There’s no doubt that the horror genre has a ton of really fucked up sub-genres. We have the Italian Cannibal, the Nazi Exploitation, the Nuns-ploitation, the killer Sasquatch, and of course the Torture-Porn sub-genres. But what about sub-sub-genres? One of my favorites is the Exploding Head sub-sub-genre. This is a sub-sub-genre because an exploding head can appear in any kind of film, horror or otherwise. As we’ll see below, exploding heads pop up in zombie films, sci-fi films, dramas, and even killer robot films.
Here’s a list of my favorite exploding and bursting head moments. These are in no particular order. I include the clip of the scene whenever possible. Enjoy!!
You can’t have an “exploding head” list without kicking it off with the grand daddy of exploding heads. What makes this scene so goddamn good is that no one expects it. Scanners, directed by David Cronenberg, is a kick ass film that doesn’t have much gore in it (up until this scene). When this happens, though, it’s a definite show stopper.
Dawn of the Dead (1978).
Another classic scene from another classic horror film. This is another one of those scenes that still catches audiences off guard. You all know the scene. This racist, homicidal cop is raiding an apartment building in Philadelphia. Everything is in complete chaos and the viewer isn’t even sure who’s in charge. This racist cop is kicking in doors and shooting any minority that gets in his way. Suddenly the cop kicks in one particular door and without even waiting to see who’s inside, blows off the resident’s head. This poor fell0w wasn’t a zombie and he wasn’t any kind of threat to the cop. This is the level of violence we get in Dawn of the Dead before the actual zombie violence starts.
Chopping Mall (1986).
Here we get the ever rare “exploding head by laser blast.” This is a super fun movie that stars Barbara Crampton and is about a mall that decides to use robots to protect the store after hours. Security guards are apparently too lazy and irresponsible. Well, of course some horny teens decide to hide out in the mall after hours, and when a freak electrical storm shorts out the robots, they hunt down the hornified teens. This is when the fun begins.
Directed by the infamous Jim Wynorski, Chopping Mall has cameos by Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov (who portray their characters from Eating Raoul), and Dick Miller (who reprises his famous role of Walter Paisley from A Bucket of Blood). This is a great pizza, beer, and buddies flick. Plus there’s the exploding head.
Deadly Friend (1986).
We switch from laser blasts to basketballs for this entry!! Who can forget this Wes Craven classic. Well, okay… pretty much everyone. This is a real stinker of a film folks. In it, a nerdy guy Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) builds a robot and has a next door neighbor, Samantha (Kristy Swanson), who’s abusive father just threw her down a flight of stairs. So Paul does what any sane teen would do: He removes Samantha’s brain and replaces it with the robot’s “brain.” The kid’s got some skills!! Samantha then goes on one of the most boring killing sprees ever filmed. Boring, that is, until we get to the basketball scene. This is the only watchable scene in the film. Seriously, you’ve been warned.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Apparently 1986 is a great year for exploding heads, and you know I’d somehow get John Carpenter onto this list!! As an added bonus, not only do we get an exploding head, but we get an entire body that explodes. The character of Thunder is one pissed off demi-god. He sees that his master is dead and proceeds to throw one of cinema’s greatest temper tantrums, and explodes. Let this be a warning to all you people with anger issues; get your shit under control before this happens!!
Here’s another exploding head by shotgun (see Dawn of the Dead above). Maniac is a film that oozes sleaze. The whole film makes you feel like you need a long hot shower after watching it. What makes this exploding head scene so much fun is that none other than Tom Savini both executes the special f/x and he is the actor who gets his head blown apart. Good times, good times.
The Toxic Avenger (1984).
I’m taking a few liberties by including this one on this list. There isn’t actually an exploding head in this scene. It’s more of a ‘crushing head’ scene… to the extreme. Toxie can smell evil a mile away, and in this particular instance his nose takes him to the local gym where some poor schmuck is about to get “avenged.”
Pulp Fiction (1994).
The scene when Vincent (John Travolta) accidentally blows off Marvin’s (Phil LaMarr) head is so damn effective because just like in Scanners, the exploding head is completely unexpected.
Galaxy of Terror (1981).
Most remember this classic film for the scene when a woman gets raped by a gigantic worm (calling Dr. Freud), but we all know there’s no exploding head in that scene (well, maybe when the worm… never mind). But everyone seems to forget the scene where Alluma, played by Erin Moran (Joanie Cunningham from Happy Days) gets her head squeezed so hard that it bursts. Classic scene in a hugely entertaining, classic film.
The Frighteners (1996)
This is more of a supernatural-comedy (a sup-nat-com??) and is a ton of fun. Before Peter Jackson was up to his nipples in Hobbits and rings, he used to make fun movies. The Frighteners is one such film. When you think of this flick, I bet “exploding heads” don’t exactly come to mind, but in this scene, Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs) gets his head blown off, only to be have it instantly replaced with … a ghost head!!
One of my favorite horror films from one of my favorite horror writers-filmmakers-artists. Hellraiser is a gamer-changer of a film and it shows just how dark and disturbing a Hollywood production can be. In this scene, Pinhead has one of his Hell escapees chained up. This is definitely one of the more unique exploding head scenes on this list!!
The Fury (1978)
There’s quite a few plot points of The Fury that reminds me of Scanners, but that’s a topic for another article. The Fury is about corrupt government officials and people with crazy-powerful psychic abilities. In this scene, Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) explodes Ben Childress’ (John Cassavetes) head and body in the film’s not soon forgotten ending.
Planet Terror (2007)
One half of the Tarantino-Rodriquez Grindhouse epic, Planet Terror is a ridiculously fun zombie flick by Robert Rodriquez. There’s tons of great special f/x and gore in this one, and this exploding head scene is as fast as it is effective.
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Yet another film with an exploding head in it from 1986!! This movie drips awesome sauce all over the place. Part slasher, part alien invasion, part 1950s homage, Night of the Creeps is memorable in every aspect. Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) has an alien slug problem, and those pesky slugs like to reanimate corpses and make them go on killing sprees. In this scene, Cameron blows off a corpse’s head, which releases more even more slugs (they gestate in the brain).
The Prowler (1981)
An often forgotten little slasher film from the early 1980s by director Joseph Zito, The Prowler is also known as Rosemary’s Killer. This is an important film as far as the history of slasher films goes, but beyond that this one is pretty forgettable. But that exploding head, though!!
Now that’s juicy!!
These were the scenes I thought of off the top of my head. What scenes did I forget? Sound off below in the comments and let me know what you think of the list!!