Whether in a heated argument over who should star in Avengers 4 or a Twitter tiff over whose Batman/Ben Affleck mash-up video is better, everyone hopes to have the final say. In the horror genre, “last words” take on a decidedly more… literal meaning: perhaps uttered before a character’s demise, lobbed at a villain before the hero delivers her own killing blow, or recited before the closing credits as a conclusive stab of dialogue that will linger with the audience til the wee hours.
After his head is genetically fused with the body of a housefly, David Hedison shrieks out in shrill, gut-churning terror, “Help me, help meee!” as he is caught in a web and an enormous spider descends upon him. Good luck getting those words out of your head for the rest of the month.
What’s so striking about the last words of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is that they aren’t spoken at all. Instead, the murderous spirit of Norman Bates’ dead mother narrates inside his head. Pay attention as Norma Bates' superimposed face is just perceptible enough to create a frightening skull-like image laid over the car being pulled from the swamp.
In James Whale’s follow-up to Frankenstein, the towering man-made monster is given a beast bride so unspeakable that he actually questions and, ultimately, spurns his own existence. The moment of self-destruct is all the more effective given its normally taciturn speaker.
“Twist” has become a four-letter word for many film fans. Still, let no one tell you they saw the surprise ending of 2004’s Saw coming. Spoiler alert! That sound you heard was an entire audienceful of jaws dropping the moment when Jigsaw rises from the dirty bathroom floor, having played possum the entire time. Here he’s actually establishing the tone of utter hopelessness that will define the rest of the series.
If you have to be a victim in a horror film, the last thing you want is for your ultimate words on this mortal coil to be a cowardly plea for rescue. Captain Rhodes from George Romero’s Day of the Dead certainly understood this. Few things are more badass than daring that your shredded innards become lodged in the throats of the zombies tearing you apart.
There are few more tragic figures in all of horrordom than King Kong. His plummet from atop the Empire State Building is the preeminent fall from grace. Through all of it, however, Kong is motivated by his love for Ann Darrow. The classic final line seen here was never a more fitting epitaph for a monster.
There are times when the end credits roll in a horror film before the fate of its primary characters are revealed. In John Carpenter’s classic The Thing, the last two survivors stand amongst an Antarctic research facility's burning remains. Neither one can be sure that the other isn’t a vicious extraterrestrial in disguise, and yet neither has the strength to fight. MacReady is essentially resigning himself to his fate -- in all likelihood, he will die shortly after uttering these words, either from frostbite or from the alien hiding inside Childs.
No franchise has turned the prospect of grim death into a theatrical carnival ride quite like Final Destination. These films transform the dreary inevitability of mortality into a raucous and thrilling Rube Goldberg machine. Arguably the most memorable kill in the first film involves a character telling her friends to “drop f*****g dead” before being flattened herself by a passing bus. The best part is how she drifts into the street as she spits her closing dialogue.
The movie that gave rise to the American slasher film, Halloween is the epitome of suburban nightmares. Michael Myers is the specter of evil silently creeping into a squeaky clean and safe middle-class world. The film’s final line, uttered by Dr. Sam Loomis, is the acknowledgement of that invasive evil. The fact that the concluding dialogue is followed by Myers’ vanished corpse is such a beautiful twist of the knife.
Any James Bond villain will warn you against the dangers of monologues. The next two entries on our list clearly did not heed that warning. In Scream 2, Randy, the most self-aware character in Wes Craven’s meta franchise, finally meets his grisly end after skirting death in the first film. Before he is pulled into a van and stabbed repeatedly, Randy speaks to the killer on the phone, letting loose with a tirade in which, among other gems, he compares the masked maniac to other “big boy” murderers like Mason, Bundy, and… O.J. Amusing words, if only he’d known they’d be his last.
But the award for most ill-advised monologue has to go to Samuel L. Jackson in Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea. Just after Jackson calms a panicking group of researchers in an undersea lab, who've just seen members of their team devoured by artificially enhanced sharks, a massive CG shark appears and bites him in half. A rather inauspicious, if amazing, finale for a character we all thought would be more central to the plot.
In Richard Donner’s The Omen, the titular tyke is in fact the son of the Devil. As you would expect, he therefore isn’t content to pull pigtails and track mud in the house. No, Damien’s brand of mischief involves hypnotizing nannies into happily hanging themselves in tribute to his demonic power.
Though some may argue this movie isn't horror (despite its revolving around a guy who eats people’s faces), what can’t be denied is how perfectly Jonathan Demme’s film wraps up. Watch the double meaning of Hannibal’s parting words becoming deliciously evident…
Deaths don’t get much gorier than the explosive demise of Frank Cotton in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. What is truly annoying for Frank is that he’s already died once when he is ripped apart by the demonic S&M monsters known as the Cenobites. Just before their ensnaring chains tear him up, he has time to utter the enigmatically prophetic, “Jesus wept.” Funny, none of my bible study classes were ever like this.
False scares are a staple of the horror genre. In John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, Jack and David are frightened by the sounds in the darkness as they cross the Scottish moors. They run briskly and David trips and falls with a yelp. Jack helps him up in relief before the real fright is unleashed: a marauding werewolf appears and tears Jack to bits. Touché, Landis.