There’s no explosive pre-disposition in human anatomy – if your body unexpectedly ends up all over the walls, it’s probably because something lethal has just been aimed at you. The only real potential we have to create a spectacular explosion is after we’re dead, if left long enough in the sun. That hasn’t stopped movie-makers from pushing the plunger on the fragile human frame though…
10: Contamination (Luigi Cozzi, 1981)
Italian schlock king Luigi Cozzi brings some considerable ketchup to bear on the cast of his nasty Alien knock-off, as some Giger-like extraterrestrial eggs are brought unwisely to Earth. The eggs have a tendency to moan, emit slime and then burst when in proximity to a human body. Any hapless bystander unlucky enough to be spattered by the remnants instantly and spontaneously explodes in an improbable shower of gore.
9: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (Rachel Talalay, 1991)In general I’m trying to avoid the explosions that happen when someone gets ‘strapped’ with a grenade or has a stick of dynamite shoved down their gullet, so we’ll let Freddy’s (temporary) demise here stand in for many others, including the first failed ‘sticky bomb’ attempt in the finale of Saving Private Ryan, the ‘bomb cake’ gag from Diamonds Are Forever, Kananga’s gas-powered demise in Live And Let Die or any of the other numerous Bond blow-ups. In Talalay’s outing into Krueger-land, our hero is dispatched when Lisa Zane wishes him a happy father’s day and sticks live dynamite in his chest before running for cover.
8: Max Headroom (UK TV, 1985)
Annabel Jankel’s bleeding-edge semi-cyberpunk outing was later remade stateside into a rather sanitised pilot for the short-lived US TV series, featuring jut-jawed reporter Edison Carter and his wacky digital doppelganger Max Headroom (both played by Matt Frewer). In this original version, Carter is investigating a nefarious new form of TV advertising intended to stop channel-surfing, called ‘blipverts’. Unfortunately it has a nasty side-effect on the more couch-bound and unfit viewer, and in one clip we see an enormous whale of a man sat in front of a TV. A blipvert comes on and it’s too much for the sluggardly sloth, who promptly explodes all over his fast food.
7: Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
If there is any mileage in the recently-confirmed Cloverfield sequel, it may lie more in the parasitic critters that engage with the cast at ground level than the reportedly continent-sized monster that will replace the ‘baby’ in the original. Once bitten by the scuttling nasties, the scars and bites become infected and the victim extremely ill. This happened to sweet little Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) in Cloverfield. After entering the military base, the radiation-suited officials quickly recognise the signs that she is about to ‘pop’, and usher her into a grim little tent where we get a painful silhouetted view of her exploding.6: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
Spielberg’s sense for the visceral shock is in sharp contrast to his desire to reach the widest possible audience, and Raiders is only one of the many films that has got him criticised over the years for using his influence to insert R-rated effects into PG movies. Nonetheless, what do those killjoys at the MPAA know? The finale of Raiders is a cinematic classic of explodey madness, as the unbelieving nazis melt and explode under the force of God himself!5: Licence To Kill (John Glen, 1989)
Head explodes at 3.49:
Another decompression incident (see Outland) in Timothy Dalton’s second and final stint as 007 in Bond veteran John Glen’s seventh Bond film (fifth as director). Licence is a particularly nasty attempt to ‘update’ Bond to the very sadistic ultra-violence of the late eighties, and is amongst the most-edited of the bank holiday Bond outings. Having inveigled his way into the underworld of Frank Sanchez (Robert Davi), Bond frames Sanchez’s loyal henchman Krest (Anthony Zerbe), who is summarily thrown into a hyperbaric chamber where the pressure is turned up at inhuman speed. When Sanchez severs the air-feed, the chamber instantly depressurises and Krest’s head explodes. Nasty.4: The Fury (Brian DePalma, 1978)
The presence of Amy Irving in this psychological sci-fi thriller convinced many, unfairly, that it was just another Carrie rip-off (which it kind of is), but since DePalma directed Carrie as well, he arguably has the right, and The Fury remains under regarded. At the film’s conclusion, telepathic protégé Irving comes face to face with her tormentor and would-be father-figure, the head of a secret intelligence research unit, played by John Cassavetes. He uses all his customary tricks to exploit outcast Irving’s isolation and persuade her that her place is by his side, but she rewards him by using her telekinetic powers to literally blow him up; arms and legs go flying everywhere. Credits. It’s a hell of an ending, courtesy of Dick Smith (Scanners, The Exorcist) alumnus Rick Baker.
3: Outland (Peter Hyams, 1981)
Gosh, weren’t there a lot of exploding folk around in the late 70s/early 80s? One more crops up in Peter Hyams’ sci-fi remodelling of High Noon, which finds unwanted new sheriff Sean Connery fighting a plague of deaths at a mining station on Io, a volcanic moon of Jupiter. Turns out nasty old operations boss Peter Boyle is letting a productivity-enhancing drug called ‘polydichloric euthimal’ take its toll on the workforce, some of whom ‘wig out’ under its influence. One particularly eerie sequence finds a spaced-out miner walking into one of the airlocks without his pressure suit, and flipping the ‘decompress’ switch. In twenty seconds, he’s…well, all over the place. There are two more grisly decompression incidents in the film’s concluding battle between Connery and the henchmen that Boyle has sent to kill him.
2: Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981)
Probably the most famous bit of explodey fun in horror movies. Louis Del Grande plays the unlucky ConSec scanner that unwittingly invites psychotic rogue telepath Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside) to a bout of mental arm-wrestling. Revok goes into a fit during the face-off, and before you know it the hapless host’s head explodes in a shower of gore and blood – which, oddly enough, leaves the set completely unmarked in the aftermath, for the following shot simply shows Revok being ushered away from an empty and bloodless table. Dick Smith achieved the exploding-head effect, as Tom Savini had done in Dawn Of The Dead, by aiming a shotgun low pointing up to the carefully layered prosthetic head, and the transition from actor to dummy can be seen with a freeze frame.
1: Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life (Terry Jones, 1983)
This portmanteau horror/comedy outing from the Pythons marked their return to the loosely-linked sketch format they had abandoned in their movies since the quickly knocked-off And Now For Something Completely Different (1971). It divided fans between those who felt it was a poor effort (most) and those who appreciated the return of the pointless anarchy of the 1970s series.
The film concludes on possibly the most outrageous note that Python had struck since the sketch about the undertaker who vomits his clients into their graves; and once again Terry Jones was behind it. ‘Mr. Creosote’ is the foul-mouthed, gargantuan glutton that waddles into an exclusive French restaurant and orders everything on the menu, pausing between courses only to clear his palette by vomiting into buckets and on the waiters and other patrons. To bring his reign of terror to an end, unctuous head waiter John Cleese tempts Creosote with ‘just one waff-er thin slice’ more, and retreats to a safe distance as the bilious gastronaut explodes himself all over the restaurant walls, leaving his ribcage and internal organs exposed, and the remaining customers vomiting in a ghastly chain-reaction that spread to the cinema I first watched it in. Utterly repulsive.
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