The other day, I was browsing the list of the American Film Institute’s Top 50 Greatest Villains of all time and it occurred to me that very few of those villains got a truly satisfying epic death scene. In fact, many of them never even got a death scene at all, but I guess that’s why they were such classic villains. However, most of the villains on the list who did die wound up being killed off in a rather standard fashion. That’s not to say they weren’t good death scenes, but they weren’t death scenes that made you want to stand up and cheer. However, the selections I’ve made for this particular list always put me in the mood to do that. I probably wouldn’t rank most of these antagonists on any list of the greatest screen villains of all time, but all of them did have the honour of receiving a comeuppance that was just perfect for them.
Warning: The following article contains spoilers. But, really, if you haven’t seen most of the films on this list… shame on you!
10. Chet – The Last Boy Scout (1991):
In this particular case, the bad guy in question isn’t one of the main villains of the film and is a mere henchman who only appears in two scenes. However, he does receive one of the most satisfying comeuppances a major douchebag could ever deserve. In this scene, the bad guys have succeeded at capturing the burnt-out, haggard-looking private detective hero, Joe Hallenbeck. One of the goons, Chet, believes that Hallenbeck is nothing more than a bum and since he’s now in their clutches and doesn’t seem like much of a threat, Chet decides to bully and antagonize the guy. After Chet punches Hallenbeck in the face while pretending to light him a cigarette, Hallenbeck casually says: “You touch me again, I’ll kill ya”. Since Chet is a colossal asshole, he decides to punch Hallenbeck again. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that Hallenbeck is a former Secret Service agent whose hands are deadly weapons, so all it takes is one sharp retaliation punch to Chet’s face to kill him instantly. This is probably the action movie equivalent of George McFly punching out Biff Tannen… if Biff’s nose wound up getting lodged in his brain!
9. Johnny – I Spit on Your Grave (1978):
I’ve mentioned the infamous I Spit on Your Grave on this blog before and talked about the inexplicable decision to release a remake of this film this year, which garnered a second straight zero-star review from an appalled Roger Ebert. Before you think I’m leaping to the film’s defense, I will clarify that, yes, I Spit on Your Grave is a bad movie, but I have to concede that it contains one amazing scene that prevents me from ever giving it a rating of zero stars. The storyline of I Spit on Your Grave involves a girl named Jennifer getting raped multiple times by four men and getting violent revenge on them, and that pretty much summarizes the whole film. However, the sequence where she gets revenge on the ringleader, Johnny, is pretty spectacular and it’s unlikely that any male viewer could ever get through it without crossing their legs. Jennifer seduces Johnny and they wind up in the bath together, where she proceeds to start giving him a hand job. Unbeknownst to him, Jennifer uses her other hand to grab a butcher knife from underneath the bath mat and hides it underneath the water. Once Johnny becomes aroused, the viewer hears a chopping noise that has to be one of the most cringe-inducing sounds in cinema history! Johnny doesn’t even realize what has happened at first and even says: “Ahhh… that’s so sweet, it’s painful”, but when blood suddenly pops up in the water between his legs, he knows it’s time to start panicking! Jennifer then exits the bathroom and locks Johnny inside while he freaks out and bleeds to death, and she decided to turn on some opera music to drown out his screaming. I Spit on Your Grave may be a vile and poorly made film, but I don’t think you will ever see a more satisfying comeuppance for a disgusting rapist.
8. Frank D’Amico – Kick-Ass (2010):
Blowing up bad guys with bazookas or rocket launchers became a very popular trend in action flicks during the eighties, most especially in Cannon films. Charles Bronson used a rocket launcher to kill off the main villain in Death Wish 3 and then used a grenade launcher to do the same in Death Wish 4. Chuck Norris also blew the evil Russian bad guy out of a high-rise window with a rocket launcher in Invasion U.S.A., which in true 1980s fashion, cut right to the end credits immediately afterwards! However, the all-time greatest bazooka/rocket launcher death scene undeniably takes place in Kick-Ass. The film introduces the bazooka into the plot at the end of the second act and provides a very long tease before the damn thing is finally used. When the villainous Frank D’Amico is on the verge of killing the 11-year old Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass suddenly appears in the room with bazooka in hand. He proceeds to blast Frank out the high-rise window, and the blast launches him so far that he doesn’t explode until he hits another high-rise building across the street! If you’ll excuse the pun, that’s one hell of a kick-ass death!
7. Mrs. Deagle – Gremlins (1984):
This is the first horror film on this list where evil monsters may be the central villains, but the story also features a hateful human antagonist who winds up receiving a very satisfying demise. Before the Gremlins wind up eating after midnight, the main villain in the first half of this film is a miserable old battle axe named Mrs. Deagle, a cold-hearted realtor who wants to take the leases away from virtually every person in the town of Kingston Falls. She’s also a spinster who lives with a lot of cats, and threatens to kidnap the hero’s dog and put him in her spin dryer on high heat. Naturally, you’re really anxious for her to get a nasty comeuppance at the hands of the Gremlins and, boy, does this movie not disappoint! After establishing that she rides up and down the staircase of her house on a motorized chair, the Gremlins eventually break in and doctor the chair’s controls. When Mrs. Deagle tries to ride her chair back upstairs, she finds out that it has morphed into a jet propulsion system which shoots her up the staircase so fast that she winds up flying out the second floor window and crashing into the street! While you may feel a bit guilty about having to watch an old lady die in such a horrific fashion… actually, screw that, you don’t! This death scene is THAT awesome!
6. The Biker Gang – The Ninth Configuration (1980):
I’ve covered William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration in great detail in my “Robin’s Underrated Gems” column about it. This is definitely not a movie for every taste, but it’s certainly a one-of-a-kind original, and contains one of the greatest build-ups to an explosion of violence that I’ve ever seen. Stacy Keach plays a psychiatrist at an insane asylum for soldiers, but it turns out he’s actually a psychotic soldier himself nicknamed “Killer Kane”. The movie establishes that Kane is one of the most violent killing machines known to man, but we don’t actually see this side of him until a prolonged sequence in a bar where a gang of sadistic bikers brutalize Kane and one of his patients. Kane does everything he can to resolve the situation peacefully, but the bikers refuse to let them leave and force the two of them to perform demeaning acts. After the tension has been turned all the way up to eleven, Kane finally snaps and annihilates the bikers in a quick, but very potent explosion of violence. Kane does not discriminate and refuses to hold anything back when taking out his aggression on the female members of the gang. While these bikers aren’t even introduced until the third act of the film and only get about ten minutes worth of screen time, very rarely has it been so satisfying to see a group of bad guys get what’s coming to them.
5. Arjen Rudd – Lethal Weapon 2 (1989):
Out of all the cheesy eighties action movie one-liners that have ever been uttered, this death scene provides what is probably my personal favourite. Most action films from that time period liked to use Russians or South American drug dealers as their choice of international villains, but Lethal Weapon 2 came up with the ingenious idea of using South Africans, seeing as how apartheid was still rampant at the time and it wasn’t exactly the most popular country in the world. Even better, the villains would be South African diplomats who were above the law and couldn’t be touched by American law enforcement. To this day, when people hear the term “diplomatic immunity”, the first thing they think of is the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 2. The main villain in question is Arjen Rudd, who arrogantly proclaims to Riggs and Murtaugh that they could not even give him a parking ticket. During the climax, Rudd shoots Riggs several times and when Murtaugh points his gun at him, Rudd pulls out his ID and still tries to play the “above the law” card. Murtaugh is not impressed.
Rudd: Diplomatic immunity!
Murtaugh: *BANG* It’s just been revoked!
You couldn’t ask for a more satisfying one-liner than that!
4. Mrs. Carmody – The Mist (2007):
Stephen King’s The Mist is a story about giant monsters, but its central theme is how easily human beings can turn into monsters when placed in the middle of a terrifying crisis. The film takes place in a supermarket where a group of survivors are hiding out from giant creatures that are concealed within a mysterious mist, and the town’s local religious fanatic, Mrs. Carmody starts to convince them that they are facing the wrath of God and that people will have to be sacrificed in order to appease Him. Now, I’m sure everybody who watches this movie probably hates hardcore religious fanatics who force their beliefs on you, so of course, you anxiously anticipate a horrible demise for Mrs. Carmody at the hands of the creatures. However, her actual death turns out to be ten times more satisfying. After convincing her angry followers to sacrifice the hero’s young son, Mrs. Carmody suddenly becomes the recipient of an unexpected gunshot to the head, courtesy of the supermarket’s nerdy assistant manager, Ollie. I have watched a lot of movies in theatres throughout the course of my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard an audience cheer as loud as when Mrs. Carmody took that well-deserved bullet to the brain!
3. Howard Saint – The Punisher (2004):
I do not consider The Punisher to be a work of great art, but it is a huge guilty pleasure of mine and I enjoy the hell out of its gratuitous ultra-violence. The plot involves Frank Castle having his entire family violently wiped out at the hands of crime kingpin Howard Saint, so Castle morphs into “The Punisher” and seeks bloody revenge on all those responsible. All the movie really needs to be successful are some very satisfying death scenes for the bad guys and The Punisher delivers those in spades. However, it goes above and beyond the call of duty when the Punisher finally gets his revenge on Howard Saint. After shooting Howard in the leg, the Punisher tells him that he just killed off his last surviving son, and then reveals to Howard that he planted false evidence to convince him that his wife and best friend were having an affair, so Howard wound up killing them both off for nothing. He then ties Howard to a slow-moving car that drags him into a used car lot, where a large series of explosions slowly burn Howard to death and create the shape of a large Punisher symbol. About the only thing the Punisher doesn’t do is piss and defecate on him, though I’m sure there’s a deleted scene somewhere where he also orders 100 pizzas to be delivered to Howard Saint’s house.
2. Captain Rhodes – Day of the Dead (1985):
George Romero introduced a unique storytelling formula for the last chapter of his original Living Dead trilogy, as only a handful of the characters in Day of the Dead would actually be sympathetic and the rest of them would be colossal douchebags. The story takes in an underground military bunker where a dozen survivors are shielding themselves from the massive zombie epidemic. Most of them are extremely unlikeable, trigger-happy soliders, who are led by the psychotic Captain Rhodes, one of the more underrated villains in horror movie history. Like the other horror films on this list, the human characters are built up to be just as evil as the actual monsters in the story. After a slow, deliberately paced first hour, Romero delivers a hugely satisfying climax where the zombies finally break into the underground bunker and provide the asshole soldiers with the horrible, gruesome deaths they so richly deserve. He saves the best for last as Rhodes is shot numerous times by Bub, a zombie who has learned how to fire a gun and wants revenge on Rhodes for having murdered the doctor who gave him these skills. Bub then delivers a military salture as a horde of zombies gang up on Rhodes and literally tear him in half. Rhodes remains a dickhead until the very end as he manages to yell “CHOKE ON ‘EM!!” at the zombies who are eating his intestines before he finally expires. Awhile back, Gill posted a video montage Screen Junkies made about the greatest last words ever spoken by movie characters, but I consider it an unforgivable oversight that “CHOKE ON ‘EM!!” didn’t make the cut!
1. Ben Childress – The Fury (1978):
Sadly, there is currently no clip of this scene on Youtube, but it still deserves the #1 spot since I truly believe it would be impossible for any film to ever deliver a cooler death scene for its villain than this one. Three years before David Cronenberg blew up a guy’s head in Scanners, Brian De Palma blew up John Cassavetes’ entire BODY! The plot of The Fury involves a secret institute for young people with psychic and telekinetic powers that’s run by a shady intelligence agent named Ben Childress, who wants to turn these psychic kids into government assassins. Brian De Palma previously covered the issue of telekinesis in Carrie and delivered a great death scene in that movie when Carrie used her telekinetic powers to send knives flying into her evil mother. However, De Palma really decided to outdo himself in The Fury and even though the film’s plot is kinda silly, the final payoff makes the whole thing worthwhile. Childress has been a hugely efficient villain up until the very end and succeeded at killing off pretty much every other good guy in the story. In the closing scene, he has a psychic teenage girl named Gillian in captivity and tries to persuade her to join his program, but she pretty much tells Childress to go fuck himself in the most awesome way possible. She uses her telekinetic powers to blind Childress and make him go into convulsions, and then finally causes him to literally EXPLODE from the inside out into billions of gooey pieces! De Palma milks this grisly demise for all its worth, replaying it numerous times and showcasing it from every possible angle. And, of course, the movie IMMEDIATELY cuts to the end credits the second after it happens! I’m sure every filmmaker secretly wishes he could make a movie that ended with the main character simply exploding, but Brian De Palma… God bless him, he actually did it!