'Hereditary' Designer on Most Brutal Scene: "We Had Built Puppets"

The film's most shocking scene was almost worse.

Given the critical success of Ari Aster’s breakout horror feature Hereditary, many readers have likely heard rumors of the film’s absolutely bananas death scenes. Though it may be difficult for some to imagine, one of those in particular — arguably the film’s most brutal — was supposed to be even more twisted.

Spoilers for Hereditary follow below.

The death scene — one that sees the decapitation of 13-year-old Charlie (played by Milly Shapiro) — was “toned down significantly,” the film’s model and makeup effects designer Steve Newburn told The Verge in a recent interview.

It’s toned down significantly, the decapitation. We had built entire puppets that the heads came off of, and squished, and blood went in every direction. It was all shot. It was pretty brutal to watch. I can’t say exactly why it’s edited the way it is [in the final film]. I think from talking to Ari at the time, he was like, “I don’t know if we can actually show that. It’s a kid, for God’s sake.” But then to follow it up with the aftermath the next morning, I’ve heard a number of people say that’s just revolting to them. Mostly because of the ants. So we had that stuff, we have a lot of little smaller things that aren’t seen so much. But we did the body of Toni. Toni sawing her head off, things like that, which is all prosthetics as well. Done practically, no CG.

Newburn is of course referring here to the scene during which the film’s protagonist Peter (Alex Wolff), speeding home with Charlie experiencing anaphylactic shock in the back seat of the family’s car after accidentally ingesting peanuts, swerves off the road and hits a telephone pole. It’s at this point that Peter realizes he’s accidentally killed Charlie, whose head was sticking out the car window as she gasped for air.

This is the most disturbing scene in Hereditary, and one that sets the film in motion.

Aster told Inverse this month that the driving sequence was “the most nerve-wracking” to shoot because there were “so many moving parts.” He also touched on the extremity of the scene, admitting that he has “no problem with excess.”

“People will either be able to go with that or not,” Aster told Inverse, “but the film aims to reach pretty operatic heights.”

Mission accomplished.

Media via A24