Beck’s Favorite EFX: Great Work in Special Effects Makeup

In the horror genre, special effects makeup often becomes the star of the movie and the artists behind these macabre creations are just as much (probably more) of a celebrity as the actors. As a novice EFX makeup artist myself, I can appreciate just how difficult it is to make even the most simple bruise or gash realistic. Not only do these effects need to look real in person, the artist must know how they will be photographed and how to showcase the gruesomeness in the best way possible on camera. Many films were made iconic on their practical effects alone. Here are some of my personal favorites.

SPOILERS: I guess there are a few spoilers for DotD, The Thing, and Friday, but I would hope most of you have already seen them.

Laid to Rest (2008): Erik Porn, Christian Quarantillo, Scott Simpson, and Crystal Soveroski
When Robert Hall, the mastermind behind Almost Human EFX, decided to jump in the directing chair, the only thing we knew for certain was that the gore would be top notch. And it was. Featuring some of the most realistic decapitations I’ve ever seen and flawless stab wounds through the head, Laid to Rest has some of the best onscreen makeup effects ever seen.

Day of the Dead (1985): Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, Everett Burrell, David Kindlon, Mike Trcic, John Vulich
While I was tempted to choose Dawn on nostalgia factor, the gore and practical effects in Day of the Dead are superior. The scene when Captain Rhodes is ripped apart by vicious zombies is one of the best moments in horror. You can’t say you weren’t rooting for the zombies, as Rhodes watched his own intestines spill out before him. Additionally, the makeup of Bub is character-defining. The sad, pallid face with sunken eyes draws immediate sympathy—the absolute best in character makeup.

Scream (1996): Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero, Kamar Bitar

You may not associate Scream with great gore work, but the simplicity of the EFX makeup in Scream is one of the film’s strongest selling points. We do get a great disembowelment and a tremendous body cast of Drew Barrymore, but my favorite makeup moments are less extravagant. The basic stab wounds of Scream are brutal and impactful. The cuts just feel deep. The application of blood is subtle and realistic. For whatever reason, I’ll always remember the way the blood rubbed off of Sidney’s hair and on to her cheek, leaving the most distinctive pattern.

Friday the 13th (1980): Tom Savini

Tom Savini’s ingenuity is running on all cylinders. He provided low budget practical effects that delivered some of the most memorable death scenes in horror history. Who doesn’t gleefully recall the arrowhead through the neck of Kevin Bacon? And who could forget the first onscreen decapitation? These effects are still as effective today and Savini’s work will continue to be timeless for future generations.

Evil Dead II (1984): Mark Shostrom, Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger, Robert Kurzman, Mike Trcic, Shannon Shea, Aaron Sims, Bryant Tausek
The real catalyst for KNB. And for good reason. The insanity of Evil Dead II is largely dependent on the bizarre makeup effects. Realism is not necessarily the most important aspect here; what is more important is throwing things at the audience that have never been seen before. Eyeball action, talking moose heads, the evil hand, the disgusting Henrietta, and some intense zombie/demon faces make Evil Dead II a horror classic that is best played at midnight with lots of friends.

The Thing (1982): Rob Bottin, Robert E. Worthington, Stan Winston, Ken Diaz, and way too many others (see imdb)
What a fantastic film that will never age because of the brilliant EFX work. One of the most shocking moments in this film (and perhaps horror) is all about the special effects. When the Doc’s hands go through the stomach, who wasn’t completely surprised? It blew me away, along with some of the craziest animatronics in film history. Watching the special features on The Thing, you will gain so much respect for the effects crew as they were constantly forced to think on their feet and get creative with limited resources.

Dead Alive (1992): Steven Ingram, Richard Taylor, Bob McCarron, Marjory Hamlin, Debra East
The makeup team gets props on endurance alone. We’ve all heard the infamous trivia on this one: more buckets of blood used than any other film. And from my horror experience, this must be correct because I have never seen so much gooey red stuff in a single sitting. The little baby and the gigantic Mum are some of the most hideous things to be captured on film. And that mess with the blender…oh boy! Limbs, zombies, blood, guts, and all sorts of perversions can be found in Peter Jackson’s splatstick film. Plus, the official MPAA description of the R-rated versions is "an abundance of outrageous gore." I don't think they intended for that to sound as appealing as it does.

Terminator 2 (1991): Stan Winston, Jeff Dawn
Although there are lots of non-practical effects in this film, the EFX makeup is also spectacular. From raunchy bullet holes to human/machine fusions, the effects of Terminator 2 still hold up and a large part of that is due to the practical elements combined with computer technology. This movie is a great example of embracing old and new forms of filmmaking to create the best possible end result--not what is cheapest or fastest. Cameron only used computers where hands couldn't do the trick.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925): Lon Chaney
There are so many great horror faces created and performed by Lon Chaney that it's difficult to choose one, but my personal favorite is the Phantom. When the unsuspecting girl removes the mask of the Phantom for the first time, audiences were in for quite the shocker. That haunting grimace is still a grotesque sight. Lon Chaney endured quite a bit of pain, inserting a device into his nostrils and everything, to deliver one of the best reveals in horror. Chaney's talent as an EFX genius and actor unfortunately led to his dismal health and most likely his death, but he will always be remembered for the tragic monsters he brought to life on the silver screen.


  1. Wow Excellent over look into effects. I was reading through thinking what one I think is the best I would have to say the thing. It still blows my mind the feat that accomplished with effects in that film. T2 is never thought of as a make up effects film, but your right when it come down to it there is a bunch of them. Evil Dead 2 wow. Prolly my fav horror flick ever. i would say that is my favorite but the thing is just so amazing. KNB are giants now thanks to films like these. Will be great to see what the next face of efx horror will be. Great post

  2. Fantastic, necessary choices on here, Becky! - 'specially LAID TO REST, which I thought totally fucking sucked, IF NOT for the high-quality of the suitably nasty FX work. I also would'a thrown in "THE PROWLER", another shining example of Savini's mastery.

  3. No mention of 'Brain Damage'. Coooome on, Elmer was so convincing it had me touching the screen to ensure no videodrome thing was going on

    I haven't seen 'Laid to Rest' but I'll be sure to now.

  4. Keegan - Lol, I actually haven't seen Brain Damage. Just imdb'd it...and wow.

    J- I still haven't seen The Prowler!!! I've been wanting to see it forever! I'm going to soon though, I promise.

  5. ...when you do get around to THE PROWLER, pay special attention to the swimming pool throat slash. It's very, VERY freakin' realistic!

  6. The Thing has some of the best makeup effects ever created given the time that it was made. Recently I watched The Burning and even though I wasn't crazy about the movie I thought it featured some of Tom Savini's best work. Becky, have you seen a documentary called "Fantastic Flesh". It's a really cool documentary about horror makeup effects artists.

  7. Aaron- Yes, Fantastic Flesh is actually somewhere en route to me now from the Netflix headquarters. I have heard nothing but great things and I cannot wait to check it out!

  8. Great post

    It is nice to see people appreciate the efforts involved in creating makeup effects, and gratifying to their creators when they become iconic. Although always an ambition for the makers (and performers)this is never a certainty during their production. For every well known makeup effect that sticks in your mind, the artists involved have probably created another hundred that you've never seen.

    As someone who makes a living from makeup effects myself, I would say seeing Reggie Nalder as Barlow, The Master in 'Salems Lot' and that head suddenly appearing in 'Jaws' (not a makeup so much as a prop, but still...) were my stand-out effects moments that twisted my mind to it's current shape.

    I got Fantastic Flesh on DVD. It is an interesting look at the whole 'rubber monster' thing, and pleasantly does not side against the digital elements. It is a popular stance to polarize the effects camp into live action-v-digital, but that is to lose sight of the overall picture.

    Many makeup effects artists I know use software to design 2D and 3D creatures, makeups and effects. To be honest, the same rules apply and the work is almost the same process.



  9. The sequence on the raft in 'The Burning' is breathtaking.

    Also Becky - what kind of novice effects makeup have you attempted, any photos etc? You should post! I made some cheesy squib effects from a weed sprayer and a length of garden hose, and blew a hole through my brothers chest. About as much fun as one can have. Need to do more stuff like that I think. YES to keeping so-called 'analogue' filmmaking alive and well.

  10. The raft sequence is indeed fantastic! It's a scene worth the price of admission alone.

    I posted some of the work I did on a project several months ago, here's a link to it:

    I'll probably post some more soon. I'd love to see your cheesy squib efx! I'm always looking for new ways to do gore.

  11. Agreed on everything but SCREAM, though I never considered the points you brought to the table and you may have swayed me ;)

    THE THING probably tops my list, though DEAD ALIVE is absolutely incredible. I am surprised that my poor little defenseless American Werewolf in London didnt make the list, in fact no werewolf makeup earned a spot on the list? You arent racist against Frankensteins and werewolves now are you missy? =D

  12. Haha, ya know Carl...I rewatched the werewolf transformations in The Howling and American Werewolf in London prior to posting this. And I probably would include London if I were making a more comprehensive list, but I was just sticking with personal favorites.

    I LOVE the idea of werewolves because I think it's terrifying, but I still feel like the concept has never been fully executed in a movie. I always find myself disappointed when the werewolf is shown. In London, I thought the scariest part was when they realize they went off the road in the beginning and all they hear is the sound of the wolf. The transformation scene is brilliant, but it's not scary to me...nor is the big city scene. The werewolves never live up to my imagination. Don't get me wrong though, I love werewolf movies and it's one of the toughest things to get right.

  13. Day of the Dead has to be my favorite of the films mentioned. I'll never forget how impressed I was with its makeup effects the first time I saw it.

  14. Good post and excellent picks, including The Thing, ED2 and Dead Alive. I totally agree with you on those. And DOTD is a great mention as well even though the film itself is not among my favorites in the series.

    BTW - I like your new header!!

  15. Glad to see Laid to Rest there. Great FX in that one.

  16. great great list. Something every filmmaker should aspire to. How bout Monster flicks like RETURN OF SWAMP THING or Cronenberg's THE FLY?