Hey gang,

Robg asked me to compile a list of a few of my favorite movies featuring some of the most jaw-dropping special makeup effects around. Please keep in mind that not all of these will be horror movies per se, but if you dig the craftsmanship of transformation through makeup, this list is a good place to start.

I am aware that I’m omitting some very important and well know work by some very important and well know makeup artists, but these are just some of my personal favorites that sparked my interest and influenced my pursuit of special makeup effects. There really are too many talented artists and great films to mention in one list, and I’ll try to cover as many as I can later in another list (or three).

Also, I want to stress that for the most part I’ve tried to give proper credit where credit is due, and while one effects artist is usually credited overall for a film, there is always a team of others who were also associated with and contributed to the project. It really does take a village, people.

Some titles below, do in fact utilize minimal CGI enhancement, but for the most part everything you see on screen was fabricated with raw materials and human hands. And in film making today, CGI enhancement, if used properly, is just another tool in a special makeup effects artist’s kit. Let’s get into it, shall we?

1) The Thing: Rob Bottin

Twenty-something years later and I am still in awe of the level of craftsmanship and creativity in this movie. I honestly watch at least parts of this movie almost weekly, and now that the blu-ray is out I have a renewed level of respect for the wholly original, batshit bonkers work Bottin and his entire creative team loosed upon an unsuspecting genre. I also have the greatest respect for John Carpenter for giving Bottin free reign to get down with his bad self. Not many directors have the nuts to do something like that.

2) The Fly: Chris Walas

Another remake, from a time when it wasn’t a dirty word. Cronenberg, unlike Carpenter on The Thing, had his hands all over the core ideas of metamorphosis and transformation, but it was the fevered imagination and talent of guys like Chris Walas and Stephan DuPuis who turned Jeff Goldblum into a sympathetic, revolting beast. Walas kicked so much ass on The Fly; he actually got to direct The Fly II, which is another great example of his excellent skills.

3) Hellraiser: Bob Keen

Clive Barker turned to fellow Brit Bob Keen to bring the horrid Cenobites to life, as well as the skinless and re-generating Uncle Frank, which required hours of makeup in different stages of decay, puppetry and pretty much the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. And then there’s the blood… gallons of that wonderful, unique shade of red that was pitch perfect for the film. Bob Keen also supplied the atrocities of Event Horizon, which you need a region 2 DVD and remote with frame-advance to truly appreciate.

4) The Blob: Tony Gardner, Lyle Conway

Yet another freaking awesome remake that features excellent gags which still hold up to this day. One of the few mysteries to me as a fellow artist was exactly how they made that Blob! I’ve heard all kinds of explanations but the thing looks so damn good, It’s really a testament to those behind the collective elements of the spfx, cinematography and lighting all working together to make magic happen. The scene where Shawnee Smith’s boyfriend is being attacked/absorbed/dragged out of the hospital window is a marvelous example of that movie magic. However the hell the Blob was actually made, it’s more than effective; it quite frankly sells the premise of the whole movie. Lyle Conway was also responsible for another utterly amazing movie monster, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, which I also recommend if you want to see how things were done way before CGI.

5) Amadeus/The Exorcist: Dick Smith

Of all the wonderful makeups of Dick Smith’s incredible career, his Old Salieri makeup on F. Murray Abraham is one of my favorites because I love how the actor performs with the makeup, which is absolutely flawless itself. The two working together that harmoniously is like capturing lighting in a bottle on screen. I would also be remiss if I did not talk about the age makeup work he did on Max Von Sydow for The Exorcist. Actually, I can’t really even find the words to properly pay homage to this absolutely incredible cosmetic transformation. Most people don’t even realize a young Von Sydow is wearing full age makeup in The Exorcist, which is a true testament to an artists’ talent. They don’t call Dick the greatest living makeup artist in the world for nothing.

6) Blade 2: Steve Johnson

When I was growing up as a teen practicing makeup on my buddies in my makeshift workshop in my basement, the two “young guns” of makeup I admired most were Kevin Yeager (famous for his Freddy Krueger makeup) and Steve Johnson. These cats, along with lunatics like Screaming Mad George used to blow my mind with all the crazy things they would introduce into makeup. They bent and broke the rules, were VERY ahead of their time, and seemed to make a personal goal of topping themselves on whatever project they did pr
ior. And this was in the Eighties! Fast forward about ten years and Steve Johnson’s studio teams up with then respected but not exactly well-know director Guillermo Del Toro for the sequel to Blade. Guillermo, it seems, is just as crazy as Steve, and remembering all the bonkers work he did in the Eighties, hires his crew to supply all kinds of vampiric creature craziness for Blade II. And boy howdy, does he! I encourage all special makeup enthusiasts to buy the Special Edition 2-disc DVD of Blade II and just watch Disc 2 over and over. It’s really incredible, advanced work that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. From what I understand, sometime after this film Steve Johnson left the biz and members of his old team took over as Quantum Creations, an excellent outfit in their own right.

7) Day of the Dead: Tom Savini

Tom Savini was a 100% direct influence on me wanting to become a special makeup artist. His book Grande Illusions was like a Bible to me, and I watched Scream Greats Vol. 1 on vhs so many times I could recite entire passages verbatim. It’s hard to pick just one movie that really defines his career, but I feel the work he did on “Day of the Dead” was definitely a high water mark. First of all, the sheer volume of work supplied for the zombie makeups is astounding. The scene where the zombies finally bust through the gate and into the underground bunker was epic in scope. These weren’t the simple but effective greenish zombies of “Dawn”, these were hundreds of ugly, rotted, nasty prosthetics-heavy extras that all needed to be addressed. And then there was the gore. I mean really, have you ever seen gory money shots handled more perfectly since? It was such an exquisite horror, a beautiful ugliness that has been seared into my psyche forever, one would be hard pressed to capture such a perfect balance of art, realism and craftsmanship in the realm of gore again. Bravo Savini!

8) Robocop/Total Recall: Rob Bottin

Rob Bottin was really on fire with these two films from director Paul Verhoven. The Robo-Suit alone was a complicated, intricate design unlike anything audiences have seen before. He also brought violence to the screen with such a juicy fury, it was years before viewers got to see the extended, unedited scenes (like Murphy’s death and the over-the-top attack on the unfortunate corporate victim of ED-209) on Criterion Edition DVD.

Total Recall, while not as strong a film as Robocop, featured some of Bottin’s most creative, innovative gags. Most notably, the scene with the automated segmented “fat lady” mask that an uncanny likeness puppet version of Arnold removes from his (it’s?) head is the special effects equivalent of an enigma wrapped in a riddle inside a puzzle.

9) An American Werewolf in London: Rick Baker

Definitely one of the defining touchstones of modern makeup effects, there is not much I can say about Rick Baker’s work that hasn’t been said already. The famous transformation scene was brilliantly designed, fabricated, applied, lit, shot, edited and executed. It’s truly a sublime moment in makeup effects and film making in general.

10) Hellboy/Hellboy 2: The Golden Army/Pan’s Labyrinth: Rick Baker, Spectral Motion, DDT Effectos Especial, and many more!

I’m combining these three films into one entry because many of the artists overlap from film to film and also because the real driving force behind these masterpieces of the modern monster movie is director Guillermo Del Toro, who was once a special makeup artist himself! Rick Baker, his crew and other collaborators created and designed Hellboy’s makeup in the first film, while the geniuses at Spectral Motion handled the magnificent Sammael creature and DDT designed all the complex elements for the Kronen character. Later, in Hellboy 2, Del Toro once again called in Spectral Motion, this time to handle most of the work load including tweaking Hellboy’s design, rethinking Abe Sapien’s look and application, as well as churning out a rogue’s gallery of creatures not seen since the Cantina scene in Star Wars. DDT earned a well-deserved Academy Award for their brilliant work on Pan’s Labyrinth and also contributed the “Young Hellboy” makeup for Hellboy 2. DDT artist Montse Ribe even played the role of young Hellboy herself!

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