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Cinema #40: Bathe at Your Own Peril


Is there a more overused trope in horror cinema than the deadly shower scene?  It's become so predictable, that when a young woman takes a bath or shower in a slasher film, you instantly know she's a goner.  We can blame Psycho for the popularity of the trend in that there have been many, many imitators since.



But it isn't limited to slasher films.  If it falls within the horror/thriller genres and it's a B-movie, you stand a pretty good chance of finding a scene where a lady gets killed in a shower or bath.  That's just the way it is. I'll leave it to the armchair sociologists to figure out why.  I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that shower is a place where we're extremely vulnerable.  Also, it's a damn good way for a B-movie to sneak in its gratuitous nudity.



So, let's have a look at 16 examples of this trope, shall we?  Bear in mind, we're only covering the lethal variety; so, Wes Craven's almost identical bathtub scenes in Deadly Blessing and Nightmare on Elm Street would be excluded because neither scene results in death.  Also, this isn't a crummy top ten list; there's no order whatsoever to these entries.  Got it?  As always, please fill in any notable omissions in a comment - there's plenty more out there!

Doctor Dracula (1978)


Probably the most boring film ever to bear the name "Dracula" in its title.  Easily three fourths of the film involves Larry Hankin just talking endlessly.  You know Hankin - he played Kramer on that Seinfeld episode where they were developing a pilot of "a show about nothing".  He's also been in roughly 2-3 million other things - from Benson to Home Alone, from It's a Living to Pretty Woman. Quite the ubiquitous character actor.

Anyway, Hankin's character, Svengali, is a hypnotist who takes possession of a woman seeking to find answers about her murdered mother.  If this sounds even remotely interesting, you'll have to trust me that it absolutely is not.

Then there's the bathtub scene...


A young woman is stalked through dark and deserted streets, till she finally makes it to her apartment.  Naturally, when you've been followed all evening, the logical thing to do is start a bath.


The "victim" here (she doesn't have a name) is played by Nike Zachmanoglou, who would go on to a career as a script supervisor - credits include The Wonder Years,  Mo' Better Blues (1990), Crossing Delancey (1988) and Law & Order.


Then the inevitable happens.  This is actually one of the better, most suspenseful and frightening bathroom kills I've seen.... unfortunately, it's completely meaningless.

We don't know who the woman is, and there's no follow up whatsoever.  It's as if it was just spliced into the film when they realized Doctor Dracula was woefully lacking in the action department.  They could have opted for a pointless car chase or a senseless kung fu battle; instead, they went for superfluous bathroom murder.  And thus it's on our list.

Death Ship (1980)


We covered this in Retro Film Report #40.  As I said in my review, the movie itself sucks, but the shower-death scene is pretty damn memorable.  The water turns to blood in Lori's (Victoria Burgoyne) shower, and she can't get out.  No matter how much Nick tries to open it, the shower door just won't budge.  I know it sounds fairly typical, but it's actually executed well.

Unfortunately, the scene is undercut by ridiculously irrelevant scenes of the annoying Marshal kids.  Yep, the one truly horrific scene in the entire movie was neutralized by pointless editing.  Oh well.


Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College (1991)


Hope Marie Carlton plays Veronica, the ditzy, slutty roommate who hits on the Final Girl's love interest... a surefire way to get killed in a horror movie.


Carlton is a stone cold fox who appeared in all kinds of wonderful things in the late eighties-early nineties: Charles in Charge, The A-Team, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Quantum Leap, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Slumber Party Massacre III, etc..... and then she just sort of disappeared.  According to IMDb, she was running a resort in the deserts of Utah, not all too far from where I live.


Anyhoo, Veronica takes a shower and that spells the end of her. No shocker there... but what is shocking is the lack of nudity, given that Carlton was Playmate of the Month in 1985. Take note: this movie is a genuine piece-o-shit.  Take away the precious few minutes of non-nude Carlton eye candy, and Ghoulies III has absolutely nothing going for it.


To make things worse, the Ghoulies kill Veronica via plunger.  Unrealistic, not funny, alarmingly stupid.



Dressed to Kill (1980)

MAD magazine (Issue #222, April 1981)
Here MAD takes a jab at not only the film, but trope itself.  Dressed to Kill was also covered in Retro Film Report #40.  After Psycho, this is probably one of the better known examples of the trope.  DePalma, as is his tendency, provides an ode to Hitchcock with Angie Dickinson (and her body double) as the shower victim in a dream sequence.



Blood and Black Lace


Retro Film Report #49 covered this stylish Mario Bava classic.  The scene where the model is drowned is shocking in its unflinching perspective.  Murder never looked so beautiful, yet so horrifying.


The Outing (1987)


The girl on the left with the red binder is Alex (Andra St. Ivanyi) whose father is the curator at the local museum.  The girl in the middle is her best friend Babs (Damon Merrill) and the girl on the right is the token black; a requirement in 80s horror movies.

When the school goes on a field trip to said museum, the girls (and their boyfriends) decide to spend the night there.   Little do they know, Eve's dad has discovered an ancient lamp... which, as you can imagine, will starting causing bad things to happen.


The crazy kids are partaking in some adult beverages while they hide in the museum.  Babs' beer explodes on her (party foul) and so, naturally, she needs to go find a bath.


As if the indignity of being sprayed with beer in front of her friends wasn't enough, now cobras are loose and invading her quiet time alone.

Yes, you read that right.  Cobras are on the loose. (Somehow, I'm sure this relates to the mysterious genie lamp.)


A bitten Babs clings to the shower curtain before collapsing to the floor.


A fairly decent scene, I suppose.  But the real interesting point is that The Outing was originally a film called The Lamp. For reasons unknown, it was trimmed, censored, edited, and renamed. My understanding is that The Lamp was a much better movie, and a wholly different beast than the "new and improved" The Outing.


Night of the Bloody Apes (1968)


We took a look at this film in Retro Film Report #17.   This is one of the more shocking examples I've come across - not because it's executed particularly well, but because "shit gets real, real quick".  Basically, the film seems like a fairly tame 1960s creature feature, of a PG variety. Then this happens...


The ape man breaks into a chick's apartment, pulls her naked from the shower, rapes her, then murders her.  You're left unblinking and slack-jawed, asking yourself WTF just happened.  Oddly enough, this is basically the only scene in the movie that escalates this far.  One wonders how this got in there.


The Toolbox Murders (1978)


The bathtub scene begins with a pretty nice mellow background track - something along the lines of Gordon Lightfoot or Sammy Johns.  Then the wheels fall off as the murderer enters the scene and chases her naked around her apartment before killing her.

I've never particularly like The Toolbox Murders because it seems like a Hardy Boys mystery (starring Wesley Eurie of Land of the Lost), punctuated with graphic scenes of violence.  It's kind of a mess.


Mirror Mirror (1990)


Rainbow Harvest (Megan Gordon) is the new girl at school and is almost universally hated by the student body.  And who can blame them?  She looks like Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, but without the quirky charm.

But she's not just your average annoying Goth girl; she's got a magic mirror in her room that helps her kill people.


No one hates Rainbow more than Miss Popular, Charleen (at right) played by Charlie Spradling.  You may remember her from appearances on Growing Pains or Full House.... and like any good child star, when she grew up, it was time for her ceremonial nude scene.  Queue shower....


Charleen gets roasted by boiling hot water from bursting pipes.  When the girls come back from swimming, they find her naked and blistered on the shower room floor.  (You may recall a certain nurse in Halloween II who died similarly in a hot tub).   It's actually a pretty well-done scene - memorable for its unexpected gruesomeness.
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The Boogeyman (1980)


In which Jane Pratt prepares for a shower, and is somehow force-willed by the boogeyman to kill herself with a pair of scissors.

Who would have thought this girl would go on to become editor-in-chief of Sassy and JANE magazines?


Elves (1989)


You may recall we covered this one Double Feature #17.  Deanna Lund was, in my humble opinion, one of the hottest ladies of the sixties.  She rocked that mini skirt like nobody's business in Land of the Giants.  Then she sort of dropped out of sight and married, of all people, Larry King.

So, in 1989 she pops up on a truly awful Christmas horror movie, Elves, alongside Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams).  In the film, she plays a queen bitch stepmother who steals all of her daughter's money from her bank account, and then kills her cat!

When it's time to take a bath, it should come at no surprise that she gets what's coming to her.


The titular Elf is really quite frightening, appearing at the foot of her tub. This clearly ain't Legolas.

Instead of attacking her directly, the evil elf decides to just knock her radio into the tub.

We get flashes of nudity as Lund is electrocuted, but, alas, it appears to be just a body double.  Elves, as far as I know, has not been released on DVD or Blu Ray so there isn't the resolution to know for absolute certain.  Dare to dream.


The Prowler (1981)


A very underrated horror movie.  The 1980s were overflowing with poorly executed slasher films, and among them was this oft-forgotten gem.


The Killing Kind (1973)


John Savage plays a very convincing psychopath named Terry whose mind has gone to hell from when he was forced into a gang rape.  He's forever haunted by it; which leads him to do some pretty nasty things.... among them - kill Shirley from Laverne & Shirley!


This film came out the same year as American Graffiti, which is kinda weird.  Cindy Williams' role on Laverne & Shirley would be a few years later in 1976.

Here she plays a tenant who gets a little too close to crazy boy when he comes to repair her shower head.


When she takes off her shoes, and Terry gets a good look at her legs, it's all over at the point.  And I must admit, it's pretty jarring to see Shirley Feeney get murdered!


He strangles her in the bathtub, in a very graphic and realistic scene.  I am forever scarred.


Eventually, Terry's mom discovers dead Shirley.  Again, we have to watch as they drain the tub, carry her out, and put her in a trash can.  What's next - a graphic murder of Joanie Cunningham? I must say, a little part of my childhood died with this scene.
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Jack Frost (1997)


Shannon Elizabeth gets straight-up murdered by a snowman in this ridiculous horror flick.  Thirty-seven years after Psycho, and look how far the shower scene has come!


Scandal in Black (1990) AKA "Appuntamento in Nero"


Meet Eva (Mary Lindstrom) and Angela (Mirella Banti).  These two psycho chicks have just killed the eavesdropping housekeeper, Rosy.

But this isn't the first murder in their neighborhood.  Indeed, the backstabbing (both figurative and literal) throughout this film is a bit much; making for a convoluted mess of murder and deceit.


That's Angela (and Skeletor in the background); she's wanted dead by her husband, John... who's having an affair with Eva.

Queue shower scene.


It begins with the classic black gloved hand holding a knife extended in front of a woman (Angela) showering behind frosted glass.  It's a trope that never gets old.


The attempted murder is shot at an interesting angle - above the shower.  Just when it looks like Angela is goner, she's rescued by Eva who blows away the masked John.


Eva is played by Mary Lindstrom, who is a freaking knockout... and naked through much of this film. Oddly enough, this would be her only acting role.  I'm always intrigued of instances where a beautiful actress bares it all in a single film, then disappears from acting altogether.  What happened to make her quit?


Anyway, our friend Angela is barely out of the shower when she is immediately murdered.  It seems she's been double crossed by Eva.  I'm not real sure why, I'd stopped trying to make sense of this film long ago.  Suffice it to say, Angela becomes yet another example of shower casualties.




Big Zapper (1973)


Allow me to introduce you to the biggest prick on the planet - Kono (Gary Hope), a pimp who don't take no shit from nobody nohow.

He's just one of many ridiculous characters in this British sexploitation flick.  It stars Linda Marlowe as kung-fu queen, Harriet Zapper, who's messin' with Kono's criminal enterprises... and for that, she's got to pay.


Kono's main bitch is Maggie, played by Penny Irving.  She makes the critical mistake of letting Harriet Zapper know their headquarters location (in the back of a karate studio).  Why would she do this - because Kono's evil, and must be stopped.


Penny Irving appeared as a sexpot in a host of British productions including Are You Being Served?, Benny Hill, and The Two Ronnies.  She also graced the cover of a TOTP record.


Anyway, crazy Kono eventually gets wind that his bitch Maggie is the one that gave Zapper his top-secret location.  There's a price to be paid for disloyalty to Kono.


Maggie pays the ultimate price for her betrayal as Kono drowns her in her bathtub (reminiscent of Blood and Black Lace).  Plus, we get a rare look at a fully nude Penny Irving.  Too bad she's dead, and too bad this is a poor resolution VHS copy.  Que sera, sera.

You may also remember a very similar scene at the end of Playbirds (1978) from Double Feature #13.   The scene where Mary Millington gets drowned by the Bible thumper is just a little too morbid, considering Millington would be dead in real life not long after.

But let's not end on a down note.


So that's 16, but I know there's plenty more.  Indeed, it may well warrant a Part II.  In the meantime, in case you want to read more, I did cover this topic for Flashbak not so long ago.

Also, here are a few other horror films that come to mind that have a shower scene, cut aren't the lethal variety as far as I can remember: Squirm (1976), Arachnophobia (1990), Killer Tomatoes Strike Back (1991), The Funhouse (1981), The Burning (1981),  and The Tingler (1959).  New Year’s Evil (1980) does have a lethal shower scene, but it's such shite, it barely deserves a mention.

I know both Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) and Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982) contain shower scenes; however, as I recall, they don't immediately end in a kill (although, the girls do eventually end up dead).  So, these don't count either.

Anyway, there it is.  I look forward to reading your additional examples - I'll include them in Part II, if there is one.  Cheers.

6 comments:

  1. Before I add anything,I must commend you for a very comprehensive list, from mainstream to obscure,foreign and domestic.My additions are;Evilspeak(evil pigs being the perpetrator,and a comic spoof scene from Saturday the 14th that actually predated Nightmare on Elm Street by a few years!

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  2. When I was in high school in the early 1980s, we were shown "Psycho" in one of our classes. There was a girl in our class who completely wigged out during the shower scene and actually had to be taken out of the room because she was freaking out.

    Over thirty years later, I'm still shaking my head....

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  3. I just saw "Scandal In Black", under the title "Appointment in Black", the other night on YouTube. So many of those foreign films have numerous titles, even in English. I can't count the number of times I checked out a Jess Franco film, only to discover I'd seen it before under a different title.

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  4. DiscoDollyDebJanuary 16, 2016

    The trope of being in danger in the bathtub goes waaaaay back. In Ancient Greek literature, Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon while he's taking a bath. You're pretty vulnerable in the tub or shower. What are you gonna do--hit a knife-wielding intruder with a bar of soap?

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    1. In around 1989 or so, a co-worker of mine was found murdered in a bathtub while on business travel. While the murderer was eventually identified (while in jail for something else, he admitted it to a cellmate who turned him in), I never found out what led up to it.

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  5. Larry Hankin was also in Escape from Alcatraz!

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