X (2001)
A professor and his students find the frozen body of Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) on a field trip to Earth. They take the Jason-sicle back to their spaceship with plans to dissect and study his body because he’s definitely dead. After poking around his eyes and pulling off his mask, intern Adrienne (Kristi Angus) wisely turns her back on the rotting corpse to run some tests. To the shock of everyone, Jason awakens and quickly remembers what it’s like to ride a bike. He grabs Adrienne by the hair and dunks her face into liquid nitrogen. Our hockey-loving killer then proceeds to smash her frozen face into a million bloody pieces, delivering one of the franchise’s greatest kills. The real kicker though? Jason ends the scene by acquiring a space machete. Cinema. (Chris Coffel)
1. Everyone and their intestines getting reanimated – Re-Animator (1985)
On the one hand, Re-Animator is really spoiled for choice as far as great morgue scenes go. On the other hand, Stuart Gordon’s magnum opus literally ends with one of the most bombastically bloody finales to grace a horror film. So the choice was a bit of a no-brainer. Or wait, that’s Dean Halsey’s job, isn’t it?
Anyway: Until its final moments, our two heroes have been more or less judicious about when to use their “brings the dead back to life, but wrong” serum. But when the intestines finally hit the fan, so to speak, it’s an all-syringes-on-deck situation. While the nefarious pervert professor unleashes his hypnotized undead army (he has a quasi-magical ability that got lost in the edit, don’t worry about it), our heroes do everything they can to make the chaotic tide turn in their favor. By which I mean Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) yells “overdose” and shoves two fistfuls of syringes into an already re-animated torso. The result, for those of you wondering, is pissed-off organs. Magnifico. (Meg Shields)
Hopefully, that list sent shivers down your spine (don’t mind the embalming fluid — that’s normal). But before you climb into the nearest body bag, have a look at the rest of our 31 Days of Horror Lists!