horror week

Garage Doors and Tanning Beds: 9 Actors Remember Their Famous Horror-Movie Deaths

As part of Vulture’s Horror Week, we spoke to actors who each had memorable movie deaths. Two of the stars from Carrie, Ray Liotta, Rose McGowan, the Final Destination tanning-bed girls, and several others looked back on their gory demises.

Betty Buckley
Buckley plays Carrie’s gym teacher, Miss Collins, who is killed during the film’s climactic, blood-soaked prom-night massacre. 

We all gathered to watch each other’s death scenes, and we’d go out and party afterwards to celebrate that a character had been bumped off. But in the days before that, the whole prom construction took quite a while. This contraption they built for Ms. Collins’s death scene was a basketball backboard that was on a pendulum. There was a foot of balsam wood that would take the hit against the body. They planned it so that we shot four takes with the pendulum falling and then stopping it right before it hit me. That was very scary. So what you’re seeing on film is not acting at all. I’m absolutely terrified because they had not tested out the machine. So they didn’t know [if] they calculated the balsam properly in terms of the amount and, you know, [if they] could stop it on a dime right before it hit me. Thankfully, it worked. We were all absolutely terrified.

My stunt lady was dressed like me with a wig and everything. They put her in the shot and she took the hit. But it didn’t hurt her, and thankfully, Brian [De Palma] told me to watch the movements she made and to duplicate those. They removed her from the contraption, inserted me again, and I then imitated all her behavior when she took the hit, and they shot the close-up of my dying. I had [fake] blood in my mouth that I was supposed to vomit out. They just give you a swig, then you spit it out and they bring you water.

In the several takes of my death scene, Brian’s direction to me was: Squirm like a bug on a pin. So I squirmed like a bug on a pin, and then I was supposed to vomit out the blood. He wanted different sounds as I was dying. So, one scene, my scream ended up sounding like a musical note. It was really quite silly. We were all laughing about that.

Piper Laurie
Laurie plays Margaret White, who is impaled by flying projectiles “thrown” by her telekinetic daughter. 

They built a steel vest that I wore under the gown, and on that vest were several small blocks of wood. Wires attached to the wood that went through small holes in my gown. The wires were, like, 15 feet long and stretched across to where the prop man was, or the special-effects man was. This was done in slow motion, you know, the can opener or the knife or whatever coming at me. There was no way they would injure me, moving at such a slow pace.

It was hard not to laugh, watching this instrument bobbing along at me like that, slowly. It just looked ridiculous. But, of course, it had quite a different look than it did at the end.

Just before we were to start shooting [the death scene], I met Brian outside, we were both on our way to the restrooms, and I said, “Brian, I have an idea. Instead of having just a death scene, just doing it straight, I’d like this to be a really joyous experience for Margaret White.” He said, “Great.” So that’s what I did.

I did not actually do the scene, the dialogue part, before the actual instrument attack. But the moment just before I kill Carrie, I didn’t rehearse that. I wanted the moment to be as raw as possible. I think it was an underlying element of how I thought of Margaret, her religion, her attitude about her daughter, and the fact that she considered her daughter menstruating horrible. And the fact that I sounded like I was having a very long orgasm … I never spelled that out to Brian, I just did it. Part of that I actually played, but I suspect that in editing they extended that vocally longer than I actually did it. But I had such a good time shooting that scene.

P.J. Soles
Soles plays Lynda van der Klok, who, after having sex with her boyfriend Bob, gets strangled to death with a telephone cord by Michael Myers. 

[Director] John Carpenter said, because it was a bedroom scene, “Would you be comfortable with just a flash?” He asked me very gently, “If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine, I understand, but if we could get some, get something …” I don’t think they needed [nudity], I think he just thought it might add to my character and be kind of cute, you know? So it seemed okay to do that, and of course my parents were horrified [laughs], but it seemed okay. Looking back on it now, it’s okay, because, wow, that’s what I used to look like! I don’t know what happened to my boobs. They got bigger and bigger, and now I look like my aunt. I don’t know what happened! [Laughs.]

The scene wasn’t really scripted, other than he stands in the doorway, I’m in bed, and I go to the phone. The guiding principle was, you’ve got to entice [the character’s boyfriend] Bob back into bed. So I’m filing my nails, I’m saying, “Can’t I get your ghost, Bob?”, nothing is working, so I resort to flashing him, that doesn’t work, and I think that’s weird because all I hear is breathing. So I walk around the bed to call Laurie — that was in the script — This is going nowhere. And then the other thing was strangling. [Actor] Nick Castle was the guy under the sheet at the time, and he was tickling my throat! So I had to say, “I’m dying here! I have to have a little more tension on the line.” When you’re doing a scene like that, obviously you want to be careful, but I just needed him to pull a little bit tighter so I could have more to work with. I think we did three takes. Probably the first one, I was laughing, the second one might have been good, and the third one was for safety.

But the final [makes choking noises], I remember thinking, This is the last time I’m going to be on the screen, except for dead in the closet, so I thought, I better extend this! So I extended it as long as I could, even out of the frame. I think they finally cut it before I stopped gasping.

Ron Shetler (a.k.a. Eron Tabor) 
I Spit on Your Grave 
Shetler plays Johnny, who has revenge taken upon him by the woman he’d raped, Jennifer, when she cuts off his genitals in the bathtub. 

We were in a house in Connecticut, Yuri Haviv’s house, the cinematographer’s house. It was his actual bathroom. I think they did it from the open door and then backed into the back part of the room, so there were two different angles they were shooting from.

They had a pump that was attached down under my body, and then they had a knife that was dulled, and they shot it such that it looked like she could be fondling me, but wasn’t even close to it. The blood was from a squeegee thing, and as I rose up in horror, you’ll notice my one hand is behind me and I’m squeezing it to make the blood squirt out. Very primitive!

We saw some dailies as we were going along and I was pretty happy because it was the only film I ever did. I went, Okay, I’m getting honest moments. When I first saw the movie in its entirety, I was almost in shock. Shooting the movie, you don’t get the impact of what it’s going to look like when it’s edited. When I first saw it, I was like, “Oh my God.” My acting teacher, when he was walking out, said to me, “You got what you deserved!”

The thing that I didn’t realize, and my hat is off to the actors who play these incredibly menacing and awful characters, is that it takes a toll on your psyche to do a character like this. After I did it, I just didn’t want to be a part of that, and that’s all I was being offered at that point in time.. That’s what I was identified with, and I said, “I really don’t want to do this.” It created a scar on me mentally. So I chose to back away from it and go a different route. I was a singer, I have a degree in voice. I was on a full-tuition scholarship at the University of Redlands to sing opera. So I chose to go back to that. It’s been years since I’ve seen the film, and I forbade my kids to see it. They’re now 22 and 24. When they got to 18, I said, “Okay, if you want to,” and they both chose not to.

Theresa Tilly
The Evil Dead
Tilly plays Shelly, chopped to death with an ax by her boyfriend after she becomes inhabited by a sinister spirit. 

My death wasn’t all done in one day. It took a while. The first thing that had to be done was I had to attack my boyfriend’s body. So that was the beginning of me becoming a monster and having to do stunt work blind. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it, how I was going to jump on him when I couldn’t see him. But somehow, we managed to do it. I was so happy that I had landed on him, I couldn’t see where I was going. [Laughs.]

Then it became worse where I got thrown into the fire. That was also really scary because I was really close. I had to land really close to the fire. So they’re just constantly pouring goo and blood all over you, and you couldn’t really see anyway, and you were just always uncomfortable with every shot, because you couldn’t see.

Then I had that whole thing where they had me chew off my hand. There’s a lot of foreplay before I actually die. [Laughs.] So first they cut off my hand with that horrible skeleton knife, so then, that was something that Tom Sullivan had built. He created this latex hand that actually could bleed on cue. After I got my hand in my mouth, Tom stood behind me, pumping blood through this little gizmo that is my hand, while my other hand is behind my back. It’s rigged up on my body so that it looks like it’s my hand.

Then they had built something that looked like my body. I think it was just stuffed something, I’m not really sure. So that was after I had been hacked. So all you saw in the camera, in the shot, was, you saw him start to hit me with the ax, and I had to fall at just the right time so that I wouldn’t be hit by the ax. I think it was probably a real ax. No wonder we have PTSD! I mean, seriously! It was like being in the war!

Rose McGowan
McGowan plays Tatum, a woman who gets killed in a garage door. 

That was me in the garage door, up about six-and-a-half feet, just hanging. Going up and down in the real garage door. The stunt woman they hired was about 30 pounds heavier than me. You can almost usually tell, and this one was specifically focused on the butt. I had bruises from chest to waist. But it was great fun, and I never noticed in the meantime when I’m being hurt.

It was a real garage door that I was actually going up and down in. It was my second film, and I thought every set was going to be like that. Wes Craven is so lovely. He used to be a professor, and he’s professorial. I had to throw a beer bottle at the bad guy. I have bad aim. I shattered the film lens and the camera, so I set them back about five hours.

It was all through the night, about 12 hours, except for the five hours that I broke the camera. You want to stay in the moment. You want to stay in this weird fear place. I added in — right as her neck gets munched — I scream, “Mom!” Which I just thought was hilarious because I actually can’t scream. I can yell, but I can’t scream. And I had to tell Wes that night, “I know your movie is called Scream, but I can’t scream. I have like a physical block.” So I just added, “Mom!” to make it extra sad.

I love that line in there, “Please don’t kill me, Mr. Ghostface. I want to be in the sequel.” The funny part was referencing a lot of horror films in that movie, because I’ve never watched them, so I didn’t know what I was talking about. That’s acting. — additional reporting by Trupti Rami

Ray Liotta
Liotta plays Paul Krendler, a corrupt Justice Department official whose brain Hannibal Lecter cooks and feeds to him.

They did it with green screen, so they had like these golf balls, ping-pong balls, and however they do the green-screen stuff. When they were cooking it up, they said, “Well, what do you wanna eat?” I figured, “Well, the brain can’t really taste that good,” and I’m not a fan of dark-meat chicken, because it’s all chewy, so that’s what I had, what I used for that. I’m sure we did some improvisation, but I don’t remember. We tried all different kinds of things. We weren’t sure —  how do you do that? How do you pretend that? — additional reporting by Sean FitzGerald

Crystal Lowe, Chelan Simmons, Glen Morgan
Final Destination 3 
In this sequel, co-produced and also co-written by Morgan, Lowe and Simmons play Ashlyn and Ashley, who are burned to death when their tanning beds malfunction. 

Lowe: Our stunt guy in Vancouver [Dustin Brooks] came up with this burn gel, which is now used everywhere. You put it on your skin and they can light you on fire. So they lit the girls on fire with this gel, and people stood by with fire extinguishers and put them out after a certain period of time. It was crazy. It’s skin that they’re lighting on fire.

Something that Glen wanted was, I remember, the hope in our minds that we could get out, and to play that: Oh my God, if I just keep punching and screaming and kicking enough, I might be able to get out of this, I might be able to get out of there. So that’s the thought process that was put in our brains when we were doing it. And then it was really just remembering how the fire was lit when we saw it on the stunt girls, how the fire works, and that it would kind of be burning slowly and then bubbling and our skin would be bubbling, and that would be happening, and what it would feel like. It wasn’t a quick process. It was a slow death, which was brutal. My goggles get burned into my head. And Chelan has the glass shatter all over her face.

Simmons: As soon as you feel warm, you yell “Hot!” and they spray you down with a fire extinguisher. The lotion literally burns away. So we did a couple takes like that, for about four or five seconds. For longer takes, for like ten seconds, 15 seconds, we had two stunt girls, and they lit their whole bodies on fire. It was funny because before Final Destination, I was actually working in an airbrush tanning salon as a part-time job. And now, I will never actually go in one [laughs], especially after the movie. I’ve had so many fans be like, “I can’t go into beds now,” and I was like, “Well, that is a good thing. It is unsafe to be in them!”

The glass shattering, it was candied glass. They used prosthetics to create skin, and they glued the glass on [and] added burn makeup. It was pretty wild. I couldn’t look in the mirror because it was grossing me out. Especially at lunchtime, I couldn’t be near any mirrors because I’d start gagging. Also, fake blood is mostly sugar, so you attract bugs.

Our tanning-bed death is one of the top horror deaths around, so it’s nice to be a part of that. The tanning bed was something that people don’t always think about, but when you get in and it kind of feels a bit scary, you’re like, “Oh, can I get out?” It was something deep down in everyone’s thoughts: It’s possible to die in this thing.

Morgan: [The scene] was my wife’s idea. She said, “You have to do a tanning bed.” I’d never been in one, so I went down to Fairfax and Beverly to this place, and I got in it, and I was like, “Yeah! Yeah, this is horrifying in itself.” You’re locked in the thing, so it’s claustrophobic. It’s like you’re in a coffin. You’re without clothes, only two plastic things over your eyes. It’s just horrifying.

Filming the second unit with the stunt doubles was the most harrowing week of my life. At first I thought, Hey, great! I’m going to film people in a tanning bed! But then I was so nervous. It seemed longer than four seconds, but all I would do is, Here’s the shot, the camera goes here, this is what happens, and then I would go sit down and let them do it. I would yell, “Action!” and people would be on fire! Then once the gel burned, the stunt woman would say, “Hot!” and they would come in and put extinguishers on her. So that period between the fire and “Hot!,” that was just horrible for me. I was like, I’m never writing a fire scene again. It’s really stressful.

9 Actors on Their Famous Horror-Movie Deaths