Puzzle Box Top Ten Classic Horror Movie Kills

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Featured Scary Movies and Series

What’s your favorite part of seeing a horror movie? If you’re anything like me – and if you are, I’m truly sorry – then the only possible answer is “the kills.” Stabbings, drownings, decapitations, slashings… whatever form they take, kills are often the most memorable part of a horror movie. In this list, I will document ten of the most iconic and influential kills in the history of horror. Let’s get started. (Spoilers ahead!) 

10. Night of the Living Dead — Mommy Dea(d)est. 

Zombie child from Night of the Living Dead 1968

George Romero’s 1968 masterpiece is one of the most influential horror movies ever made. Borrowing from both Caribbean folklore and the works of Richard Matheson, Night of the Living Dead single-handedly invented the zombie movie as we know it. Its black and white photography and over-the-top acting may betray its 60s origins, but the brutality and nihilism of the film have not aged a day. 

Although its sequels would up the gore factor, neither of them contain a kill as effective as the one at the climax of Night. In the most blood-curdling scene of the movie, a zombified girl mercilessly hacks her mother to death with a trowel 

before chowing down on her corpse. The sound mixing and editing in this scene elevate it into a nightmarish fever dream. Most chilling of all, though, is the scene’s symbolic significance. In a world in which sweet young girls kill and eat their own mothers, truly nothing is sacred. 

9. Scream — What’s Your Favorite Scary Movie? 

First kill from Scream Horror Movie

By the mid-90s, horror had become exhausted. A deluge of unimaginative slashers and never ending sequels had turned the genre into a punchline. Wes Craven’s Scream couldn’t have come at a better time. Hilariously skewering slasher tropes, Scream also stands alone as one of the best horror movies of the decade. 

And what is a great slasher without a great first kill? Scream’s is certainly one for the books, taking the controversial choice to kill star Drew Barrymore before the opening credits even roll. The scene is a masterclass in tension and terror. What begins as a playful phone conversation about scary movies escalates into the quiz show from hell, culminating in a chase that introduces the now-iconic Ghostface. When the victim’s parents discover her mutilated corpse, guts hanging out, you know you’re in for a grisly ride. 

8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Hammer Time. 

Leather face attacking a victim with a hammer

Tobe Hooper scares me. Yes, I know we’re supposed to separate the artist from the art. But anyone who could make a movie as grimy, disturbing, and punishing as loosely based on a true story The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has to have a few screws loose, right? Sadly, Mr. Hooper passed away in 2017. The uncompromising horror of Texas Chainsaw, however, will live forever. 

Ironically, the most iconic kill in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t involve a chainsaw at all. Instead, Leatherface dispatches his first victim with a short, sharp blow with a hammer. The sound design and editing of the scene are brilliant for their simplicity – it is easy to forget that no real gore is shown. But it is the nonchalance of the action that really raises the terror factor; you get the impression that Leatherface does this sort of thing every day, seeing human beings as nothing more than a potential next meal. 

7. Hereditary – Don’t Lose Your Head! 

decapitated head scene from the horror movie Heredity

The most recent entry on this list is also the one that quite possibly traumatized me the most. In the few short years since its release, Ari Aster’s Hereditary has earned a fearsome reputation for grueling and unflinching horror. Ask any horror fan what the scariest movie they’ve seen recently is, and there’s a good chance Hereditary will be the answer. 

Does it count as a kill if the “killer” is a telephone pole? No matter: the sudden and shocking decapitation of Charlie in Hereditary is the most harrowing death scene I have seen in years. The moment of death is effective enough, but it is the scenes that come after which really push the horror to unflinching extremes. The image of Peter lying awake all night, after he knows what he has done… the parents’ screams in the morning… the slam cut to the severed head covered in ants… I’m shivering just writing about it now. 

6. Nightmare on Elm Street – Depp Red

bloody scene from nightmare on elm street

Halloween and Friday the 13th may have laid the foundation for the slasher subgenre, but Nightmare on Elm Street is arguably more iconic than both franchises. This is due, of course, to the incomparable Freddie Kreuger, the most charismatic and creative figure in the whole slasher villain pantheon. 

This kill from the first Nightmare is a classic example of Freddie’s style: gory, over-the-top, and darkly hilarious. As our heroine Nancy hopelessly attempts to warn him, Glen (Johnny Depp!) is dragged into his mattress and transformed into a literal blood tornado. It’s one of the most memorable moments from the original film, and serves as a perfect calling card for the one and only Freddie Kreuger. 

5. Alien – Getting Something Off My Chest. 

Alien bursting from a mans chest in the horror classic"alien"

Is Ridley Scott’s Alien a horror movie, or just science fiction? Who cares? It remains one of the scariest and influential movies of the 1980s, regardless of the genre labels you throw on it. But even if it contained nothing more exciting than the kill I’ve highlighted here, it would be an unforgettable film. 

Obviously I’m talking about the chestburster scene, one of the most gruesome kills ever put on film. As the crew of the starship Nostromo is enjoying a meal following a close encounter with some overly affectionate aliens, John Hurt doubles over and clutches his chest in pain. The next few moments are a blur of blood and guts that should be enough to put anyone off their meal. Some of the film’s following scenes may be more claustrophobic and violent, but none are as viscerally horrifying. 

4. The Omen – Look At Me, Damien! 

Hanging scene from Omen horror movie

The Omen was sort of the Hereditary of its day: a classy film, featuring respectable actors and directors, that nevertheless plumbed the depths of modern American horror. Dealing with blasphemy, bestiality, and infanticide (among other nasty topics,) it is honestly a little shocking that The Omen was so popular with contemporary audiences. 

It was hard to pick just one kill from this movie, as there are several memorable ones. Honorable mention is reserved for the encounter between photographer Keith and a pane of glass, but the real prize goes to the sucide of five-year-old Antichrist Damien’s nanny. Announcing in a ghoulishly cheerful voice that she

is doing it “all for you!,” the nanny hangs herself from a high window in front of a crowd of children. Forget the end times – the therapy bills for those kids will be the real horror story. 

3. Halloween – Sibling Rivalry. 

Michael Meyers as a child with a knife and a clown costume

When John Carpenter was tasked with making a film about some babysitters getting murdered, there was no way he could have known what he was starting. Cut to just a few years later, and the slasher would become the defining subgenre of horror, earning equal parts applause and criticism. It’s hard to believe it all started with a movie as simple – and as well executed – as John Carpenter’s Halloween

The slasher is one of the most formulaic of horror subgenres, and nearly all of them start with a flashback to the killer’s childhood. In this case, the audience peers through the eyes of young Michael Myersas he murders his sister with a 

butcher knife. Although not as bloody as later slashers would become, the use of POV, the sound design, and the iconic score make this kill effective to this day. Michael Myers would go on to slaughter dozens of teens, but his first kill will always remain the most memorable. 

2. Jaws – Don’t Get In The Water! 

Jaws opening scene with woman swimming

Jaws changed everything. Considered the first true blockbuster, this summer chiller by a little director named Steven Spielberg didn’t just make audiences scared to go into the water; it drew them to the theaters in droves, forever transforming the way Hollywood made and sold movies. 

When it comes to the kills in Jaws, nothing can beat the horror of the first five minutes, in which a tipsy, reckless co-ed decides to go out for a nighttime skinny dip. While such shenanigans are inadvisable in a horror movie setting, can you really blame young Chrissie for thinking the water was safe? As John Williams’ ominous score picks up in volume, the audience can only watch in terror as she is dragged to her watery fate. It’s not the bloodiest kill of 70s horror, but it may well be the most important in the long run. 

1. Psycho – Showertime.

shower scene from Psycho

While it did not exactly follow the formula that would be cemented by Halloween, Psycho remains the great-granddaddy of all slasher movies to come. Michael Myers, Ghostface, Leatherface, and more would never have slit a single throat if Norman Bates hadn’t first slipped into his mother’s dress and paid an unsuspecting visit to poor Marion Crane. 

Of course I’m talking about the shower scene. What list of horror movie kills would be complete without it? Whole books have been written on this iconic scene, and the ways that it uses editing, music, and performance to capture sheer horror. While it is hard for modern audiences to appreciate just how shocking this scene was, its importance cannot be understated. Every other kill on this list owes its existence to the shower scene – one could even argue that the entire genre of modern horror was born in these three minutes.

The Good, The Bad, and The Saw: The Best Texas Chainsaw Massacre 

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Last month saw the release of yet another entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, marking the ninth in the series. This latest sequel (reboot? remake? reboot-quel?) has been largely panned by critics, with RogerEbert.com calling it “a startling misfire” and Rolling Stone concluding “it’s time to put the chainsaw down and walk away.” While many fans agree, some think the critics are being too harsh. One tweet that stood out to me in particular, from user @creepyduckart, said: “Sometimes a film called Texas Chainsaw Massacre is literally about a massacre in Texas with a chainsaw and if you don’t overthink it you might just enjoy it.” 

While I agree that the new movie is not entirely deserving of its hate, I want to push back a little on the point made by this tweet. Having seen all of the films in the franchise, I believe there are certain core attributes that define the series. Namely, the films work best when they combine an oppressive atmosphere, a dark sense of humor, and a liberal amount of violence. When deployed right, these ingredients can add up to horror movie magic. 

With that in mind, I have decided to analyze the movies in the Texas Chainsaw series and rank them worst to best, based on how effectively they adopt this winning formula. This ranking will be inevitably subjective, but I have tried the best I can to lay aside my personal biases and evaluate the movies on how successful they follow this formula, rather than how much I enjoy them. 

Texas Chainsaw Films from Worst to Best

With no further ado, sharpen your saws, and let’s get started with…

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D horror poster featuring leatherface with a chainsaw

Like the recent Texas Chainsaw, this 2013 installment attempted to breathe life back into a dying franchise by going back to the beginning. Disregarding every film after the 1974 original, Saw 3D picks up right where that masterpiece left off, even featuring several clips from the first film. This was the filmmakers’ first mistake, as such a direct comparison to a superior film makes Saw 3D look even worse than it is.

Boring, convoluted, and joyless, Texas Chainsaw 3D’s worst sin is that it doesn’t feel like a Texas Chainsaw movie at all. The film is devoid of the sweaty, brutal atmosphere of the original, featuring flat cinematography and bizarre, contemporary soundtrack choices that do nothing to build up tension. The characters, too, have none of the charisma that made the original cast so fun to watch. Leatherface and his family are reimagined as somehow sympathetic (?), undercutting the aura of menace they ought to have. Despite a few effective gore sequences, Texas Chainsaw 3D is a low point in the franchise, evoking none of the humor or dread that made the original so successful. 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022 Netflix Release Movie Poster

Like the 2017 reboot before it, the latest film in the Chainsaw canon is guilty of simply not feeling like a Texas Chainsaw movie. This is largely due to the way the film isolates Leatherface away from the rest of his family; this is the first film that does not feature a single other member of the Sawyer/Hewitt Clan. The deranged (and often hilarious) interactions between Leatherface and his family are a core part of what made past movies so great. By depicting Leatherface as a lone killer, he becomes interchangeable with any other slasher villain. One almost wonders if this was originally an unrelated script that was clumsily rewritten to fit into the Chainsaw series. 

Like other worst-offenders on this list, TCM ‘22 spends too much time developing a convoluted, nonsensical plot – something about gentrification? – instead of delivering effective scares. There are attempts at humor, a hallmark of the franchise, but they fall embarrassingly flat (the “canceled” joke may be the absolute worst moment in any of these movies.) The one factor keeping this from the bottom is that it does a decent job of building atmosphere; the dusty, abandoned ghost town and fields of dead sunflowers are vaguely reminiscent of the menacing vibes of the original film. Other than that, though, this is yet another installment in the franchise that barely deserves to wear its name. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 movie poster

As the only true “remake” on this list (every other Chainsaw movie post-2000 acts as some form of belated sequel), TCM ‘03 is the most likely to draw comparisons with the original film. Seen from that perspective, it is hopelessly outmatched. Marcus Nispel’s reimagining of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,

part of a wave of early 2000s slasher remakes, doesn’t come close to recapturing the nightmarish spirit of the original. Its characters are less engrossing, its script clunkier, and its kills far less memorable – despite being dramatically gorier than the comparatively tame 1974 film. 

Still, unlike the films lower on this list, TCM ‘03 does a halfway decent job at actually being a Texas Chainsaw movie. This is most apparent in its grimy atmosphere, thanks in part to the presence of cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who shot the original film. And while they are a far cry from the charisma and hilarity of previous Sawyers, the family members in this film are at least memorable (Sheriff Hoyt, played by R. Lee Ermey, is a particularly despicable character.) Unfortunately, in its attempt to be dark and gritty, the movie avoids the humor that is necessary for a great Texas Chainsaw movie. All in all, it is a valiant attempt, but largely an unsuccessful one. 

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) 

Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 movie poster

Leatherface is the only one of the original four films to be a true dud. After the comedic left-turn that was TCM2, studio executives reportedly wanted to take the third movie back in the direction of “hardcore horror.” This was their first mistake, as comedy has always been a central part of the Texas Chainsaw franchise. While there are a few moments in this movie that try to be funny – cut to Leatherface learning his ABCs – it is a downright snoozefest compared to the anarchic lunacy of the previous two films. 

The bigger problem, though, is that this movie doesn’t really work as “hardcore horror” either. It has none of the punishing atmosphere or nihilistic tone of the first two films, leading to a bland, cookie-cutter final product. Much of this is due to the departure of Tobe Hooper from the franchise. Without Hooper’s unique vision, TCM3 is an unworthy successor to the previous movies. Despite a couple of solid performances – I could watch Ken Foree and Viggo Mortensen in this movie all day – TCM3 marks the beginning of a long downhill for the Texas Chainsaw series. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning Horror Movie poster

Believe it or not, this 2006 prequel is actually a little better than the remake that preceded it. It boasts a tighter script and stronger characters than the ‘03 film,

while also featuring some genuinely terrifying, memorable moments. Highlights include the first time that Leatherface dons his signature skin mask, and a shocking ending that left me genuinely shook. R. Lee Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt also gets plenty of screen time in this one, delivering what is by far the best performance in any of these films post-2000. There are even a few moments of trademark Texas Chainsaw black comedy: Leatherface performing an unsolicited amputation on his uncle got a good chuckle out of me. 

Let’s talk about gore, of which there is plenty to go around in this movie. Throats are slit, skulls are caved in, and bodies are butchered left and right. But The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has never been defined by its gore; the original film is fairly bloodless. Violence works best in the Texas Chainsaw movies when it is sudden, bizarre, and brutal – recall the infamous bludgeoning scene from the first movie. The Beginning relies too much on its graphic violence, sacrificing subtlety for mindless carnage. For this reason, it falls short of being a truly great Texas Chainsaw movie. 

Leatherface (2017) 

Leatherface 2017 Horror Movie Poster

Leatherface (the second movie in the series to hold that title) is far better than it has any right to be. It is also the most narratively ambitious film in the series, abandoning the traditional TCM plot structure and instead telling the origin story of its title character. Equal parts coming-of-age road movie, bleak family drama, and brutal gorefest, Leatherface comes the closest of any post-2000s installment to capturing the true spirit of the Texas Chainsaw franchise. 

Some purists might balk at this movie’s high ranking, since it veers so far from the tried-and-true Texas Chainsaw formula. But by experimenting within an established framework, Leatherface expands on the original film’s legacy rather than engaging in rote repetition. And by bookending the main story with two of the best Sawyer family sequences since the 1990s, the film firmly anchors itself in TCM lore. The movie’s opening birthday party scene alone, in all its gleeful gore and over-the-top acting, would be enough to cement this as a worthy and enjoyable Texas Chainsaw movie. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation Movie poster

Mocked since its release for its bizarre tone and nonsensical plot, The Next Generation might just be the best Chainsaw movie not made by Tobe Hooper. This is no doubt due to the direction of Kim Henkel, who was Hooper’s writing partner on the original film. Consequently, Henkel’s vision of Leatherface and family feels more authentic and visceral than the studio-helmed TCM3. As unconventional as some of his choices may be, Henkel knows the world of Texas Chainsaw on a gut level. 

While some fans balk at Henkel’s emphasis on campy, over-the-top humor, I believe it works as a natural evolution of Hooper’s two films. Yes, the film is not particularly gory, and the plot does take some questionable left turns in the final act. But at its heart, the Texas Chainsaw series has always been about unpredictable violence perpetrated by comically deranged characters. That is a letter-perfect description of The Next Generation, in particular Matthew McConnaughey’s performance as the unhinged Vilmer. If you’re going to watch any Texas Chainsaw movie not directed by Tobe Hooper, this should be the one. 

Tied for Best: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1985) 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Movie Poster 1974

The two Texas Chainsaw movies directed by Tobe Hooper operate on another level from anything else in the franchise. While the other movies on this list range from great to unwatchable, TCM & TCM2 are crown jewels of horror filmmaking, chock-full of one unforgettable moment after another. From the brutal, apocalyptic imagery of the original, to the campy splatter of its sequel, these movies comprise a single, sustained peak for the TCM series, and an artistic triumph for one of the greatest horror directors of all time. 

The reason I am ranking these movies together is because each one represents different but equally vital components of what defines a Texas Chainsaw movie. The original film is one of the most atmospheric, brutal pieces of horror cinema ever made. It was even marketed as being based on a true story. Watching it, you can feel the sweat pouring down your brow, smell the decay and horror of every moment. The sequel, on the other hand, expands rather than retreads its predecessor, turning its black humor up to eleven. Both films are deeply scary and moody; both shock us with moments of brutal violence; both feature some of the hammiest and memorable performances of their respective decades. In short, both demonstrate everything you need for a perfect and clearly the best Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie.

Sources: 

https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-reviews/texas-chainsaw-massacre -review-netflix-1302675/ 

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/texas-chainsaw-massacre-movie-review-2 022

The Witching Hour

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Picture, if you will, the scariest time of night. The hour when the sky is at its darkest, and nightmares are never far away. When every shadow seems to hide a monster, and every little sound that breaks the silence of the night may be the devil tapping on your window. I am talking, of course, about the witching hour.

“The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world to themselves.”

Roald Dahl, The BFG

What Time is the Witching Hour?

Scary hourglass with a skull at the bottom

The exact time of the witching hour may vary slightly depending who you ask, but a good estimate is sometime between 3 and 4 in the morning. At this hour, after midnight but well before sunrise, the world is at its darkest and most foreboding. The walls between the living and the dead, some say, are at their weakest. For centuries – even millennia, perhaps – cultures around the world have spun myths and legends about this time of night. 

Why this time specifically? One popular explanation for 3 AM as the witching hour comes from Christianity. Church tradition holds that Christ was killed on the cross at 3 in the afternoon. The Devil, therefore, chooses the opposite time of day to be at his most active, and witches are said to be most active at this hour. The Pope, for a time in the 16th century, even forbade people to pray between 3 and 4 in the morning! Elsewhere in the world, New Mexican folklore tells of a demon called “La Mala Hora” (literally, “the evil hour”) that wanders crossroads after midnight, sometimes taking the shape of a woman with long, unkempt hair and a black dress. Anyone unfortunate enough to encounter La Mala Hora during the witching hour may fall victim to her wrath, and be found dead the next morning.

The Witching Hour and Sleep Cycles

Contemporary scientists have proposed more rational explanations for the witching hour. 3 AM falls in the middle of the average person’s REM cycle, the deepest stage of sleep. When people wake up abruptly before an REM cycle is complete – at 3 in the morning, for example – they can feel disoriented, confused, and frightened. Sometimes this results in a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, where the mind is awake but the body cannot move. Some who suffer from sleep paralysis report terrifying visions, such as a demon sitting on their chest. It is no wonder that human beings in the past, less knowledgeable about the science of sleep, might have considered this hour to be evil.

The Witching Hour in Pop Culture

Mysterious books, a bottle and an hour glass that witches use

Whatever the explanation, demons or sleep cycles, the idea of the witching hour has persisted across popular culture. In the late 60s and 70s, a horror comic by that name was published by DC comics. IMDB returns no fewer than 48 movies, videos, and television episodes bearing the title. Other horror movies have explored the concept as well to chilling effects: in The Conjuring, 3 AM is referred to as “the devil’s hour.” Ronald DeFeo, Jr., the real killer who inspired The Amityville Horror, supposedly killed his entire family at this time. The witching hour even spills over into the real world; in many cities, people up and about between midnight and 3 AM are more likely to fall victim to a violent crime.

Not everyone believes in the witching hour. Those who oppose the Catholic Church’s historic persecution of witchcraft will point out that witches performed rituals in the middle of the night because it was the safest time to do so without being discovered. Another wrinkle to the 3 AM hypothesis is the fact that, before the industrial revolution, many people had a “segmented sleep schedule,” meaning they woke up in the middle of the night and returned to bed after a few hours. For these night owls, 3 AM might not have been such a spooky hour after all.

Well-reasoned as this skepticism may be, cultural fascination with the witching hour is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. For modern, non-segmented sleepers, the middle of the night is an unavoidably spooky hour. It is a time most people prefer to spend asleep, safe and warm in their beds. Otherwise, they may risk an encounter with whatever malevolent forces roam the night.

Sources:

https://www.nolahmattress.com/blogs/blog/the-witching-hour
https://4girlsandaghost.wordpress.com/tag/amityville-horror/
https://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/90384-murder-robbery-and-driving-while-impaired-happen-at-night
https://www.scaryforkids.com/la-mala-hora/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763365/

The Decadence of Dawn of the Dead 1978

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In modern usage, the word decadence is usually associated with luxury. A fancy dessert may be decadent, as may a gown encrusted with diamonds. More specifically, though, the term denotes a period of moral decline and extravagance prior to the collapse of a once-great civilization. Think of the orgies of the late Roman Empire, or the glamorous parties of the Roaring 20s. It also shares its root with another, less attractive word: decay. A society entering its decadent phase is one that has already died, and indeed has begun to rot. Party-goers and merry-makers may attempt to distract themselves from this, but eventually the stench will become unbearable. So hows does that relate to Dawn of the Dead 1978?

1978’s Dawn of the Dead is a movie about decadence in every sense of the word. Faced with the threat of human extinction, the film’s heroes barricade themselves inside a shopping mall, living out a consumerist utopia while zombies run rampant outside. The more they lose themselves in material pleasures and hedonism, the more obvious it becomes that the world as they know it has ended. This horror classic from George Romero is a scathing indictment of a civilization in decline, a chronicle of American decadence in all of its glitz, glamor, and gore.

Dawn of the Dead 1978 horror movie image of survivors in the mall

Initially, the social commentary in Dawn of the Dead may seem a touch on-the-nose. Watching zombies stagger around the mall, the characters comment how their behavior is not so different from before. They return to the mall due to “some kind of instinct,” says Stephen (David Emge), “a memory of what they used to do.” Horrified by the almost-human behavior of the shopping dead, Francine (Gaylen Ross) asks: “What are they?” Peter (Ken Foree) responds: “They’re us, that’s all.” There is little difference, Romero implies, between the mindless consumerism of 1970s America and the shambling of an undead horde.

Direct equivalence between mall-goers and zombies, though, is a more simplistic reading than Dawn of the Dead deserves. A richer meaning can be found by moving beyond simple metaphors and thoughtfully examining the dynamics between human beings and their environment. What this cinematic “dissection” reveals is a recurrent motif of decadence. Throughout the film, there is a consistent mismatch between living, flourishing tissue on the outside, and stagnation and decay beneath the surface. The characters who are unwilling to recognize the ugliness beneath a thin veneer of decadence are doomed; the only hope for survival is to stop living in denial and face the grim, unavoidable truth.

Dawn of the Dead 1978 Original Trailer

This mismatch is present from the very beginning of the film, and harkens back to Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. In Night, the news was a source of security — TV anchors gave advice to survivors throughout the film, even directing them to evacuation sites. In the first moments of Dawn, however, we are taken behind the scenes at a news station where it is clear that nobody knows what they are doing. The studio is in chaos, with half of the staff yelling over one another, and the other half abandoning their posts. Even the list of evacuation sites from Night is revealed to be out-of-date — although this last detail does not stop an executive from insisting that the studio continue to broadcast the list. What’s sending a few survivors to their deaths, after all, as long as viewership remains high?

Right after this introduction comes another crucial sequence, in which a unit of the National Guard invades a public housing complex whose tenants have refused to give up their dead. By clinging to old rituals and refusing to accept their new reality, these tenement-dwellers have locked themselves in with a horde of zombies. More depraved, though, is the behavior of the National Guard toward these (mostly black and latinx) civilians; they fire machine guns indiscriminately, causing more deaths than the zombies themselves. Hidden beneath a thin layer of government-sanctioned authority, the moral decay of these unhinged, bigoted soldiers is apparent. Once again a curtain is whipped aside, revealing the ugly truth of a society hopelessly in decline.

These two introductory sequences expose how central institutions of modern America — media and law enforcement — are thin bandages over seeping wounds. The rest of the film, set almost entirely in the shopping mall, doubles down on this theme. Even after our heroes establish a secure base camp with enough supplies to last a lifetime, there is little comfort to be found. The novelty of an unlimited shopping spree wears off quickly, and it is soon clear that they are merely going through the motions of decadence. The more they distract themselves with lavish outfits and expensive toys, the more their consumerist paradise resembles a slaughterhouse.

dawn of the dead 1978 horror movie still image of zombies

Eventually the contradictions between outer decadence and internal decay become impossible to reconcile. After one of the four is killed securing the perimeter of the mall, the others decide they would rather face an uncertain future than die inside a prison of their own making. This about-face comes too late, though, as their attempts to flee attract the attention of a roving gang of bikers. The sinister delight with which the bikers descend on the mall may seem a bit over the top, but that is the point. Other than their lack of restraint, there is no substantial difference between these cackling Mad Max rejects and our own heroes. If the world as they know it has died, then what is really more depraved: basking in decadence, or stripping it for parts?
As the ending credits play over a cheerful montage of zombies romping through the mall, the film’s message stays with the viewer like a bad taste.

If Night of the Living Dead showed America as a powder keg ready to burst, then 1978’s Dawn of the Dead makes the claim that it has been dead for years already; we are simply living our last, decadent years inside its rotting corpse. What better way to illustrate this than to juxtapose the literal walking dead next to the rituals of modern consumerism? George Romero proved with his followup to Night that he could go bigger, bloodier, and more ambitious. But more than forty years later, it is the powerful social message of this horror classic that stands out the most.

Murphysboro Mud Monster – Urban Legend

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Deep in Southern Illinois coal country, along the banks of the Big Muddy River, sits the peaceful town of Murphysboro. Known for its natural beauty, fishing spots, and local wineries, Murphysboro also boasts one particularly infamous resident: The Big Muddy Monster, an eight-foot tall, slime-covered sasquatch. The Big Muddy Monster, also known as the Murphysboro Mud Monster, frightened local residents in the early 1970s, putting Murphysboro firmly on the map for North American cryptid enthusiasts.

Murphysboro Mud Monster History

The Murphysboro Mud Monster was first seen around midnight on June 25th, 1973. Randy Needham and Judy Johnson, two Murphysboro residents, were sitting in a parked car near the Big Muddy River when they heard a loud shriek coming from the woods. The next thing they knew, a tall, pale creature with fur caked in mud lumbered towards their car. The two left the scene, but reported the incident to the local police.

This was but the first of many unexplained sightings in the weeks to come. The experience of teenagers Randy Creath and Cheryl Ray, recorded in a police report, is particularly interesting. While sitting on their front porch around 10:00 the night of June 26th, Creath and Ray saw the creature not fifteen feet away. They described it as eight feet tall and approximately 300-350 pounds, with pale white fur, and smelling “foul, like river slime”. Again, the creature quickly departed, but Creath and Ray also reported their experience to the police.

More sightings would be reported in the days to come, prompting the local police to launch a 14-person manhunt. Footprints were found at the scenes of the encounters, along with a mysterious black sludge. Although the search did not locate the creature, local law enforcement had no doubts that the residents did see something. A sighting at a traveling carnival ten days later was the last reported sighting of the Murphysboro Mud Monster for many years. Just as mysteriously as it had appeared, the creature was gone.

Murphysboro Mud Monster Today

Big Muddy Monster aka the Murphysboro Mud Monster mural featuring a big foot in the town of Murphysboro

The Murphysboro Mud Monster has stayed alive in the years since these sightings, at least in the imagination of town locals and monster hunters nationwide. Another possible sighting was reported in the late 80s. In 2021, a documentary called Creature from Big Muddy was released that explored the story. The creature is even featured prominently on a new mural in Murphysboro! 

The Creature from Big Muddy Trailer

The story of the Murphysboro Mud Monster, like the best urban legends, has more questions than answers. What is the true identity of this tall, pale, smelly creature? Is it related to the similarly-described Sasquatch, seen by hundreds of Americans over the last century? Perhaps we will never know. What is unique about Big Muddy, however, is that its presence in Murphysboro was recorded by law enforcement at the time of the sightings, along with compelling evidence. This lends believability to the existence of the Murphysboro Mud Monster. As Sasquatch expert Harlan Sorkin stated at the time of the initial sightings, “The gorilla as we know it today was [unknown to many] until the early 1800’s. Can you imagine what people thought when they first saw it?”

Sources:

http://www.murphysboro.com/how_do_i/find/the_big_muddy_monster.php#outer-165 

https://www.nytimes.com/1973/11/01/archives/yetilike-monster-gives-staid-town-in-illinois-a-fright-halloween.html https://dailyyonder.com/illinois-town-welcomes-its-local-monster-on-main-street/2021/10/29/

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