I have been a fan of horror films for pretty much as long as I can remember. However, it wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 years old way back in ’81 or ’82 when I saw Friday the 13th for the first time on ON TV that I became fascinated with not only the genre but with Special Makeup Effects. The effects I saw in Friday the 13th blew my mind. I had never seen anything like it. The effects in that movie rival anything I’ve seen since.
I saved up and I bought a copy of his book Grande Illusions when it came out a year later. I tore through that book, it was the most fascinating book I had every read. Of course was just 12 but I’m 45 now and it’s still the most fascinating non-fiction book I’ve read. Sadly the book had suffered server water damage and was completely ruined. I got choked up when I lost that book, it was like a part of me died. Like I lost a friend.
I spent most of my youth watching horror movies, some of them I watched not only forward but in reverse. Why? Well, I was a young teen and being able to fast-forward and rewind movies was a new thing. Normal people couldn’t do that prior to the invention of a VCR’s. Because of this I watched Friday the 13th and Halloween both in reverse because I felt, that’s commitment. That makes me a true fan. Crazy I know but I was 13. Some kids went to concerts and screamed at the bands, I watched horror movies and wanted to know they did that.
I spent a few years torturing my parents with makeup effects. I was constantly killing myself. Trying out new effects. I didn’t have money to by liquid latex so I would take my mom’s liquid skin colored makeup and mix it with flower to thicken it up and I would apply it to my skin, cut it up and poor some fake blood on it and it looked pretty damn good! It was Tom Savini that taught me to be creative and problem solve.
I turned 15 and there was a convention in the Los Angeles area somewhere. Tom Savini was going to be there. I begged my parents to take me and they did! It was one of the best times of my life. Sitting in the audience I was amazed at everything he said. He was passing out makeup props he had used in his movies to the audience. I got to hold the very hand that gets sliced down the middle in Friday the 13th Part IV! I didn’t want to let that thing go.
After the show he sat on little bench outside the auditorium and signed things for people and answered questions. When it was my turn to talk to him, I tried hard not to scream like little girl at a One Direction concert. I told him how much I loved his book and then I asked him an effects question and he told me a simple trick to get it done.
I had been wanting to do a full head cast. I never got to do that but I had planned to. My question to Mr. Savini was how could I get the eyes to blink? He explained how to use some paper clips to get the eyes to open and close. At least that’s how I remember it? But as I write this now I wonder if that wasn’t something in his book? But, it doesn’t matter, we did talk about that effect in some context and I couldn’t have been more enthralled by the things he was telling me.
I didn’t want to leave. He was and is the greatest in my eyes. When it comes to flat out reality in gore, there’s just no one better. He makes it look real. I have seen a lot of great make up and a lot of great of artists but too many times when doing gore artists go for the blood and guts. That’s fun but it’s not real. It’s about the flesh. You have to sell that it’s real skin and that it’s being cut, slashed, ripped apart and so on. If you don’t sell that, then it’s just gore, isn’t art and lacks a sense of realism that scares, that creeps us out and makes us believe at least for that brief moment that it’s real.
Well, after our all too brief conversation about severed heads and blinking eyes I asked him to sign my copy of his book Grande Illusions. He did and I cherished that book even more. I can’t watch a horror movie to this day and not think about the loss of that book that was signed by the man himself. I still kick myself for the loss of it but times were difficult and I couldn’t keep it as safe as I wanted. But, at least I got to talk to him. I got to hold a prop he made for the Friday the 13th series. I still think that is one of the coolest things ever.
I’ve often been asked what I mean when I say there’s difference between the art of special effects in horror movies and just a gory movie. Here’s a couple of screen captures I took from Friday the 13th that show exactly what I mean. As you look at the top photo you notice the actresses neck (Robbi Morgan). It’s just been sliced by our killer in the very first Friday the 13th. You actually see the skin start to split open then in the second photo the blood slowly pours out. That’s what I am talking about! When you see the scene in real time, you’re sold. You forget you’re watching a movie.
When I first saw that I was simply flabbergasted. Prior to that I had only seen before and after shots of wounds. For example, had this scene been done the usual way we would have seen a slash at her neck. She would have fallen to the ground and then we’d cut to her laying on the ground with her throat now slit and bloody. Mr. Savini took it to the next level, we see that flesh split open. That movie changed special effects in horror films forever.
Because of him and his book I learned to respect the art. I watch Face Off and daydream about how I could and should still be doing effects makeup. I learned who Dick Smith was because of him. I appreciate the art of practical effects over CGI. His story of being a photographer during Vietnam War taught me how to deal with the horrible things I later had to see while I was in Law Enforcement. His work has never failed to impress me. There are many greats in the industry of special makeup effects. But, when it comes to practical special effects in horror movies, he is the best.