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.
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.