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The Horror Issue

Keeping Score On The Gore

Dr. Howard C. Adelman is a pathologist who does private consultations for police, private investigators, and local morticians. To a horror-movie fan and true-crime fan, the guy is also a living legend. He was the deputy chief medical inspector at the...

by Howard C. Adelman With Jesse Pearson
01 December 2005, 12:00am


Silent Night, Deadly Night. Copyright Slayride Productions.
 



Dr. Howard C. Adelman is a pathologist who does private consultations for police, private investigators, and local morticians. To a horror-movie fan and true-crime fan, the guy is also a living legend. He was the deputy chief medical inspector at the original Amityville murders on Long Island in 1977. The story that was bastardized again and again for books and movies, the six people shot in one night by a family member? This is the first guy who walked around that crime scene with the cops checking stuff out.

We showed him clips of kill scenes from some iconic slasher flicks and then asked him, “Is this bullshit or what?”

Movie: Friday the 13th
Method: ax to the head
Dr. Adelman: “This is certainly possible. With one swipe, you can get an ax right into the head. It usually does take more than one swing, and we’ll get defensive wounds on the victim’s arms from trying to ward off the attack. But if somebody takes you by surprise and gets a full-force swing going, this could happen. The skin is relatively elastic, which makes it almost as hard to penetrate as bone. So this wound, which looks almost unrealistically clean, is actually entirely feasible. The scalp and the forehead are very rich in blood vessels. It bleeds profusely even on the slightest injury. The amount of blood here, for the initial blow, is adequate. This death wouldn’t be instantaneous. The frontal part of the brain is not vital, so if left untreated she would have bled to death. Also, she could have remained conscious for some time with this ax in her head.”
Bullshit factor: Low. It could happen to you or someone you love.   Movie: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers
Method: chainsaw to the stomach/chest area
“If it hit her stomach, the victim’s intestinal contents would come spewing out, and the murderess would be splashed with hydrochloric acid. She would get acid burns. It didn’t seem like that was happening here, but that could depend on when the victim had her last meal. If she hadn’t eaten in a while, there would be less acid. The killer would certainly be spewed with fecal material and partially digested food. This could be an accurate portrayal.”
Bullshit factor: Shockingly low. This is realism.   Movie: Phantasm
Method: spiked metal ball with drill between the eyes
“That’s an awful lot of blood. I doubt that there is a weapon like this. I would say that this is total hokum. If something were to drill through your eye, it would simply liquefy the eye. You would not see that amount of blood spurting out. You would see both liquid and viscous fluids from the eye. They are clear and colorless.”
Bullshit factor: You lie, Phantasm.   Movie: Bride of Chucky
Method: Jennifer Tilly gets electrocuted with TV in the bathtub
“The main effect of electrocution is that it stops your heart from beating. It’s instant. You also get third-degree burns at the electricity’s site of entry. People do spasm like this when they are electrocuted. They thrash about because of all the muscle contractions. It depends on the voltage, but death can occur within seconds or it can take a bit. The only thing that strikes me as unreal here is that she wouldn’t be screaming. She would be unconscious.”
Bullshit factor: Half and half.   Movie: Friday the 13th
Method: poker through throat
“Hey, that’s Kevin Bacon. So the killer was supposed to have gotten a fireplace poker through the back of his neck and out the front. Going through the back of the neck, you would encounter the vertebral column, which is hard as stone. Getting on either side of that would make life easier for the murderer. If they managed to make it through a gap in the vertebrae, severing the spinal cord, it would preclude any movement of the victim’s extremities. There would not be as much blood as we see here. The main arteries are off to the side of the neck. The poker would have punctured the pharynx and the trachea, or larynx, but there would be no blood spurts. This blood was only a dramatic device. Any muscle of the neck is easy to get through. You go through muscle every time you cut a steak.”
Bullshit factor: Too much blood, but totes possible.   Movie: Hellraiser
Method: hammer to the head and face
“Once again, we would be likely to see defensive wounds in a hammer attack. The blood is in the wrong place here. If she hit him in the face, she would likely get him in the nose, which protrudes. She would break it, and it would bleed. Usually when you are struck in the face, you bite your tongue off, which also causes a lot of blood. Often, a blow to the face will rupture a little membrane in your upper and lower lip called the frenulum. But it wouldn’t cause this much blood. As for the blow to the back of the head, we would probably see the imprint of the hammer on the skull. It would leave a pattern that would be consistent
with an actual hammer’s head.”
Bullshit factor: More like Hell-Exaggerator.   Movie: Happy Birthday to Me
Method: weight dropped on crotch, leading to fully loaded barbell dropped on neck
“In this case, you wouldn’t see blood, although there is a large spurt here. In the autopsy you would see internal lacerations, especially of the liver because of the weight being dropped on the abdomen. As for the weight falling on the neck, it is unlikely it would have broken the skin. There would have been severe trauma to the throat. So the death would likely be of asphyxiation, which takes up to one or two minutes. It is also possible that the internal damage to his abdomen could lead to death by way of internal bleeding. The spurt of
blood we see in this scene, however,
is completely unrealistic.
Bullshit factor: Real, real high.   Movie: Silent Night, Deadly Night
Method: impaled on antlers
“She dies instantly, but death would certainly not be instantaneous in this case. It rarely is with impalement. Look at the most infamous impaler of all time, Vlad Teppes, who was the inspiration for the character Dracula. He took great pleasure in the days it took for impalement victims to die. I had a case of someone who was impaled in an accident in which a large piece of fence went through his chest. It missed his heart but went through his lungs. He was alive for at least a half hour after that. The only way that death by impalement can be immediate is if the heart or the aorta is penetrated. Also, the killer would
have to be inhumanly strong to lift a
person over his head and calmly lower
her onto a pair of trophy antlers.”
Bullshit factor: High. This ain’t happening.   Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Method: hanged with a bedsheet
“With hanging, there are two major ways of death. The first is strangulation, which does not occur instantly. That’s why people can dangle and struggle for quite a while before they die. The other way of death via hanging is an internal decapitation. This is where a great height is used, and their body weight separates their vertebral column. So the skin doesn’t break, but the spinal column is pulled apart. The height here is not nearly enough for the neck to break, yet he dies quite quickly, which is not concurrent with a strangulation via hanging.”
Bullshit factor: No way, guy.
    Movie: The Amityville Horror
Method: shotgun blasts to the head
“Six people were killed in this case. Each bedroom was a separate crime scene. The real mystery here, which to my mind has never been solved, is that they were all—except one girl who was shot in the face—murdered in very similar positions. They were all facedown. There was supposedly only one perpetrator. Our ballistics expert told me that when the type of gun that was used here is fired, it sounds like a howitzer. Yet nobody seemed to awaken or become alarmed as the killer went from room to room. Very strange. There was a theory that they had been drugged, but our toxicological results disproved that. I have difficulty with the accepted conclusion in this case, which is that Ronald DeFeo acted alone. I could see no signs of a struggle on the scene either. In one of the bedrooms, there was even a partially fixed puzzle on one of the tables, which even a mild struggle would have disturbed.”
Bullshit factor: It really happened, dude. He saw it himself.


HOWARD C. ADELMAN WITH JESSE PEARSON.
IDEA BY MICHAEL SCROCARRO
 

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