Horror Lexicon #11: The Coup de grâce


The Coup de grâce is defined in general terms as the "death blow."  

In horror movies, the Coup de grâce is that terrifying and disgusting moment that often caps off the whole movie.  Call it a high note to go out on, a crescendo of violence.

The Coup de grâce most frequently involves an egregiously bloody or over-the-top moment that makes the audience shriek in disbelief and revulsion.  It could be a sting-in-the-tail/tale, or it could be the moment that precipitates the climactic chase of the final girl.  Or it could be the (colorful and violent) death of the antagonist (Friday the 13th [1980]).

We just knew something terrible was going to happen...but we never anticipated the human head in the fish tank (He Knows Your Alone [1981])!  


And we certainly never expected the villain to actually explode and soil the carpet (and the walls, and the ceiling, and the bed sheets, and etc....) in Brian De Palma's The Fury (1978).

The point of the Coup de grâce is to escalate terror to the next level, and makes audiences aware, at least subtly, that all bets are off. Anything could happen.  To anyone.  

The Coup de grâce often takes the form of a decapitation, perhaps because losing one's head is so terrifying a prospect. Consider that the head can survive for a moment after decapitation, long enough recognize what is occurring to it (and the body...).

That's just...incredibly disturbing.  

The Coup de grâce moment, then, is the instance of highest revulsion, nausea and fear, and it often provokes gasps and even laughter because of its outrageous, dramatic nature.

No slasher movie is truly complete without a really great Coup de grâce.

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