Just in time for Halloween, and my upstairs neighbor watching scary movies for, like, thirty hours straight now. According to a Media Data Corporation report, courtesy of Family Media Guide, impalement is the number one murder method in scary movies. MDC looked at 100 horror movies from the past thirty years, tracking thirteen "gruesome acts and gory details"
bite injury … charred skin … decapitation … decomposition … disfigurement … electrocution …entrails … impalement … protruding object … severed limb … skeletal remains … transmogrification … twisting body part
They counted 1,734 total instances among the 13 unlucky acts. Impalement's the frontrunner with 419 counts (nearly 25%), followed by protruding object (313) and bite injury (305).
There's a lot of this that I find interesting, but I'm trying to sew a costume this afternoon so I'll have to save the analysis for later. But I want to make one point, because I'd already been developing a theory about it. Sure, according to the movies bad guys go for impalement first. But have you noticed how often impalement is the way bad guys die in action films in general? Right off the top of my head, and forgive me if these are spoilers for you, I can think of three movies where a villian dies by falling on something sharp--Spiderman, Shaun of the Dead, and Transporter 2. I had a bunch of others, but I can't remember them right off.
Now this is important: the villians fall onto the pointy things. They are not actively impaled by the heroes. Now we all know that a hero can't actually kill a villian in the final aristeia (please note that I'm using that word here in the sense of a climactic one-on-one battle, not in the sense of excellence); unlike in Homer's time, audiences don't like a story where the hero proves to be as prepared to kill as the villian. Maim, sure. Fold, spindle, mutilate, absolutely.
But for Spiderman or the Hulk or Frank Martin or Jet Li to actually kill their nemesis dead in single combat makes them no better than said nemesis. So the villian has to die through their own hubris, or lack of skill, balance, or willingness to cooperate with the hero (falling from a great height being another big way villians die, usually after letting go of the hero's offered hand). Forcing set designers to come up with endless variations on the fortuitously-placed pointy thing, whether it's a shard of glass in the abandoned warehouse, a twisted bit of metal out at the pier, an ugly modern sculpture in the villian's luxurious lair, or Shaun's garden umbrella stand. Once you start watching for it, it's everywhere.
On that cheerful note, I'm going to pick my way ever-so-carefully across the cluttered floor of my studio back to my sewing machine, with its itty-bitty impalement device. Happy Halloween, everyone!