Tag Archives: tom savini


Based on sheer unanimous appreciation alone, Creepshow may be one of the greatest horror films ever made. Truly: I’ve never heard one disparaging comment made about it. Inquire, and those who’ve seen it will excitedly describe their favorite segment, their eyes alight and hands animated. For those raised on it, it’s like a plateful of comfort food. And, due to its fall-tinged intro, it has become a Halloween staple. Needless to say, it’s a horror classic.

One of the things that helped cement Creepshow among horror royalty is its incredible score. Composed by frequent Romero collaborator John Harrison (using only a Prophet V synthesizer), the score successfully manages to craft a hauntingly Gothic aura punctuated by goofy camp – no easy task, but one that compliments the vibe of the comic book-inspired film perfectly. Romero himself has said that Harrison’s score delivers on the promise the tagline of the film avows: “the most fun you’ll have being scared”. Continue reading THE MISSING “CREEPSHOW” MUSIC CUES!

I Love Practical Effects!

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 Flyeffects 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:

  1. Made headshots look real and gruesome
  2. Made zombies pulling people apart and eating their guts look real and gruesome
  3. 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!

Killer Moms, Sequelitis, & Bagheads!


I remember hearing that story when I was younger, the one about the mom who was filled with such maternal adrenaline after witnessing her kid get trapped under a car, that she was able to lift the car off her kid all on her own. Apparently, a mother’s love for her child is a powerful and scary thing – so best of luck to you if you happen to put their child in harm’s way…or worse.

During the mid and late-70s, there was sort of a boom when it came to psychotic-and-overprotetctive-moms in film. It started overseas with the Italian giallo film Deep Red (1975) (this is interesting because the giallo movement would be a direct influence on the American slasher craze, especially the early Friday the 13th films. Deep Red and Friday the 13th share another random bit of trivia: at the end of Friday, after Mrs. Voorhees gets a little taken off the top, we see her hands ball up into fists; these are actually special effects assistant Taso Stavrakis’s hands. Conversely, the closeup shots of the female killer’s hands in Deep Red, clad in black leather gloves, were performed by director Dario Argento.)

The killer mom trend continued with Carrie (1976), The Brood (1979), and Mother’s Day (1980).


All of these films saw the mother either:

  • being driven to kill because someone had wronged their child
  • being driven to kill because their child had wronged them
  • birthing hideous, tumor-like growths that develop into little murderous albino kids (that’s The Brood)

Then in 1980, Friday the 13th was released – a little low-budget film that was intended to cash in on the success of the ultimate low-budget slasher, Halloween. For those of you visiting from another planet, the film is about a mother who avenges her child’s death by killing off the counselors at the camp he drowned many years before.

But as for a sequel? There weren’t plans. The film was meant as a stand-alone. Here’s what Friday writer Victor Miller had to say about the film:

“I took motherhood and turned it on its head and I think that was great fun. Mrs. Voorhees was the mother I’d always wanted—a mother who would have killed for her kids.” Miller was unhappy about the filmmakers’ decision to make Jason Voorhees the killer in the sequels. “Jason was dead from the very beginning. He was a victim, not a villain.”

In addition to Deep Red and Halloween, Friday the 13th ripped an idea from another infamous horror flick, Carrie. No, not the pig’s blood. I’m talking about the final dream sequence. In fact, the idea of Jason appearing at the end of the film was initially not used in the original script, and was actually suggested by makeup designer Tom Savini:

“The whole reason for the cliffhanger at the end was I had just seen Carrie, so I thought that we need a ‘chair jumper’ like that, and I said, ‘let’s bring in Jason.'”

The final scene from Carrie was actually inspired by the final scene in Deliverance, but alas that’s how the world of horror goes: reduce, reuse, recycle.


 According to Victor Miller, Jason was only meant as a plot device and not intended to continue on his mother’s grisly work. But then sequelitis struck, and well, we all know how that goes.

The initial ideas for a sequel involved the Friday the 13th title being used for a series of films, released once a year, that would not have direct continuity with each other, but be a separate “scary movie” of their own right. If that sounds familiar to you horrorhounds, it’s because Halloween (the film Friday was originally trying to emulate) was toying with the same concept. This is what Tommy Lee Wallace, director of Halloween III, said about the Halloween sequel and future of the series:

“It is our intention to create an anthology out of the series, sort of along the lines of Night Gallery, or The Twilight Zone, only on a much larger scale.”

Friday producers insisted that the sequel have Jason Voorhees, even though his appearance in the original film was only meant to be a joke. And so, in 1981, Friday the 13th Part 2 was released. Halloween II was released just five months later.

Like the dead teens from the first film, the proposed sequel was already busy creating another heap of casualties: the entire team that had created the original. No one came back – not director Sean Cunningham, not writer Victor Miller, nor special effects maestro Tom Savini. Director Steve Miner came on board to take over, with Ron Kurz writing (Kurz had done uncredited writing on Friday the 13th.)

For Jason’s big screen debut, the production team decided to model his character after the killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown by throwing a burlap sack over his head.


This ‘baghead’ look actually became popularized back in 1957, in the first episode of Perry Mason, “The Case of the Restless Redhead”. Coincidentally, 1957 is the same year of young Jason Voorhee’s supposed drowning.


Since the release of Friday the 13th Part 2, the look would become synonymous with scary villain and would pop up in horror films like The Strangers, Triangle, and even westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.


The look was even the basis for the semi-parody mumblecore film, Baghead, starring indie darling Great Gerwig.

Friday the 13th Part 2 would ‘borrow’ from the giallo movement once again. Two of the more memorable scenes – one including a machete to the face, the other seeing two lovers speared simultaneously – were lifted directly from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood.

This was the first and last time Jason Voorhees had any sort of motivation for his killings, and therefore the last time he’d be portrayed as an empathetic character. The series began tragically – a boy drowning, his mother avenging his death, and then that same boy later avenging her death. But as with most franchises (especially A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween), the future sequels lose sight of what the characters original motivations were. But when your villain is 8 or 10 sequels deep, you’re bound to muddy the waters a bit.

Join me for my next installment where I visit the next two Friday the 13th sequels, with “Hockey Masks, the 3D Boom, & Final Chapters”!

“Maniac” (1980) REVIEW

maniac081811You know the song “Maniac” from the movie Flashdance? It was inspired by this film. The songwriters simply changed the lyrics about the killer so it could be used about an obsessive dancer instead.

That tidbit should be enough to make you want to see this 1980 slasher classic. It was directed by William Lustig (who also directed Maniac Cop, proving his affinity for the word ‘maniac’), and the make-up was done by none other than 80s effects wizard of gore Tom Savini. This movie is infamous for a scene involving a shotgun blast to the face. Bless you, Mr. Savini.

The movie is about a schizo loner named Frank Zito (played by a sweaty, scary, and super creepy Joe Spinell, RIP) who likes to go out and scalp women. He brings their scalps back to adorn several mannequins he has lying around his apartment. He’s so lonely – he just wants the company!

The is one of those low-budget, guerilla-style labors of love that really show how dedicated some people are to the genre. The movie only had a purported budget of $550,000.