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The Nostalgic Attic: The Top Ten Exploding Heads from the 80's

14 February 2014

The Top Ten Exploding Heads from the 80's

There is nothing quite like a really well-timed exploding head in a film. They still give me a giddy thrill. The best ones for me were those that were not signposted by the director, and were able to knock your socks off with a bloody gush of brain matter. The crazy thing is, there are nearly too many exploding heads to even narrow it down to a top ten, and that's just from the decade that taste forgot. So I did my best, factoring the effects work, wetness and overall feel of the scene in to come up with a list I feel happy to stand by.

10 - The Toxic Avenger (1984)

It's hard to believe our old pal Toxie turns 30 this year, but there you go. For me, the best moment of head squishing isn't from the more well-loved moment involving the gym equipment, but the earlier scene with the poor kid on the bike. Probably because, A, it is a kid getting killed, and B, the scene is kinda disturbing.

9 - The Running Man (1987)

Violence and gore isn't anything unusual in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but this one took me by surprise in my youth, and I still love it. Maybe it's the way the body keeps running momentarily, as if in denial that the head went kaboom.

8 - Chopping Mall (1986)

I'm not sure how to justify this one, but I think the film is a whole lot of fun and one of my preferred Jim Wynorski works. Not the most impressive from the decade by a long shot, but it works well and is a bit of fun in a goofy film. 

7 - Deadly Friend ( 1986)

Generally perceived to be one of Wes Craven's worst excursions in celluloid (the crown goes to The Hills Have Eyes Part II), the film is still highly entertaining in the most nonsensical way possible. This gusher was completely unexpected on first viewing, and still gets a good groan. Once again, the way the body keeps on flopping afterwards really sells the scene to me, and isn't completely hilarious. At all.

6 - Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The effect created by Tom Savini in this moment was such a shocker at the time that suddenly all extreme horror films just had to have either Savini, an exploding head, or both. It's understandable, too, as the scene as a whole still packs a punch (and is one of my favourites in all of horror), mainly to the oppressive tone created by Romero and the startling effects work by Savini. The head shot was just one of many ground-breaking effects in this lengthy scene, but it is the most jaw dropping, considering its age.  The man went on to to many more great exploding heads, another of which is included below...

5 - The Fly II (1989)

The Fly II will never make many top ten lists, but it happens to be a favourite of mine. It's a generally unpleasant film (the scenes with the dog are still a tough watch) and the gruesome moments in the climax are still incredible looking. This poor chap certainly gets his sinuses cleared by the falling lift, though I think he had a gentler ending than the 'acid-to-the-face' guy. Some seriously wet head trauma here.

4 - Maniac (1980)

You know things are taking a turn for the unpleasant when William Lustig's Maniac shows up. One of the nastiest from the first wave of slashers, the film follows the exploits of a deeply deranged killer with war trauma and mommy issues. When he isn't scalping hookers, he takes time out to deliver a shotgun blast to the bonce of FX guru, Tom Savini. It took several hours to find my jaw on the floor when I first watched this on a 3rd generation bootleg back in the day.

3 - Dust Devil (1992)

Richard Stanley's cryptic follow-up to the smashing Hardware seems to bypass many people, but it is worth seeking out. Following a serial killer/shape shifter as he offs lonely women, the film is stuffed full of striking images, including this climatic head explosion. Simon Boswell also provides the nifty tunes. Fairly large spoilers if you care for that sort of thing.

2 - Story of Ricky (1991)

It is probably unfair to try and single out one moment of madness in a truly bonkers film, but the head crush that comes during the yard fight in Story of Ricky is enough to make most people spit out their beer. If there is any reason you haven't seen this one yet, please, go check it out. NOW.

1 - Scanners (1981)

OK, it was inevitable that Scanners was going to top the list. It is one of the most iconic exploding head moments in history, let alone the 80's. The reason why it gets the coveted number one spot? Firstly, the astonishing effects work by the truly legendary Dick Smith. Watch the scene as many times as you want, it never looks like a dummy. Secondly, due to the mastery of Cronenberg, the scene is tense and the climax nearly unexpected. We knew the guy had psychic abilities, but to make heads pop like a balloon? Plus, it's the only film with Michael Ironside in it on this list. Guaranteed number one spot. Put your raincoat on for this one.

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At 20 February 2014 at 13:12 , Blogger Wes M said...

A fantastic Top 10 JP, I think you got 'em all there. That Deadly Friend gag is a real hoot, was that a basketball ? Scanners will absolutely always be the Number 1 Exploding Head movie, even if its one of Cronenberg's minor films. This is reminding me of that great Cronenberg quote from Chris Rodley's Cronenberg on Cronenberg: I’d remarried; I’d had another kid, and was feeling much more optimistic about things in general. I was exploding heads just like any other young, normal North American boy.

And here's my contribution to the list, from 1901, Georges Méliès' The Man with the India-Rubber Head

At 21 February 2014 at 01:30 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Yup, as basketball. Check out the film some time when you are having a few beers and need something silly. I really do enjoy Scanners, even if it is a lesser film than many of his other works, I think the biggest problem is the bland lead actor. Great quote too from Cronenberg, the man was coming off The Brood then, which I think is highly underrated and pretty damned creepy in parts.

That clip was brilliant, had never seen it before. I read a lot about the fx from that era in the Ray Harryhausen books that came out a few years ago, but never got around to digging around for the films. Excellent stuff.

At 11 June 2014 at 04:07 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

A great list! I would move Chopping Mall up a bit because 1.) I love the movie, and 2.) that's an amazing effect, especially considering the budget involved. I shouted 'holy crap!' and nearly wore out the VHS rental rewinding that scene!

At 12 June 2014 at 05:39 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

I do love the movie too, Craig, it's great fun. I'm happy that it's on a list somewhere, even if it is in 8th place.


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