by Heath Holland
We’re just days away from October 31st and before you know it, Scary Movie Month will have come and gone. October is not long enough! Seeing as this is the last chance I’ll get to spotlight an area or aspect of horror cinema (for now), I can think of no better way to close out the month than to say thank you to the men behind the monster makeup who created the creatures and the icons of the movies that haunt my dreams.
Monster movie makeup goes all the way back to the silent days when Lon Chaney, Sr. earned the nickname “the man of a thousand faces.” Using materials like cotton, wire, spirit gum, and even membranes from eggs which he would then stuff into all the holes on his face, Chaney turned himself into monsters for movies like The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and London After Midnight (1927). The stuff he did to himself in the pursuit of makeup perfection was often painful and chipped away at his health, contributing to a rapid physical decline. His work lives on and is still as effective as ever, cementing his reputation as the godfather of special effects makeup.
Then there are the more modern special effects makeup guys who shaped my childhood by creating things that stuck in my head long before I was allowed to see most of the movies themselves. I’m talking about guys like Tom Savini, who brought zombies to horrifying life in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. He also worked on the first and fourth entries in the Friday the 13th franchise, meaning he was there for the birth of Jason Voorhees and what was intended to be the death of the character, as well. And while I’m guilty of damning the overall film with faint praise, his work on “The Crate” segment of Creepshow is a standout in ‘80s horror. Tom Savini is a legend in not only special effects makeup, but film in general for his massive contributions.
John Landis’s film, making the creature appear real. A perfect example aside from the incredible transformation scene is the sequence that takes place in the London Underground as the man flees up the escalator. It shows us ALMOST nothing, but when it does reveal the monster, it’s an incredible, life-like realization of something that doesn’t actually exist. Of course, I also have to tip my hat to Rick Baker for his makeup effects on Michael Jackson’s iconic music video/short film for Thriller, which John Landis also directed. Over thirty years later, it’s still a must-watch this time of year.
Then there’s Stan Winston, the man who brought Terminators to life and proved that dinosaurs were real in Jurassic Park by crafting life-size recreations out of latex, foam rubber, and metal skeletons. And while the iconic Alien from Ridley Scott’s movie was the vision of surrealist artist H.R. Giger, it was Winston who oversaw the Xenomorphs on James Cameron’s Aliens and introduced the 14-foot-tall Alien Queen, which was essentially a big puppet. When the suit for the title character didn’t deliver on the set of Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped Winston’s name to the director and producer, and the rest is movie history. Winston’s creations aren’t just a part of horror culture; they’re a part of mainstream pop culture. He’s now left us, but his creations live on.
Sam Raimi, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child for Stephen Hopkins, the vampires in From Dusk Till Dawn for Robert Rodriguez, and most of the Scream movies for Wes Craven. In recent years, Greg Nicotero has moved to the forefront of the field and is now one of the chief creative people behind The Walking Dead as a producer, director, and makeup supervisor. Nicotero has become synonymous with great special effects in the current genre marketplace.
There are so many more people responsible for bringing the horror to life. Before last week, I wasn’t familiar with the name Rob Bottin (much to my embarrassment), but I sure am familiar with his work. He got his start working with Rick Baker, but later went on by himself to create werewolves for The Howling, the ghosts in The Fog and the creature in The Thing for John Carpenter, the creepy devil guy in Legend, and--even though it’s not horror—Bottin designed and created Robocop for Paul Verhoeven.
There are guys who are less of household names, but whose work freaks out horror fans each October and beyond. Giannetto De Rossi is an Italian makeup artist who worked with Lucio Fulci on Zombi 2 as well as The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery. I knew the movies and his work, but not his name. What about two of Stan Winston’s protégés, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., who realized the ghouls of The Monster Squad and brought life to the Graboids in Tremors? What about guys like William Tuttle, who worked with Bela Lugosi on Mark of the Vampire, or Lee Greenway, who created the alien creature in The Thing from Another World, which apparently made such an impression on John Carpenter that he made his own version of the story thirty years later.