I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I first saw it as a teenager and was immediately blown away. It was so different than any other horror film I’d seen up until that point. I’d been raised on slick, accessible films like the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street series’, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was gritty, sweaty, caked in blood. It was unpredictable, unrefined, and dangerous. From that point on, it became my favorite horror film. It still is. Honestly? It will forever be. Continue reading New Thoughts on THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)
One of the great things about 80s horror flicks (versus today’s pedigree) is they didn’t take themselves so seriously. They weren’t afraid to inject lots of humor right alongside the buckets of blood. Everything from Evil Dead to Creepshow, A Nightmare on Elm Street to The Lost Boys, there was an art to the balance of humor and horror – something that is most certainly lost on 99.98% of today’s spook movies.
George A. Romero was no stranger to having fun in his movies, especially them zombie ones that made him so famous. Hell, Dawn of the Dead (1978) has a pie fight! By his third zombie film, Day of the Dead (1985), the slapstick got toned down a bit but there was still lots to smirk at – one of the main ones being the childlike “Bub”, a zombie who we see being ‘taught’ by Dr. Logan. Bub is iconic, as are his interactions with Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan, so I thought I would take a familiar scene and update it a bit – contemporize it for the year it was released, 1985.
Until a few weeks ago, I had totally forgotten that my first obsession as a kid — before I started making home movies, before I started making zines — was special effects. More specifically: the latex-laden, gore-filled, squib-bursting effects I was consuming via every horror film I watched on a daily basis.
I was talking with a buddy recently (super talented and humble Todd who runs Junk Fed – buy all his creations; follow all his media outlets), and he had mentioned how, as a kid, one of the first things he wanted to be when he grew up was a special effects guy. And that’s when my memory was jogged, and all those long-buried similar hopes and dreams of my own came flooding back. I, too, wanted to be a special effects guy!
I remember once filling a ziplock bag with red food coloring and water and then taping it to a little square of Styrofoam, and then taping that contraption to my chest. I threw on an old white t-shirt, grabbed a sharpened pencil, and ran into the kitchen where my mom was. “Hey, mom, look!” I shouted. She turned around to see me thrusting the pencil into my chest – into the DIY squib – and having blood splatter out of the wound, soaking the shirt in red. The pencil, buried deep in the Styrofoam, stood erect from my chest like a little diving board. Boy, was I proud of that one. Later, I would see the movie F/X and it made me realize that if there was a Hollywood movie based around the art of creating effects, it must be pretty well-regarded.
Besides being inspired by the films I was watching, my fascination with gory make-up was also fueled by my regular intake of Fangoria Magazine. And it was in this magazine that I came across ads for the Joe Blasco Make-up Artist Training Center. I was convinced this is where I had to go. Thankfully, I strayed from that path because upon doing some research on the school for this article, I’ve found nothing but atrocious reviews for it. Dodged a bullet there!
Eventually, my serious interest in pursuing make-up effects as a career waned as I got older, but my fascination with the craft never dulled and my love of horror films has only grown as the years have gone on.
With all that said, there are certain ‘Masters of the Craft’ – guys who created some of the most memorable special effects from the mids-70s to the late-80s, the heyday of practical horror effects. So with this list, I wanna point out who they are and what my favorite work from them has been.
The late Dick Smith was the godfather of make-up effects. He was the king. He invented the now standard method of using multiple facial prosthetics versus one single face mask, which was a less restrictive approach and allowed actors to use more facial expressions underneath their make-up. One of his specialities — and something I don’t anyone has come near to perfecting the way Smith did — was age make-up. He made Dustin Hoffman look 120-years-old in Little Big Man and made David Bowie look 150-years-old in The Hunger. He’d use his unbelievable knack for age make-up in several films, like The Godfather and Carnal Knowledge, and even won an Academy Award for his work on Amadeus. But it was his contributions to the horrific The Exorcist that changed the special effects game forever. As his protégé (the recently retired) Rick Baker tells it:
The Exorcist was really a turning point for make-up special effects. Dick showed that makeup wasn’t just about making people look scary or old, but had many applications. He figured out a way to make the welts swell up on Linda Blair’s stomach, to make her head spin around, and he created the vomit scenes.
He also wrote The DIY Monster Make-Up Handbook, something I’d check out from the library religiously as a kid. In 2011, he was awarded the Academy Honorary Award for his life’s work — the first ever make-up artist to be so honored. I implore even the toughest brute with the blackest heart to watch that video and not get a little misty.
Something I feel most of the young FX dudes from the 80s share is a wild streak: long hair, scruffy faces, heavy metal t-shirts. Rob Bottin, in my opinion, was the epitome of the insane special effects guy from the 80s — not only displayed in his look, but also his work. And there was that one time he caused an explosion on set, and it doesn’t get more insane than that.
He got his start by sending drawings to then-established FX guy Rick Baker, who loved what he saw and agreed to hire him. And how old was Bottin at the time? He was just 14-years-old. Bottin would go on to create some of the most mind-bending, wet and wild effects of the 80s and 90s: All the creatures from The Thing (1982); He designed the legendary look of RoboCop (1987), a movie which includes the infamous ‘toxic waste melting man‘ scene; Jack Nicholson’s bizarre transformations in The Witches of Eastwick (1987); All of the eye-popping, head-unfurling, conjoined-baby effects from Total Recall (1990); and the trippy lizard scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1997). But the scene I love the most that Bottin created is from The Thing. It’s perhaps the most tense, horrifying, and unbelievable (and memorable!) sequences in horror effects history:
Kevin Yagher is one of the lucky few FX people to make it out of the 80s unscathed, working with regularity and even transitioning into doing make-up and effects for TV. And though he’s stayed continuously busy, it’s three of his contributions to the genre during the 80s that literally changed the face of horror.
Prior to Yagher’s involvement, Freddy Krueger’s face was mostly obscured by darkness in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). But after joining the crew on the sequel, Freddy’s face became noticeably more menacing, the burn patterns more realistic and intricate. It became ‘the Freddy Krueger look’, one that was a fan favorite during Yagher’s run for ANOES 2, ANOES 3, and ANOES 4. Note the differences between the original Krueger make-up on the left and Yagher’s Freddy on the right.
Yagher would also create two more pieces of horror history during the 80s: Chucky, the doll from the Child’s Play series, and The Cryptkeeper from the Tales from the Crypt TV show. Kevin Yagher’s contributions to horror have been historic to say the least.
For the uninitiated, K.N.B. is an acronym for Kurtzman (Robert), Nicotero (Gregory), and Berger (Howard), the three dudes who created what would end up being (still) the most prolific special effects company ever. Launched in 1988, the group has worked on almost any relevant film project, horror and otherwise, not to mention a multitude of TV programs. It’s no exaggeration when I say ‘every production’; a quick peek at Greg Nicotero’s IMDB page shows a glimpse of just how massive their scope has been. Robert Kurtzman left the group in the early 2000s, but even his solo career has matched the enormity of what Nicotero & Berger continue to do. I could write pages upon pages about their contribution to the genre, but the one that immediately comes to mind – the one that actually truly shocked me when I first saw it (pardon the pun) – was Intruder (1989). The “last great slasher of the 80s”, Intruder is full of humor and horror, the way slashers oughtta be. And boy, those special effects. Look at the gif below and then find a copy of Intruder to watch, immediately.
Another anonymous magician who dreamt up some of the most memorable imagery and characters from the 80s (and pop culture’s collective childhood), Chris Walas is responsible not only for creating the look of the Gremlins, but also the unforgettable ‘melting Nazis’ in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also gave everyone the heebie-jeebies with his spider creations in Arachnophobia (1990) and would go on to direct the criminally underrated The Vagrant (1992). His greatest contribution however, would have to be the effects he supplied for David Cronenberg’s 1986 masterpiece, The Fly – effects that won him an Academy Award.
Dealing more with puppets and puppet design and stop-motion claymation rather than all the aforementioned splatter, The Chiodo Brothers stick out on this list – but I’d be remiss not include them. They created the Crites from Critters; they created the Killer Klowns from Outer Space; they created the goblins from Ernest Scared Stupid. Oh, and they created this purdy lady right here:
Much like K.N.B., I feel like Tom Savini’s contributions to the genre are too vast to itemize here. Plus, I mean, c’mon! It’s Tom Savini! The Sultan of Splatter! You know what he’s done. To compartmentalize his career into 3 sections, he:
- Made headshots look real and gruesome
- Made zombies pulling people apart and eating their guts look real and gruesome
- Made Jason Voorhees as a kid look real gruesome.
My favorite work of his is from Day of the Dead (1985). Everything Savini became notorious for was put on full display in this movie: the headshots, the eviscerations, impalements, the zombie puppets, the half-bodies, the rounded machete-blade trick. All of it! Like most of his brethren, Savini slowly transitioned out of SFX in the early 90s to focus on other things, mainly acting and occasionally directing.
When it came to providing effects for the big guns – Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis, to name a few – the late (great) Stan Winston was the go-to guy. Giant, realistic dinosaurs? Liquid metal bad guy from the future? Lubed up Xenomorphs spitting deadly acid? No problem. As the tide began to turn and as computer animation and effects started to become more commonplace, even though Stan Winston’s initial work was very traditional, he was still able to make a fluid transition and work harmoniously with the new technology. And it’s because of his respect and understanding of these new ways, combined with his old-school approach that his resultant effects were some of the most believable things captured on film. Watch this pissed off T. rex attack a car full of small kids. Then watch the trailer for Jurassic World. Then come back and look me in the eye and tell me modern CGI doesn’t suck a big one.
Last but certainly not least, the man of the hour, Rick Baker. The man is as big a legend as the rest of them, but somehow more. He created the blueprint of the now-standard look of werewolf transformation scenes in An American Werewolf in London (1981). He did the zombies in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. He made bigfoot for Harry and the Hendersons. He made Eddie Murphy white in Coming to America and made him obese in The Nutty Professor. Men in Black, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Hellboy. Rick Baker did it all. His imagination was limitless, his skills and abilities unmatched. It’s hard to pick one thing of his that stands out because it’s all so different. But I’ll end with a classic.
To all the special effects people – past and present – like the schoolteachers, garbagemen, and social workers of this world you’re often shamefully overlooked and underthanked. But to the effects wizard of the late 70s and 80s who helped shape my warped and wonderful mind: I can’t thank you enough!
Hollywood gets a bad rap. People think of it as this horrible money machine, but the truth is Hollywood has nothing but a filmmaker’s best interest in mind. Believe it or not, producers and financiers actually care about creativity and artistic vision and want nothing more than to protect the filmmaker’s creation, and they want to encourage originality by supporting new ideas. Hollywood is about integrity and respect.
No, I’m only kidding. Hollywood is a bloated, greedy monster that cares only about how much money a film makes and absolutely nothing else. And if a film can somehow keep making boatloads of money years after its been released, even better! But how do you do that? Make it a franchise. There are no better cash-cows than horror franchises. Perhaps you’ve heard New Line Cinema referred to as “The House that Freddy Built“, due to the popularity of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. And how do you build a house? Money. Lots of money. Continue reading Not-so-awful Sequels! (Part One)
Horror movies and drinking go together like…horror movies and drinking. Whether you’re tying a few on while watching a splat show with a couple equally buzzed buddies, or if the drinking is happening among the characters in the movie itself, there just seems to be no better suited pairing than beer and blood.
So, before you puke up your green-dyed guts and pass out earlier than 6pm on this, the booziest of holidays, take a moment to read my list of great horror movie drunks! You might just pick up a few ideas.
I gotta get the obvious choice out of the way right off the bat: Jack Torrance from The Shining. Nicholson’s Torrance is the epitome of “great horror movie drunk”, a recovering alcoholic who battles demons both literally and figuratively. Stephen King, author of The Shining, is himself a writer who struggled with the bottle, so perhaps writing this wasn’t much of a stretch for him. But if ever there was a film that could convince me to abstain from drinking, it’d be this one. (Nah, not really.)
Another great “drinking will ruin your life” film is 1971’s Wake in Fright (aka Outback), a terrifying thriller set in the sun-soaked Australian desert. A mild-mannered teacher on his way home for summer break has a layover in a small town inhabited by the scummiest, most desperate drunks on the continent. The frightening part is just how quickly and easily the sensible John Grant slips into their debaucherous ways.
It’s a beautifully shot film that really emphasizes the importance of beer to these low-lifes. But man, they do make drinking look good. Be right back, I’m feeling thirsty.
I can’t think of a more perfect actor to portray Jud Crandall than Fred Gwynne. A tall, lanky hick with a garbled Maine drawl, he’s a good-hearted old-timer who cares for the neighbor’s kids, but he doesn’t sugar-coat the facts about life and death. And in his spare time, he likes to unwind with a Budweiser or six.
He even likes those little stubby 7 oz. bottles! But ever the equal opportunist, he offers plenty of love to the long-necks, too.
There’s just something authentic about Gwynne’s performance. When Crandall sits on his front porch, sparks up a cigarette, and cracks open a Bud – only to be seen nodding off a few scenes later – you can’t help but believe Gwynne knows from personal experience exactly what his character is doing.
“Darlin’, you’re gonna be the death of me! But what a way to go…” Those are literally Martin’s final words, right before Crystal Lake mainstay Jason Voorhees uses the whiskey bottle he’d just been drinking from to gouge him to death.
If I had to maintain a cemetery near Camp Crystal lake, aka “Camp Blood”, aka “Camp Forest Green”, I would probably talk to my pint of whiskey, too. Martin is a likeable old coot, so it’s a shame to see him go. Earlier in the film, upon discovering Jason’s grave had been dug up, he immediately reaches for his flask…
Gary Busey is a goddamn treasure in Silver Bullet. Not only does he deliver the type of performance that convinces the viewer he wasn’t even aware he was filming a movie, but he portrays unclehood in such a way that you wish he was your uncle. Easily the world’s greatest cinematic uncle since Buck. He tells you dirty jokes, plays cards with you, and builds you a rocket-powered wheelchair – all while chipping away at a bottle of Wild Turkey. Who wouldn’t want him hangin’ around the house all time?
Look at that face. I been there, brother.
Like the aforementioned Martin the gravedigger, Kurt Russell’s helicopter pilot, R.J. MacReady, is a sympathetic drunk. What else are you supposed to do when you’re stationed in the middle of nowhere Antarctica? Poker with the boys can only be entertaining for so long. It wouldn’t be long before you’d feel the urge to numb your brain to save it from isolation madness. The fact that there’s an unseen killer among your group probably ain’t too good for the nerves, either. And in a wonderful homage, wouldn’t you know it? R.J.’s drink of choice is J&B scotch – a favorite drink among gialli films.
Can you imagine the type of light sensitivity you’d have when the sun was glinting off pure whiteness, everywhere? Those awesome goggles are a must for anyone hungover in arctic territories.
The Halloween franchise has been spotty at best. As the series progressed, the story got murkier and murkier. And the characters? They didn’t fare much better. They weren’t likable or memorable. In fact, any fringe characters that showed up in the later sequels you knew were just thrown in to be chum for Michael Myers. But Halloween 4 – one of the best entries besides the original, in my opinion – managed to have a fun, straight-forward premise and also featured characters you were interested in – from stepsister Rachel, her horny boyfriend Brady, and hell, even Wade was enjoyable, and he’s only onscreen for two minutes:
But one of the best secondary characters has to be Reverend Jack Sayer. His screen time is even less than Wade’s. However his appearance may be the most important in the entire series. The scene sees him pick up a hitchhiking Dr. Loomis on a lone, dusty highway. The two men don’t know each other, they’ve never met, but Rev. Sayer feels an immediate kinship to Dr. Loomis. In fact, he seems to know exactly what it is Loomis is after.
“You’re huntin’ it, ain’t ya? Yeah, you’re huntin’ it alright. Just like me…You can’t kill damnation, Mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”
While Sayer is hunting a more metaphorical evil and Loomis a more literal evil, the two men share a common end-goal, and for once in the entire series you have a character who not only understands and empathizes with Loomis, but one who doesn’t look at the Doctor like he’s a madman. (I mean, except for that screenshot above. Ignore that.)
The two men share another thing in common: a fondness for the drink. So when Sayer offers up some liquid warmth, Loomis gladly accepts. And as he drinks, the reverend sings a gospel to lighten the mood. And it’s only the second time in the entire series that we see Loomis crack a smile – a brief moment of relief; they’re no longer two men spending their remaining days hunting evil – they’re just two men enjoying a drink and each other’s company.
“Lay off the fuckin’ booze for awhile, why don’t ya?” This is a question posed to (yet another) drunken helicopter pilot, Bill McDermott, in Day of the Dead. Again, I understand why he’s such a hard drinker: it’s essentially the end of the world. Zombies have overrun the land, and McDermott and his cohorts are stuck in an underground bunker. I’d be drinking, too. But I feel it should be noted: McDermott is screamingly Irish. He even shouts “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” a few times throughout the film.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Aunt Bedelia. Like Rev. Sayer, Aunt Bedelia’s screen time in Creepshow is brief. But Viveca Lindfors’ portrayal of Bedelia Grantham is so wonderfully nuanced and flawlessly delivered, that she’s able to steal the show in her short time onscreen. Bedelia’s guilt from murdering her father has left her frazzled and slugging Jim Beam by the bottle-full. She’s probably spilled more than you’ve drank.
She’s such a boozer, that even the comic version of Creepshow makes sure to note her love of spirit-imbibing.
Bedelia’s scene – one where she sits by her father’s grave, pounding the booze while cursing him in some odd, coastal accent – is brilliant and fun. But Aunt Bedelia ain’t the only one in Creepshow who likes to drink.
If you weren’t aware, Stephen King wrote the story for Creepshow, so naturally there’s a lot of drinking. King, who also stars in the movie as nunkhead Jordy Verrill, enjoys some Ripple, as well as a mean Screwdriver later on.
Then there’s Wilma. But you can call her Billy. Everyone else does!
And even Fritz Weaver as the inconsolable Dexter Stanley:
Even Leslie Nielsen has a drink to calm his nerves – every segment except the final one features boozehounds. Speaking of Creepshow drunkards, this list wouldn’t be complete without one of the most prolific drunks in horror history, Tom Atkins. In fact, he’s the M.V.P. of this list!
Tom Atkins is just the best, there’s no denying that. He was in all the great horror flicks of the 80s. And in every one of ’em, he’s drinkin’. Like in Creepshow, from the picture above.
Or like in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, where he’s constantly drinking – whether it be alone of with some homeless people:
Or in Maniac Cop, having a cold one with a co-worker after a long, hard day in the office:
Or in Night of the Creeps, where he plays a cop so haunted by his past that he’s suicidal. Not even booze – or even daydreams of delicious tropical drinks – can soothe his mental scars:
Hell, he even says “It’s Miller time!” right before shooting a zombie in the goddamn head. So legendary is his onscreen drinking, that upon Googling his name I discovered random pieces of fan art which detail this very fact:
In short, the man loves to drink.
And this is where I leave you, friends. May your day of drinking be a peaceful one, void of any slashers, zombies, werewolves, or alien lifeforms. There’s nothing worse than a spilled or unfinished drink. Have a safe and bloody holiday, but don’t forget to drink a few extra in honor of the entrants on this list. It’s Miller time!
(Read Great Horror Movie Drunks Pt. 2!)
Any horror fan worth their salt will recognize the perplexing American poster/box cover art from the 1985 bomb Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning:
What makes this such a head-scratcher — and should be obvious from the above image — is that the mask used on the cover is not the mask Jason wears in the film, or any Friday the 13th film. This has always stuck with me but I never cared to do much digging. Until now.
So where to start? Cracking the code required a perfectly worded Google search. Here’s how I started my exploration:
“Friday the 13th V mask”. “Friday the 13th V mask box cover”. “Friday the 13th V alternate mask”. “Friday the 13th V plastic mask”. “What’s up with Jason’s mask on the cover of the Friday the 13th V box?” No luck.
Checked Ebay. Checked the official Friday the 13th franchise site. Nothing, nada. What I did find was everyone was confused about why this mask graced the cover of Friday the 13th part V and confounded as to where it came from.
Googling “plastic hockey mask” brought me to an actual hockey equipment site where I discovered a few interesting things. First, the mask used in ‘Garden Tool Massacre’ from The Blob (1988). Turns out it’s a junior-sized goalie mask and also incredibly inexpensive:
Also found the mask from Alone in the Dark. This same mask can be found in other movies like Waxwork II: Lost in Time and Halloween H2O, and was the same mask used by the wrestler Lord Humongous (not to be confused with Lord Humungus, the Mad Max character – more on that in a sec):
In 1981, one year after Friday the 13th was released, the sequel to Mad Max — Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior — was released. The film introduced us to a memorable post-apocalyptic villain, Lord Humungus. While not the first time a hockey masked maniac would appear on film (I believe that honor goes to Act of Vengeance; see my other article), as far as I know, this is the first time that this specific cheapo Jason knock-off mask makes an appearance in film history. Remember: Friday the 13th not only didn’t feature Jason Voorhees as the killer, it didn’t feature the famous hockey mask until its second sequel.
The character of Lord Humungus (with a little altered spelling) would directly inspire the wrestler “Lord Humongous” (see B&W pic above). Speaking of wrestling: despite Lord Humongous using a different mask than Lord Humungus, the cheapo knock-off mask in question would be used by another wrestler. In 1983, the Friday the 13th-inspired Canadian wrestler “Jason the Terrible” (seen with a young Owen Hart) used the mask as part of his ensemble. Note the hole placement: same mask.
Two years later, in 1985, the mask graces the cover of the poster/box for Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and causes a lot of horror fans to say, “Huh?”
In 1987, the mask makes another appearance on film, this time in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. They painted it red for some reason, despite being a total homage to Jason Voorhees (the character of Tackleberry is seen chainsawing his way out of a body bag while wearing the mask.)
In 1989, Christmas Vacation was released, and in a classic scene involving bickering neighbors we see the cheapo hockey mask being used (alongside a chainsaw) once again to recall the Jason Voorhees imagery:
1991: the video game Pit-Fighter is released. It was one of the first to use live-action footage to animate the game, something that would reach the heigh of its popularity with Mortal Kombat. But what does this have to do with the mask? The game makes a direct reference to Lord Humungus. While the mask design is too pixelated to know for sure (it was the 90’s, give it a break), the character design is clearly modeled after the Mad Max baddie – so we’ll count it.
In 1993, PCU came out. In the final scene of the film, the lead character “Droz” (played by Jeremy Piven) slaps on a hockey mask. And as far as I know, this is one of – if not the – last time this specific cheapo hockey mask makes an appearance on film.
So that brings us up to speed. My search for this elusive mask continued. Searching “plastic hockey mask” brought up a result I almost overlooked. Mixed in with all the pictures of hockey masks was a singular airsoft paintball mask -that’s right paintball – not hockey. When compared to the aforementioned mask style, it’s a pretty damn close match:
The eye holes are a bit bigger and the airholes may not be completely punched out, but note the ridges that cross the mask as well as the hole placement. Spot on!
Even dragging pics of the mask into Google image search doesn’t bring up any revealing results. The last and closest thing I could find to the actual mask was on a film memorabilia site. It was listed among other horror stuff, all from the same user but none of it seemed to be for sale.
I left the website link on the pic so you can search his stuff if you’re interested. I wanna point out that this was listed as an actual prop from the movie, and also labeled “vintage”, but I question the veracity of both those claims.
And that’s where my search dead ends, folks. I have followed every trail until it went ice cold. I Googled every possible combination of words, hoping to nail the magic amalgamation that would unlock the mysterious mask door and finally set me free. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. And so, for now, the answer remains hidden, the riddle unsolved. But the search continues…
UPDATE: After posting this article on Twitter, it was pointed out to me that the mask in question is vintage Cooper goalie mask. And sure enough, it is: