The 1980’s was a decade of completely innovative practical effects work. Makeup artists were actually becoming known in the horror genre. There was a sort of stardom among fans for the people who created creatures and gore for the movies. Some films tried to piggyback on the success of gooey splatter artists that came before them, while others pushed the boundaries. Here are some that fell into the latter category, making effective use of both time and money to redefine what could be created on the screen.
An American Werewolf in London
Before An American Werewolf in London, werewolf effects in movies were done mostly through time-lapse photography, adding hair and fangs to a person and that would be it. It was never a transformation from man to wolf, the rest would just be up to the viewer’s imagination. Rick Baker’s work on American Werewolf in London changed that. Audiences were now witnessing an actual, physical transformation. In many ways, Baker’s FX work presented a werewolf to audiences for the very first time. It paid off, leading to Baker winning the very first special makeup effects Oscar.
Night of the Living Dead gave audiences the zombie invasion movie. While it was clearly cheap, it was nonetheless effective. But the success of that movie led to Romero and Co. having much more to work with on the sequel. Dawn of the Dead is bigger in every way, with more scope, character depth and gore. Especially gore. While the effects that Savini created here don’t hold up nearly as well as those in Day of the Dead, they set the precedent for every single zombie movie to follow. With the straight depiction of mangled, mutilated corpses it led people to realize that watching a zombie movie could be akin to looking at roadkill. Some zombies were dead and rotting, they tore people to pieces and then they could be killed in imaginative ways. There was gore to be had from every angle, and that was what the people wanted.
Savini did the same thing for Friday the 13th. He was brought on board right after doing the effects for Dawn of the Dead in order to handle the movie’s elaborate death sequences. It set the standard for the slasher movie genre. It was like the Grand Guignol theatre, audiences flocked to see the characters getting picked off in imaginative ways. Arrows in the throat, axes in the face, the original Friday the 13th had it all. It led to a lucrative franchise and hundreds of slashers to follow over the next few years.
It was not a massive hit when it was first released. In fact, it was considered a flop. Now, however, John Carpenter’s The Thing is regarded as a classic. And for good reason, too. It’s a wholly unnerving tale of isolation and paranoia with one of the most memorable monsters in movie history. The FX work by a young Rob Bottin is nothing short of incredible. An insane amount of work went in to creating the constantly changing monster. Bottin actually checked himself into a hospital as soon as his work on the film was completed from the sheer exhaustion of the shoot. Even though it was not a success, The Thing showed what was truly possible with practical FX.