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We expect tragedy in horror films, but sometimes, a character’s death is so shocking, cruel, or senseless that it’s hard to recover from.

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Horror films are packed with death; this is almost a guarantee when you boot up a scary movie. Characters come and go, dispatched in creative and alarming ways that keep you interested in the carnage. I ask, though, have you ever had that sinking feeling in your stomach when your favorite character in a book, movie, or TV show gets killed off? That’s how I feel when I think about these particular deaths.

Innocents, agents of the law, families, and heroes are on the list that were all executed in dreadful fashions. I selected these films with more recent harrowing deaths in mind as we are all familiar with heartbreaking stories such as the death of young Gage in Pet Semetary or the fatal accident that kills little Billy in Pumpkinhead.

Some of these deaths were carefully designed, others were sacrifices, and some were committed out of sheer cruelty, making the deaths even more impactful. Each one was a tragedy, some of them preventable, but all were left with no means of escape from a chilling end.

To honor the dead, here’s a list of ten of the most tragic horror deaths.

WARNING: Spoilers abound as we reveal key character deaths in modern horror films. If you haven’t seen the movies discussed below, go watch them and come back when you’re caught up.

1. The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Tommy and Austin Tilden

A harrowing, compact chamber piece about the remarkable autopsy of a seemingly unremarkable Jane Doe captured horror fans’ attention and never let go. The story follows Tommy Tilden and his son Austin, professional morgue workers, handling the various deaths in their small Virginia town. One night, the sheriff wheels in a beautiful young girl without a scratch on her, no obvious cause of death, and tells the men he will need a full report by the next morning.

What starts out as a long night of work turns into an exercise in terror, raising the dead and uncovering signs of witchcraft as the men struggle to survive as their circumstances bend in more frightening and uncontrollable ways by the minute.

As the film races towards its conclusion, in a desperate yet compassionate final gesture to save his son and satisfy the spirit of Jane Doe, Tommy Tilden does the unthinkable: he offers himself to her in exchange for Austin’s safety. Instantly taken up on his offer, Tommy is broken to pieces from the inside out, exhaling smoke and suffering immensely, forcing his son to take his life amid his unbearable pain.

His death alone was a tragedy that seemed to satiate the spirit, but as we see, she’s a mean one and uses the façade of Tommy to scare Austin one final time into a fatal fall.

Calculated, horrifying, brutal, and mysterious, this film is one of the best to come out in decades, and the souls sacrificed only add to the gravity of the story of Jane Doe.

2. Scream

Casey Becker

One of the most iconic opening scenes in horror with a classic setup that made the question, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” a sinister ask instead of a playful one.

At the beginning of Scream, Casey is alone in her isolated home one night, making popcorn and preparing to watch a spooky film. A strange phone call catches her attention briefly, but she hangs up and dismisses it. Things go from creepy to gruesome when the caller (or callers) rings her back repeatedly and demands her attention.

After an intense back and forth on the phone, in a game of trivia, Casey loses and pays with her boyfriend’s life, showing just how deadly these fiends intend to make their playtime. Terrorized around the house, stalked and chased, Casey nearly gets a phone call off before she is overcome and stabbed over and over again, now wheezing into the phone as her newly arrived mother listens to her struggle for her last breath.

She is staged horrifically outside, disemboweled for her parents to discover in a heartbreaking moment of fear and loss.

Casey was one of the very first Woodcrest victims, and though her screen time was short, her screams of pain and fear that are strangled to silence might make her the most tragically memorable one of the series.

Just inches from safety, I always felt for poor Casey, who was too weak to do the one thing the title asks: scream.

3. Hereditary

trauma in Hereditary


Ari Aster is a trauma connoisseur, so this death that shook many an audience comes as no surprise. This death is anything but supernatural, making it so much more impactful and frightening in how it truly could be any of us who experienced this tragedy.

Hereditary arrived dark and looming, frightening audiences into a stupor with enormous concepts and soul-shattering devastation. The most iconic and horrendous death is purely an accident, but it doesn’t matter what the reason as there’s a landslide behind the death of a child for any parent.

Peter, Annie’s oldest son, is attending a party one night. Insistent on the inclusion of his odd and socially isolated younger sister, Peter brings her in tow to a much older scene of partying, drinking, drugs, and other dangers. While Peter is distracted from watching his sister, she consumes cake with peanuts in it, a lethal allergy to the young girl.

Already starting to struggle to breathe with a beet-red face, Peter loads her into the back seat and begins a race against time to the hospital. As Charlie suffocates in the back, childlike logic takes her, and she sticks her head out the window to suck up as much air as possible. In a moment, Peter swerves, taking the car off the path and towards a telephone pole, which instantly decapitates Charlie, leaving her lifeless body in the back seat and a traumatized Peter up front.

Driving his sister’s corpse home, Peter lies in bed when the screaming from his mother begins as she has just discovered her daughter’s body — and the wailing that follows will haunt you.

A death not brought on by malice or magic, this accident is so petrifying because of how possible it is to lose everything in an instant and how terribly fragile we all are in the face of senseless loss.

4. The Mist 

The Passengers

When confronted with the impossible, we make snap decisions in our shock, and sometimes, we live to regret them.

The Mist was a Stephen King adaptation that brought otherworldly forces to our realm to take us off guard, cornering us in the endless fog. After being trapped in a grocery store for painfully long terrorized hours, David, his son Billy, and a couple of other survivors make a break for it in the mist. Reaching a car and attempting to drive home, David finds his home destroyed, his wife dead, and his vehicle slowly running out of gas while surrounded by monsters.

The adults, stranded in the mist and intent on avoiding a torturous death, choose suicide instead of what dwells outside. David executes all occupants of the vehicle, using the last of his bullets and leaving him to walk into the mist and give himself over to the creatures within.

In a moment of harsh clarity and horrific timing, the mist begins to lift, giving way to army vehicles flooding the town with reinforcements, carrying survivors. Devastated that he agreed to the plan to kill everyone instead of fighting their final moments, David drops to his knees, screaming in agony.

The message and moral are unclear as we sit in these unbelievable frames, absorbing the losses that have consumed our main character.

Hopelessness is the killer here, and only a few more moments of faith could have saved lives when all seemed lost.

5. IT: Chapter 1 


Childhood innocence is a beautiful thing, but it can be turned into a dangerous one when people or beings who know how to take advantage of it are lurking.

The IT franchise is full of shocking and saddening deaths, but its first victim is perhaps the most memorable. Georgie is excited to play in the rain; a new wax-coated paper boat is sure to make a splash when he lets it go into the swirling drains of the suburban streets. His brother is too sick to join him but sends him off, ready to play, and tells him to be careful.

Splashing, running, and laughing, Georgie follows the little boat until it gets sucked into a storm drain, much to his devastation. Shockingly, though, a hand pops up from the drain with his boat, saving it from the sewers and offering it back to Georgie. It’s attached to a clown, eerie in his speech and presentation but friendly enough to the child wanting to be polite and get his boat back.

Against his better instincts and lured by something ancient and clever, Georgie reaches into the drain — and loses an arm. Bloody and screaming, the boy tries to crawl away as a freakishly long limb reaches from the drain to claim the rest of its meal, finally pulling Georgie in, whose final cries are for his brother.

The absolutely tragic death of such a young boy breaks his family and sends his brother spiraling for answers about his disappearance.

All of the deaths in Derry are a tragedy brought on by something larger, but Georgie’s death, the innocence surrounding it, and the guilt it inspires always makes this loss a particularly chilling one.

6. Upgrade

Detective Cortez

A revenge story turned on its head, Upgrade had plenty of action and shocking death scenes to keep you glued to the screen.

Most of us are game to see karma in vicious action, especially from a man who was robbed not only of his wife but also of his ability to move. By this story’s end, though, innocent lives are on the line instead of guilty ones.

Detective Cortez is the officer assigned to Grey Trace’s case. Paralyzed and left to watch his wife bleed out in front of him, Grey is fixated on both justice for his wife and escaping the life he’s now bound to by a wheelchair. When allowed to walk again through an experimental AI implant developed by a wealthy client, Grey is surprised to find that the implant not only gives him his body back but a second brain to converse with.

As Grey and the AI known only as “STEM” tear through the town’s underbelly, Detective Cortez grows suspicious that the man has turned himself into a vigilante but can’t quite prove how. After car chases, gun fights, and standoffs lead Cortez to Grey, STEM, and the scientist that created them, STEM takes control to ensure there are no witnesses to their actions.

Grey finally fights back, unwilling to take a