John Donne once said that death be not proud, but history appears to have misplaced his opinion on whether it can be funny. Fortunately, Hollywood has given us an answer on his behalf: hell, yes. Yes, we’re positive that’s exactly how the religious poet Donne would feel about it if he had seen the movies we’ve seen this decade. Even the dogs get in on the action at the movies this year: in “Up,” Dug’s favorite joke is, “A squirrel says, ‘I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.’ The joke is funny because the squirrel is dead.”
One word of caution before proceeding: as you might imagine, there are SPOILERS galore here. Heck, some of these movies haven’t even been released on DVD yet. Ready to laugh at man’s last, most undignified act? Read on, fellow sickos, and of course give us your suggestions for the list in the comments section.
10. Shaft (2000): Back alley view to a kill
Yes, it seems like an inauspicious way to begin the list, but hey, it was a free screening, and I love Samuel L. Jackson. There is a reason that there was no sequel to John Singleton’s blacksploitation remake – what was up with Edgar Wright taking a shit in the middle of a meeting? – but Singleton did set up one fantastic death of a bad guy, and better yet, it’s clean enough for network television. John Shaft is being chased by baddies, so he jumps through the window of a New York apartment building onto the fire escape. Bad guy is a few steps behind him, so he peeks his head out of the window to see how much of a lead Shaft has. Ha ha, muthafucka. Shaft is right there outside the window, gun in bad guy’s face. Boom, dead.
9. Friday the 13th (2009): Shoot that poison arrow through my heeeeeeead
Easily the best scene in the wholly unnecessary 2009 remake of the legendary (though itself not very good) 1980 slasher movie. Nolan is driving a ski boat, his topless cheesecake girlfriend behind on a wakeboard. From out of nowhere, THWACK! Nolan gets an arrow straight through his head, killing him instantly. This scene is awesome for two reasons: the obvious one is the sheer surprise of it all, the instant death in a movie series built on slow, creeping deaths and boo! noises. The really awesome part about it is that for this to happen, it means that Jason Voorhees, a mentally impaired, hockey mask-wearing lunatic (you can’t say that the mask doesn’t affect his depth perception), had to shoot an arrow at a fast-moving boat while standing on the shore, from a distance of at least 50 yards. Anyone who’s done archery on “Wii Sports Resort” knows that that, friends, is fucking ridonculous.
8. Saw IV (2007): Ice ice, baby
For a series that started out with such promise – before that whole ‘torture porn’ phrase was bandied about, everyone just thought of “Saw” as a grisly thriller, which it was – the “Saw” movies became self-parody by the third installment, trying to have their cake and eat it too with traps that the victims had absolutely no chance of surviving, then wagging a finger at the misguided Amanda (and by extension, the American public) for setting them up, thinking they could have it both ways. When the fourth one came along, I was understandably jaded, especially after they revealed that Detective Eric Matthews is not only alive but stuck in a noose and slipping on an ice block while two gigantic blocks sit suspended in the rafters on both sides of his melon in the event an electrode is triggered. One of Matthews’ friends on the force has been looking for him since he disappeared, and since the police chief is working with Jigsaw, the chief knows just how to manipulate him. He even warns the guy earlier not to go through an unsecured door, and it is that impulsive move later that causes Matthews’ awesome, awesome death, where those 100-pound blocks of ice create a brain smoothie that the residents of Zombieland would kill for. Speaking of which…
7. Zombieland (2009): Fatty on the windscreen
One of the most beautifully grotesque pieces of photography I’ve seen in years. The scene just before this was funny enough, with the little princess zombies going after the suburban hausfrau, but when she takes her eye off the road, hits the back of the flat bed truck, crashes through the windshield and skids 30 feet across the street, well, that’s just comedy gold, right there. Those of you who have seen the movie are probably wondering why I included this over the much-ballyhooed cameo death scene by Bill Murray. Well, I’ll tell you: because that was as cheap a laugh as there is in “Zombieland.” Come on, do you really think Tallahassee and Wichita never thought, “Wait, don’t jump Columbus; he’s a jumpy little bitch and shoots everything twice”? That scene required a massive lapse of logic on the part of all concerned. Except Columbus, of course; he was totally within his rights to take Zombie Murray out.
6. Final Destination 2 (2003): Keep off the glass
Considered by many to be the best of the franchise (though I’ll confess that I prefer the third one, and you’ll soon see why), there are some spectacular deaths in “Final Destination 2,” but only one had me reaching for the rewind wheel, and that is when young Tim (James Kirk) foolishly chases after some pigeons outside of the hospital, and runs underneath a giant plate of glass, which doesn’t just kill him but turns him into vapor. Later, for an added laugh, they show the body bag that carries his “remains” into an ambulance, but it has no form, since there was only blood left behind.
5. Kill Bill Vol. I (2003): Cutthroat business meeting
The next time you’re thinking of calling out your new boss’ Chinese or American heritage as a symbol of weakness or corruption, make sure your new boss isn’t barefoot and carrying a samurai sword. You won’t hear her coming, and the last thing you’ll see is up her kimono after your severed head lies motionless at her feet. Bad call, Boss Tanaka.
4. Final Destination 3 (2006): Sorry, I really lost my head
I laughed so hard at this one that three women from a couple rows in front of me turned and looked at me like I was a ghoul. Apparently, they didn’t know that these movies are supposed to be funny. After the initial crash takes place, smarty pants Wendy tries to warn Lewis the gym rat that Death is after them. Instead, he mocks her, even after he was nearly decapitated by two swords on the wall. (Hands up: anyone been to a gym that has swords on the wall? Didn’t think so.) He then does one more rep on his triceps machine, unaware that the free weights behind him are really, really free. On the plus side for him, he literally had no idea what hit him, because whatever brains that would have formed that idea were in pieces on the floor. And Wendy. Mostly Wendy.
3. Law Abiding Citizen (2009): I just called to say…you’re dead
It doubled its budget at the box office, but “Law Abiding Citizen” is a pretty silly movie. Man loses wife and daughter in home robbery, man feels wronged by system, Man extracts brutal revenge on everyone, and we mean everyone, he feels is responsible. There is one scene, however, that makes the entire film worth watching, and it is when attorney Nick Rice is in the judge’s chambers, and the judge, who is one of the ‘everyone’ supposedly responsible for this miscarriage of justice, answers her cell phone. “Hello?” BAM! Dead. Man somehow wired her phone to deliver the equivalent to a bullet in the head. The whole thing takes less than a second, and it’s one of the funniest less-than-a-seconds of the you will ever see.
2. Spider-Man (2002): Death scene, interrupted
Leave it to Sam Raimi to assemble a vicious, bloody fight to the death between hero and villain, and end it with the funniest scene in the movie. After beating Peter Parker nearly senseless in the tried and true standard that is the abandoned building, Peter comes roaring back with a vengeance until the Green Goblin surrenders and reveals himself to be Norman Osborn, Peter’s best friend Harry’s father. Norman then attempts to literally and figuratively stab Peter in the back with his hoverboard, but Peter’s spider sense tingles just in time for him to backflip out of the way while the hoverboard impales Norman to a brick wall. That alone would make for a pretty cool scene, but it’s not enough for Raimi; in a trick straight out of the “Evil Dead” series, he includes a score-free, quick-shot close-up of Norman saying “Oh,” and then jumping back into the action of Norman getting killed by his own weapon. He may have made his bones in horror, but that scene is a textbook lesson in comic timing.
1. Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002): The face of death is near, and so, I flail!
She had nearly 25 years of acting experience under her belt when the Sweden-born Pernilla August signed on to play Anakin Skywalker’s mother Shmi, and somewhere along the way, you would think that she would have learned how to die on screen. But then again, after 30 years of making movies, you’d think that George Lucas would know a thing or two about directing, so there you go. The “Star Wars” movies were never shining beacons of thespian genius, but Shmi Skywalker-Lars’ death is the kind of work that you’d expect from the understudies to the group in “Waiting for Guffman.” Shmi’s last words aren’t even tear-filled confessions or reluctant farewell; they’re the acts of someone with Alzheimer’s, someone so forgetful that she doesn’t realize she’s about to die. And for the piece de resistance, the open-mouth head flop. Even Hayden Christensen could do a better death scene than that. And he’s a robot, fer crissakes.
The Dark Knight (2008): The disappearing pencil trick
Van Helsing (2004): Werewolf Helsing howls over lover’s death
District 9 (2009): The bullet grenade
Ninja Assassin (2009): Just a little off the top…half of your head