Goretober: does science justify your favorite horror scenes?

Lucille DiNaro – Business Manager

As a continuation from our last issue, The Anchor’s second installment of this column will continue to search for the truth behind filmmakers most grotesque horror scenes. To what extent does the silver screen translate to our everyday lives?

“The Last House on the Left” Dennis Iliadis, 2009

This 2009 remake of Wes Craven’s film of the same name is the story of a family vacation gone terribly wrong. John Collingwood and his family are tormented by a teenage boy and his sadistic companions, Krug, Francis and Sadie. As the movie meets its climax, John paralyzes Krug from the neck down and places his head in a running microwave oven. Krug is barely able to realize what has happened before the electromagnetic waves cause his head to explode, resulting in his death.

In a microwave oven, an alternating current forces atoms reverse polarity at an extremely high rate, creating violent friction which causes the water in your food to vibrate and heat up. This process is what causes food to cook and produce steam. Iliadis cleverly uses this concept to help the viewer draw visual parallels between Krug’s head exploding to the more common pressurized-steam explosion of a microwaved potato.

Fortunately for Krug, this entire scenario can be debunked by the simple fact that most modern microwaves can not operate without a door. Even if they could, the skin effect––the tendency of a high-frequency alternating current to flow through only the outer layer of a conductor––would effectively protect Krug during the limited time he spends under the microwave.

Human skin can withstand microwave frequencies to some extent, but Krug’s skin would suffer severe burns. The blood vessels in his retinas would likely fry, rendering him blind and his ears would not be able to withstand the microwave’s electromagnetic pulse energy.

While a microwave may not seem like a particularly terrifying deathbringer in this scenario, that doesn’t mean we can eliminate microwaves as a weapon altogether. The United States Department of Defense has studied the lethality mechanisms of radio frequency and high power microwave technologies since the 1980’s. Interestingly enough, research has shown that the United States could be headed towards an entirely new class of directed energy weapon systems. Maybe directors can consider these if there ever is another remake.

“Hereditary” Ari Aster, 2018

One of the more shocking scenes to appear on screen this year was the death of Charlie. After months of movie promotion which framed Charlie as the centerpiece of the film, viewers were astonished when she was decapitated a mere 30 minutes into the movie. Suffering from anaphylaxis, Charlie stuck her head outside the car window in the hope of catching her breath. Her brother, already in a panic, swerves to avoid a deer, driving Charlie right into a telephone pole.

What is so unnerving about this scene in particular is how closely it mirrors real life. We each live so certain of what is next to come, ignoring the fact that chaos and tragedy are but one bad decision away. Charlie’s death in this movie is a finality both on and off screen. Decapitation and internal decapitation almost always amount to a loss of life.

Forensic pathologists approach decapitations differently if they occur post-mortem or antemortem. Postmortem decapitation is often the result of a hanging and rarely occurs in the modern day. Antemortem decapitation is often accidental, or the result of suicide or homicide.

An autopsy of a man whose death was quite similar to Charlie’s found that the larynx, pharynx and parts of the lungs and heart were removed with the head upon decapitation. As Charlie’s body came in contact with the indirect force of the telephone pole, we could expect a similar result. Maybe think twice before sticking your head out the car window, and always wear a seatbelt.