Some film sequences are only for the strongest of stomachs. Disgusting, gross, and gory images are some of the most defining and iconic in movie history, despite naysaying critics who consider such content lowbrow and sophomoric. But in truth, creating such queasy sequences requires great ingenuity, technique, and imagination. Bringing blood and guts to the silver screen is serious work.
Horror, suspense and science fiction films are often defined by these garish and grotesque moments, all of which spark the imagination in many facets: how do they come up with this stuff, and how do they bring such repulsive visions to life? The answers are often more surprising and humorous than such disturbing imagery would suggest.
Here’s our list of 15 of the most iconic, skin crawling, gag-inducing scenes ever, and the often colorful and insightful behind-the-scenes tales of how they went from the scripted page into reality. Whether from surprisingly practical and rudimentary techniques or intricate and elaborate effects, to the psychological toll witnessing such gruesome imagery had on the cast, these revelations are just as spellbinding and entertaining as the films they were created for.
Without further ado, here are 15 GROSS Movie Scenes And The Stories Behind Them.
15. Robocop (Melting Man)
Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi classic Robocop was originally so violent that it even earned an X-rating. The director trimmed up the cut significantly to get an R (he had to resubmit the film 12 times to do so). But one scene he refused to alter was the “melting man” scene (named as an homage to cult classic sci-fi movie The Incredible Melting Man), citing it as one of the favorite scenes of test audiences. (Funnily enough it was also one of their least favorite–Robocop has always been a polarizing movie.)
In the skin-dripping scene, evil criminal Emil runs through a vat of toxic waste and rapidly begins to liquefy before getting hit by a car and exploding into bits. Special effects artist Rob Bottin achieved the sequence by using “Emil’s Pot,” which contained a rotting mass of chicken, soup, gravy, and vegetables that were siphoned from catering leftovers. He then poured the contents into balloons and threw them at the windshield, and disgusting movie magic was made.
14. Maniac (Disco Boy Shotgun Murder)
This grind house slasher classic’s most infamous scene sees the death of “Disco Boy,” (played by the film’s special effects artist Tom Savini). The character is murdered graphically onscreen by serial killer Frank Zito (Joe Spinell), with his head exploding from a shotgun blast fired at point-blank range through a car windshield.
To carry out the effect, Savini made a plaster cast of his own head, filled it with lunch meat and fake blood, and fired actual live ammunition into the prop. The resulting brain-blasting effect, utilizing three cameras and filmed in slow-motion, was wonderfully revolting, and a high watermark of low-budget effects work.
After the stunt was completed, Savini threw the shotgun into the trunk of film assistant Luke Walker, who drove off to avoid having to explain shooting off a firearm in New York City, and any possible misunderstanding a lifelike exploded skull might impose.
13. High Tension (Car Murder Scene)
Alexandre Aja’s gruesome 2003 French horror movie High Tension (or Haute Tension) is full of gory goodies, and the scene where a trapped driver is eviscerated by a concrete saw (while a woman in the backseat is bathed in his blood) is unforgettably repulsive.
It’s a horrific moment rampant with juicy, viscera dripping goodness, best captured after a big vat of fake blood gets sprayed directly on the camera lens. In the film’s DVD commentary, director Aja explained that the shot was actually just a “lucky accident” that added to the disturbing texture of the film.
Funnily enough, the camera employed for the film (which was rented for the production) would maintain its blood soaked legacy long after the movie completed filming: an unnerved filmmaker on another project noted to Aja that the camera would leak blood when shooting at certain angles.
12. Dawn of the Dead (Biker Disembowelment)
Dawn of the Dead is full of notable, groundbreaking effects from the aforementioned Tom Savini, who was inspired by the carnage he witnessed during his service in the Vietnam War. And his work on the late George Romero‘s classic horror film proved one of the most iconic in zombie horror history, when a menacing biker is disemboweled and eaten alive by undead flesh-eaters trapped in a shopping mall.
To pull off the grotesque effect, Savini made a prosthetic body cast and filled with it sheep intestines. And after a shot showing the zombies yanking them out with fervor, it cuts to the undead eating hot dogs and deli meats.
During the sequence, a pregnant extra suggested that Romero and Savini film a scene where the zombies rip her stomach open and a fake fetus falls out, but both thought that would prove too difficult for audiences to handle, and would certainly squash any chance of an R rating. Sometimes, even the strongest purveyors of gore (and the godfather of modern zombie movies) have their limits!
11. Misery (Hobbling Scene)
Oh, the hobbling scene from Misery. It makes our ankles hurt just thinking about it. The most unforgettable scene from Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel has a pretty memorable behind the scenes story as well.
The sequence, where the dangerously delusional Annie (Kathy Bates) smashes writer Paul Sheldon’s (James Caan) ankles with a sledgehammer, was originally supposed to be even more gruesome: in the novel, she severs his left foot with an axe.
This proved so unsettling that the original director George Roy Hill dropped out, saying “I was up all night. And I just could not hear myself saying, ‘Action!’ on that scene.” Reiner took over, committed to keeping the axe chopping intact, but it continued to prove divisive, with actress Bette Midler turned down the role of Annie because of it.
In the end, Reiner came up with the bloodless alternative, even though the hobbling is every bit as unsettling. It was accomplished by Bates hitting plaster molds of Caan’s feet (filled with gelatin), that would swing to extreme angles thanks to inserted armatures. Bates found the effects so realistic that she became upset after filming the scene, as Caan recalled: “She’s so antiviolent…she literally was crying.
10. Stand By Me (Pie-eating Contest)
In addition to Misery, Director Rob Reiner helmed another Stephen King property: Stand By Me (adapted from King’s novella The Body). The coming of age tale focused on young Gordie (Will Wheaton), who had aspirations of becoming a writer. And in one notorious scene, his short story The Revenge of Lardass Hogan was brought to vibrant, projectile-vomiting life.
The story ends with Hogan causing a chain reaction of vomiting at a pie-eating contest, and to create the voluminous regurgitation, the effects supervisors used copious amounts of blueberry pie filling and large curd cottage cheese, which was pumped through a tube hidden under the actor’s shirts and taped to their cheek.
It took 5 stagehands pushing on a large plunger to get the right amount of upchuck (a power washer was originally used, but proved too diffused), leading into the gloriously gross comeuppance.
Reiner was initially reticent to include the scene, but told Entertainment Weekly in 2016 that, “All the agonizing that I went through about whether or not to include it, and it turned out to be the biggest thing in the whole movie. Every year in Brownsville (Oregon. where the scene was filmed), they show the movie and have a pie eating contest. I’m very happy it’s remembered so well.”
9. Cannibal Holocaust (Pig Slaughter)
One of the most controversial films of all time, Cannibal Holocaust is notorious for featuring a number of real-life animal killings included in the film. And one scene, which featured the live shooting of a pig, proved so traumatic for actor Carl Gabriel Yorke that he kept botching a lengthy monologue. It’s hard to blame him: after hearing the pig squealing it’s death throes in the background, he couldn’t gain his composure. Other animals that were sacrificed for the production, included a coatimundi, a turtle, a snake, a monkey, and a tarantula.
It wasn’t just the animal deaths that gave Cannibal Holocaust such a (deservedly) despicable reputation–the fake scenes of human sacrifices looked so real that director Ruggero Deodato was accused of making a snuff film, resulting with him being charged with murder in his native Italy. It took the appearance of his cast in court to prove to the judge that no one (human, that is) was killed during the production.
8. Society (Shunting)
While Society is certainly the most obscure film on this list, it is infamous among gore hounds for this utterly disturbing scene. During the climax of Brian Yuzna’s inventive class warfare horror film, the wealthy 1% feed off the bottom 99%. Literally.
The process is called “shunting,” whereby the Beverly Hills elite mutate and deform, becoming gelatinous beasts that suck the nutrients out of their poor victims, depicted onscreen as an queasy orgy of melting flesh. It concludes with the film’s hero gaining the upper hand, literally pulling the main villain’s head through his ass. You really need to see it for yourself.
Yuzna based the “shunting” scene off his nightmares, saying in an Fangoria interview: “I starting thinking, what effect have I never seen that I’d love to see? I settled on seeing people’s skin melting together. I used to have nightmares about that…I remember while we were shooting the shunting just feeling thrilled and thinking, ‘I can’t believe we’re getting to do this!”
7. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) The Big Reveal
One of the most controversial horror films of the 21st century, The Human Centipede is defined by the big reveal inherit in the movie’s title: three humans sewn mouth to anus, designed as a pet by deranged scientist Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser).
The perverse concept originated in the twisted mind of director/screenwriter Tom Six, but he wanted an air of medical authority so that Heiter’s vile experiment had some grounding in reality. To do this, he reached out to a Dutch surgeon to discover if such a procedure was plausible. Initially, the surgeon (who unsurprisingly wished to remain anonymous) claimed that Six’s concept was “crazy” and had “nothing to do with medical science.”
In the end, the medical professional became intrigued and helped design the finished concept, which Six claims is “100% medically accurate.” While we’ll (hopefully) never know if such a claim is true, the cinematic interpretation remains vomit-inducing nightmare fuel (despite its surprising lack of graphic violence).
6. Creepshow (Roaches Revenge)
Creepshow is one of George Romero’s finest films, and the horror anthology ends with the epically icky tale “They’re Creeping Up On You,” about an elderly germaphobe (played by E.G. Marshall) killed by cockroaches. The scene of a seemingly endless army of roaches erupting from his lifeless body has been the source of countless nightmares.
Creating the sequence proved a challenge: Romero couldn’t get an export permit for hissing cockroaches, so the 20,000 bugs had to be imported from Guatemala on a temporary permit. This meant there had to be a “roach count” before and after each scene (while also reporting any bug deaths).
To help with this, the film even employed “cockroach wranglers,” who are listed in the credits. For the final shot, Romero realized he needed even more roaches, so effects artist Tom Savini used nuts and raisins to give the appearance of even greater numbers. Excuse us, we’re feeling queasy after typing the words roaches and raisins so close together.
5. The Thing (Defibrillator Scene)
John Carpenter’s The Thing contains the best practical special effects of all time, and that’s a testament to effects artist Rob Bottin’s jaw-dropping effects work. Bottin’s inspired prosthetics in Carpenter’s 1982 film perfectly captured an alien life form able to replicate any living organism, making it a deadly threat at an Antarctic research center.
And in one of the most memorably gruesome moments, Doc Copper (Richard Dysart) attempts to defibrillate his friend Norris (Charles Hallohan), unaware that he’s no longer human. Instead, the doppelgänger’s chest opens up, reveals a set a fangs, and bites Copper’s arms off.
Bottin hired a double amputee stuntman to stand in for Dysart, fitting him with prosthetic arms filled with jello. He also gave him a mask of Dysart’s likeness so lifelike that cast member Joel Pollis thought they had found an actor who was his spitting image. Norris’s innards were a variety of contents, including mayonnaise, cream corn, KY jelly, and strawberry jam (mmm, yum).
4. Braindead/Dead Alive (Lawnmower Scene)
Before he redefined fantasy filmmaking with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson was a low-budget horror hound, most famous for his splatstick 1992 horror film Braindead (released as Dead Alive in North America).
The plot revolves around Lionel, a socially awkward young man forced to fight off zombie hordes after his mother contracts a lethal virus that reanimates the dead in his sleepy New Zealand village. Braindead is packed to the brim with gore, making it one of the most stomach churning (yet hilarious) horror films ever (see if you can make it through the custard scene without gagging). But its the climax, when Lionel fights off the undead threat by cutting them down with a lawnmower, that proves to be the pièce de résistance.
In an interview with Ain’t it Cool News, special effects artist Richard Taylor revealed how treacherous the sequence was to make: “my fingers could actually feel the wind of the blades whizzing past them and of course Tim Balme who played the lead actor is on a slippery floor holding onto a lawnmower that’s moving in three-dimensional space while I’m pushing wax limbs into this bloody lawn mower! All of the team working with us thought I was absolutely mad…but I hadn’t come up with any other solution so that was it!”
3. The Exorcist (Regan Vomiting)
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was full of shocking and disgusting moments, but perhaps none are remembered as fondly (?) as the infamous vomiting scene, where poor possessed Regan (Linda Blair) belches up thick green fluid on the priests who are trying to save her.
The fake puke consisted of Andersen’s Split Pea Soup (a signature dish from a famed California eatery) mixed with oatmeal to give it just the perfect, gooey consistency. Sleight-of-hand was used heavily in the scene, with Blair replaced by a vomit double (Eileen Dietz), who was rigged with a camouflaged nozzle that prevented her from swallowing or closing her mouth. Deitz would later sue (unsuccessfully) the production for not getting a screen credit for her barf-tastic contribution.
Actor Jason Miller’s expression of revulsion wasn’t faked either; he was genuinely shocked, as Friedkin assured him he would only be hit in the chest by the oatmeal soup, not doused in the face.
Perhaps fitting for a film featuring vomit, many theaters gave audience members barf bags during its original theatrical run.
2. Scanners (Exploding Head)
In a behind the scenes featurette featuring cinematographer Mark Irwin and effects supervisor Gary Zeller, they revealed repeated issues with achieving the desired effect. After several failed attempts (including using a pneumatic discharge, which looked like a popped balloon) they made a lifecast of actor Louis Del Grande, filling it with latex, wax, leftover burgers, Karo syrup, gelatin, and whatever else they could get their hands on.
After several misfires getting the fake head to burst, a frustrated Zeller cleared the set, picked up a shotgun and blew the prop apart, resulting in a glorious brain-spattering moment. Oddly enough, Zeller explained the sequence wasn’t that prominent in the script, yet it has become the most defining moment of the film.
1. Alien (Chestburster Scene)
The introduction of Alien’s baby xenomorph to movie audiences was so unprecedented that it caused many moviegoers to barf and faint upon the big reveal. And that visceral reaction didn’t only extend to those who bought tickets, but to the film’s cast as well.
While the actors knew the late John Hurt‘s character Kane would die, the exact method was vague. Sigourney Weaver revealed as much in an interview with Empire Magazine: “All it said in the script was, ‘This thing emerges.'” Director Ridley Scott wanted genuine looks of horror when Kane’s chest exploded, so he deliberately kept them in the dark, not revealing the gory details until the actual shot was completed. The cast became concerned when they saw the film crew wearing rain coats, but by that time, it was too late, and they were assaulted by an explosion of butcher shop guts and fake blood.
Actress Veronica Cartwright, who played the neurotic character Lambert, had the most visceral reaction–she literally passed out after, according to screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, getting hit by a “jet of blood, about 3 ft long, caught her smack in the kisser.” Horror cinema was never the same again.
Well that concludes our collection of behind-the-scenes tales of some of the grossest scenes in cinematic history. Have any other stories from gross movie moments? Tell us in the comments!
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