"FROM THE moment the arrow came through the guy's neck inthe bed and twisted around, you didn't know what was going to happen next. But you did know you were going to be bombarded," says Tom Savini.
He should know. He created a dozen wide-screen murders -- including a super-graphic throat slashing -- for "Friday the l3th" (current gross: $41 million). At 34, Savini is the leader of a new wave of makeup artists who develop explicit special affects in the genre that Variety calls "nocturnal slashers."
In the past 10 years, cinema screens across the country have been increasingly splattered with blood, brains and limbs -- so much so that the Motion Picture Association of America is considering stringent new ratings for excessive violence. As producers vie to outgross each other, guns have been replaced by knives -- as well as axes, straight-edged razors, scythes, pitchforks, shears, chain saws, anything that cuts a wide enough swath forblood to gush out. "Being stabbed is much scarier than being shot" says one fan of the genre. "A knife is much more personal. You can show it a long time, getting closer, plunging in, plunging out, plunging back in. It's much more attractive as a screen presence." Hence the need for special effects. And gore-tech fans even have their own supermarket rack magazine -- Fangoria -- in which they can read about the legendary effects of Savini (who also did "Dawn of the Dead"and the upcoming "Maniac"), Dick Smith ("The Sentinel," "Exorcist"), Rick Baker ("It's Alive" I and Ii, "The Fury"), Tom Berman, Stan Winston and England's Stuart Freeborn issue to the work of Dick Smith. They're all members of a closed fraternity of studio makeup artists who, when the money is right, make up a real blood-and-cuts outfit.
Hollywood has always had its share of special makeup effects, with the glory years during the '20s, '30s and '40s -- the Universal eraof Lon Chaney and Jack Pierce (who created the Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man). Things may have been scary, but the violence was often severely constrained by censors. For Savini, "When somebody got shot, it was a very simple, painless, non-ugly, non-violent thing. He went 'OH!' and fell down. There was no blood, no hole, you never saw the body flung against the wall."
But that was before the advent of exploding plastics and blood-sodden rubber limbs that make even the ghastly oldies like Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" and "The Wild Bunch" look tame by comparison.
In 1978, George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" provided a turning point as audiences for the first time flocked to see a massive amount of gore. But three earlier films already had stretched the boundaries. In l968, Romero's original "Night of theLiving Dead" had relatively little blood (it was shot in black and white) for a story about flesh-devouring zombies, but it made some viewers sick. It's out again now . . . with a PG rating.
In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola's first "Godfather" film arrived, followed in late 1973 by "The Exorcist." Some people got sick again or fainted. The special makeup effects for both were the work of Dick Smith whom one film fanzine has called "the master of sensible gore."
"I don't like pure blood-and-gore films, as such," Smith insists. "They're trash, perhaps harmful." For the "Godfather," Smith, (considered tops in his field in terms of craft and ingenuity), revolutionized the bullet wound. "Coppola didn't like the kind of bullet-hole that was created by the standard technique [an air gun that shot a small wax pellet containing a few drops of blood splat onto the forehead, making a smear]. It didn't look like a real hole." So Smith developed a newtechnique, first used in the Al-Pacino-kills-Sterling-Hayden scene. It was a cumbersome device, a squib (small explosive charge) underneath a foam rubber forehead. "Through the forehead I injected a small amount of blood with a hypodermic needle. When the squib blew a hole in the forehead, it blew the blood out."
You can get commercial blood from Max Factor or 3M, but Smith says it's cheaper to make your own. In 1965 he wrote a booklet for youngsters called "Monster Makeup Handbook." Like most of the artists in his field, Smithgot interested in makeup as a kid, making himself up as a monster; in the booklet, he advocated cheap materials available from the supermarket. "Karo syrup and food coloring madea very nice blood."
A couple of years later, Smith neededto make blood spurt from a character's mouth in "Midnight Cowboy." "Rather than use Max Factor's blood, which would taste terrible, I brought in some of the kiddie stuff. It worked very nicely, was harmless and looked good." Homemade blood is the norm in films these days, particularly those with low budgets.
For "The Exorcist," Smith had other challenges: vomit projecting from a mouth, a head turning completely around, a throat inflating like a bullfrog -- effects more shocking than bloody, but ultimately pace-setting. For "TaxiDriver" he had to blow off a hand, so he made a phony stumpover the fist, with a hollow wax hand filled with blood andan explosive charge. In the old days, an off-camera crew member would simply have yanked the hand off with a string. "Each time I've had these problems, I've devised newer and better means, means that were simpler and could be repeated for many takes."
Smith started out in the business in 1945, "when horror films were pretty dead." Since then, his varied work has included shockers like "Marathon Man" and "The Sentinel" ("one of the worst ," he says). He recently finished a year on "Altered States," a modern science-fiction film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ken Russell.That film accented Smith's traditional makeup skills; the gore shows up in another recent project, "The Fan," with Lauren Bacall and a razor-toting psycho. "I try not to get too deeply involved [in gore] professionally, but I have to go on making a living. I've turned down some of the more flagrant scripts, but I do like inventing things and the satifaction of solving a problem."
The work Rick Baker is most proud of is not "It's Alive or "The Incredible Melting Man," or even the better parts of the Cantina scene from "Star Wars."It's the upcoming "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" with Lily Tomlin in which Baker plays what Smith calls "the ultimategorilla. He steals the movie." Many feel Baker did the same in the remake of "King Kong," for which he built the ape and manipulated the facial expressions.
The 30-year-old Baker made his first rubber mask at 13. "I read about Dick Smith and some of the others in the magazines and was inspired. That's what I was gonna do when I grew up. When I was a kid, I did a lot of gore makeup because that got a response out of people. I could have a bullet hole in my head and lie in the gutter and people would panic -- an immediate response.
"I've done some really scary makeup," admits Baker, "but I pass out if I see blood, especially my own. To tell you the truth, I haven't seen too many maniac-killer movies." One of his worst effects was for "Melting Man," where a head was ripped off, tossed into a waterfall and smashed on the rocks below. Baker used a gelatin head with a wax skull and blood and brains inside. "I'd rather do the 'Wizard of Oz,' but sometimes it's the only job in town. We're the onesthat are considered sick people because we're the ones who actually make the bloody stuff. But I think the people who pay the money and go see the movies are the sick ones, or the people who write the stuff and come up with these horribleideas."
Tom savini, considered the leader of the new waveof makeup shock troops, is certainly the most graphic. Hisbase is not that revolutionary: making latex and plaster casts of different parts of different bodies, filling them with blood and shooting them off . . . or blowing them off . . . or cutting them off; cutting throats or slashing out hearts or appearing to punch long sharp objects through people's eyes and mouths. It all looks incredibly real. On "Maniac he gets top-billing above everyone but the producer.
"I had a great punch of reality in Vietnam," says the former combat photographer. "My job there was to photograph battles, especially the results. I saw how ugly it was. But I'mnot a goremonger. I don't get off on blood. I fool you into believing what you saw was real. It's illusions, magic tricks. But realism is my ultimate goal -- and if I freak somebody, well. . ."
Of course, the freak-out is not permanent. "I get packages of fan mail," says Savini, "kids 10, 12years old. They send me pictures of themselves . . . maimed, bullet holes, deep gashes in themselves. They want my response to them, if I can use them as assistants, asking questions about how to achieve certain effects for their 8mm films."
"Tom's execution is perfect," says George Romero, who gave Savini his big break with the outrageous "Dawn of the Dead." Indeed, especially gory scenes are now being described as having "Savini-like effects" -- particularly when they involve cutting. "If you held a straight razor up to me, you could have everything I own," says Savini. "I'm projecting my own feelings, my own fear into it. I work with [knives] because I know how scary they are. Of course, mine aren'trazor-sharp."
Savini's wrapping up several new projects: "The Burning" where shears lead to a lot of cut throats, chopped fingers and stabbings; "Eyes of a Stranger," "The Graduation" (not a sequel to "Prom Night," but an obvious choice for double bills at the drive-in), which will bring in pitchforks and bayonets. "They're having to top themselves all the time. I'm right on the crest of it, but I don't think it'll stay alive much longer. When you show it as ugly as it is, that's what turns people off to real violence. You makeit hideous." And profitable.
And what of the future? For a while at least, there will be more bloodletting. The upcoming "scanners" features extraterrestials who make people's heads explode. (Baker did it to a whole body in "the Fury".) The horror merchants are at war to outgross each other.And the makeup artists will continue to refine the . . . er, product. Faces will change expression as werewolves rip out throats; the shock of recognition will not be confined tothe audience. And as the effects become more vivid and real, cameras will linger longer. Bloody effects will replace the stars of the films as filmmakers decide, "We're going toshow you everything." Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the movie theater.