Horror Science: How Realistic Are Slasher Movie Kills?

By  · Published on October 24th, 2013

Ever since the slasher genre took off in the 80s, masked killers hacking up young co-eds has been a horror movie staple. While psychotic killers existed in movies for years (like Peeping Tom and Psycho), it was John Carpenter 1978 thriller Halloween that really popularized the concept and started a chain reaction of copy-cat films.

Since then, notable slasher anti-heroes like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees have become synonymous with horror movies in general. These franchises became extremely popular with the moviegoing audiences, but they were also the target by many various groups (including this classic Sneak Previews episode with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert bemoaning this “disturbing new trend”) for being too violent.

Here at Film School Rejects, we love our horror movies, and we love our slasher films. However, we are also interested in reality, and that got us thinking: Just how realistic are kills in slasher movies?

The Answer: They aren’t nearly bloody enough.

What’s a good slasher villain without a bit of slashing? Psycho killers have used everything from a pick axe in My Bloody Valentine to a chainsaw in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but most of the favorite weapons have been objects that can stab and slice. In the interest of simplicity, let’s leave Freddy Krueger out of this because he is strictly supernatural, and anything can happen in a dream. Instead, let’s look at the most famous on-screen killers: Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.

Most of the kills (at least in the earlier films) for both the Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises involve a blade. Jason (and his mother, of course) likes his machete, but he’s employed anything sharp that he could get his hands on. Michael likes his kitchen knife, but he can be versatile as well.

An axe through the head can incapacitate a victim quickly, but the more common cutting of the throat, stabbing in the neck, and piercing the chest won’t kill someone instantly. The wound can be fatal, but the victim would actually die of blood loss rather than blunt impact.

The human body contains about five liters of blood, more or less, depending on its size. Even if a major artery is severed, it would take a minute or two for the body to lose the 40 percent or so of its blood that would be required to bleed out.

If you go by how much is actually shown in the slasher movies (which often depicts a few ounces at the most), this is grossly understated. Forty percent of a person’s blood is roughly equivalent of a two-liter soda bottle, which is alarmingly more than what is usually shown on screen. To put this in perspective, imagine a two-liter bottle of Hawaiian Punch poured on the floor and compare it to how much blood is released in your average Friday the 13th movie kill. There’s almost no comparison.

In fact, one of the few slasher movie moments that gets the amount of blood loss right is the death of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho. She is stabbed in the shower, and a flood of her blood pours into the tub and flows down the drain. She doesn’t die from knife wounds, but rather from bleeding out in the shower.

But what about the bloodless kills?

Those too tend to be more tame on the screen than in real life. When not using stabbing or cutting instruments, psycho killers enjoy strangling their victims. Remember the fate of Lynda (PJ Soles) in Halloween? She was strangled by a telephone cord. Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), who warned the counselors about Camp Blood in the Friday the 13th movies, was choked out with a wire in the second film. Before she was the bride to the Scorpion King, Kelly Hu was strangled in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.

Jason and Michael make it look so easy.

Here’s the catch: strangulation is not a quick or easy death. First, it cuts off blood flow to the brain by restricting the carotid artery, causing unconsciousness within 30 seconds. Secondarily, it restricts breathing by crushing the trachea. However, this is not deadly. The person wouldn’t actually die until the brain is deprived of oxygen for at least several minutes. Somehow, Jason and Michael manage to strangle their victims in less than a minute, but in real life, the victim could likely survive (though they might have brain damage from lack of oxygen and possible breathing issues from a crushed windpipe).

In slashers, as in life, creativity counts.

Even the more clever kills face similar problems. In Halloween, Michael mounts Bob (John Michael Graham) on the kitchen door with his knife (though the knife is arguably too short to make it completely through the body, and the weight of the body would be too much for the knife to hold). In Halloween II, he boils young lovers in a hot tub and drowns them (though the time it takes to do this is too short, considering the brain death issue in strangulation).

Ignoring the blood volume factor, the only time slasher kills are completely effective is when things get really creative. For example, space-age Jason kills Adrienne (Kristi Angus) in Jason X by freezing her face in liquid nitrogen and then shattering it on the counter. In Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, our anti-hero electrocutes one of the characters by throwing him into a transformer. These would pretty much do the trick.

Decapitation, of course, always works, even if it happens for completely preposterous reasons. In Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason literally punches Julius’ (V.C. Dupree) head clean off, which would require his fist to be traveling at more than 600 miles per hour. This is an impossibility for even the best boxer in the world, who could throw a punch at approximately 30 miles per hour. However, by this point in the series, we’re dealing with zombie Jason who was brought back to life with the healing power of electricity, so it’s possible that he could throw a punch with 20 times the power of a normal person.

So the morals to this story are: 1) slasher films aren’t nearly as violent as they would be in real life, 2) the best kills are the creative ones, and 3) you’re gonna need to buy more fake blood.

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