We’re getting into the Halloween spirit at IFC.com this week by taking a look back at some famous movie makeup jobs (that are, at minimum, 25 years old) that have maintained their power to scare the bejeezus out of viewers. These kids today with their computer generated imagery and their Blu-rays and their “Saw V”s! Back in our day, we didn’t have computers to do our imagination’s dirty work for us. Visionary artists had only prosthetics, wire, plaster, rubber and a whole lot of Karo syrup to bring their creations to life! Back in our day, these were the movies you rented on Halloween! At the video store! As far as we’re concerned, they still should be. And don’t you dare teepee our Web site or we’re calling the cops. [Part one of our list can be found here.]
5. VIDEODROME (1983)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Special Makeup Effects by Rick Baker
To the best of my knowledge, James Woods does not have a vagina in his stomach. To watch “Videodrome” is to be almost convinced that he does. As morally challenged cable TV executive Max Renn, Woods stumbles onto a pirate signal called Videodrome which could solve the problem of the hole in his Wednesday night lineup if it doesn’t give him a brain tumor first. These tumors give their victims wild hallucinations of things like, say, giant manginas growing from their midsection. In this bravura sequence designed by Rick Baker, Woods watches a message from Professor O’Blivion (Jack Creley) and starts to scratch at his midsection with his gun; then looks down to discover an orifice he’d never noticed he had before. Exercising poor decision-making skills, Max places the gun inside his new hole and is disturbed to see the maw has vanish along with the gun that is now presumably resting somewhere adjacent to his small intestine. (Understandably upset, Max starts looking for it under his couch cushions). When Renn loses himself to Cronenberg’s vision of a not-too-distant future in which televised reality has trumped actual reality (bonus points for calling that one, David) and chants “Long live the new flesh!” while firing the flesh-gun he pulled out of the hoo-hah in his sternum, he may as well be talking about the mind-blowing, all-too-real stuff Baker was churning out in movie after movie by this point of his career. (See the next entry for further proof.)
SIGNATURE MOMENT: Say it with me: STOMACH VAGINA.
4. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Directed by John Landis
Special Makeup Effects by Rick Baker
Rick Baker’s work on “An American Werewolf in London” is the stuff Oscars for best makeup were invented for. And, in fact, they were — the Academy created the award in 1982 due to the increasing complexity and artistry demonstrated by men like Baker, and his work for “An American Werewolf” won him the category’s first prize. John Landis’ horror comedy takes a “realistic” approach to what might happen to a couple of backpacking American teens (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) versed in the old Universal monsters who encounter a situation right out of one of their films. That’s especially true of the film’s signature transformation sequence: previously accomplished in pictures like “The Wolf Man” (1941) or “Werewolf of London” (1935) via layered dissolves or foreground wipes, Landis and Baker were determined to turn Naughton into a lycanthrope in a single take. When that proved impossible, they did the next best thing: shooting the sequence with as many gruesome close-ups as possible. Baker and a team of six kids, who were recruited from the artist’s pile of fan mail, capture the moment in two-and-a-half minutes of hand-elongating, fang-extending, hair-growing, snout-elongating glory.
SIGNATURE MOMENT: Baker’s remarkable transformation footage often overshadows many of the less flashy but still incredible makeup applications he created for the film. The single best may be when we see Dunne’s character Jack for the first time as an undead spirit haunting David’s (Naughton) hospital room. Pleading with David to kill himself (to free his soul from its lycanthropic curse), the left side of his face sliced to ribbons, Jack munches on a piece of toast while a stray piece of flesh dangling from his jaw wiggles freely in the breeze.
3. ERASERHEAD (1977)
Directed by David Lynch
Special Effects by David Lynch
David Lynch has never been one to freely discuss his own work, but there’s one subject that he has abjectly refused to even approach in his 30-year career: just what, in God’s name, he used to create the thing that plays the baby in “Eraserhead.” Born impossibly premature, this mucus-soaked, gauze-wrapped monstrosity with a misshapen head and no arms or legs cries at all hours of the day and looks sort of like the unholy love child of a sea turtle and E.T. Lynch has never explained the technique and, to this day, critics still write loving tributes to it. (One, appearing just last month in the Guardian, called it “The Holy Grail of Lynch obsessives.”) The lengths to which Lynch went to preserve the secret bordered on ridiculous — according to J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s book “Midnight Movies,” the director went so far as to blindfold the projectionist who ran the film’s rushes. Lynch’s silence has turned the baby’s source materials into the stuff of urban legend: on Internet message boards, people debate their favorite theories, which range from clever puppeteering to the actual human remains of a partial birth abortion (which would, at least, explain why Lynch is so reluctant to discuss the matter). In a recent documentary on the subject of cult movies, Lynch got about as specific about the baby as he’s ever been: “It needed to be a certain way,” he said. “And you can feel those things.”
SIGNATURE MOMENT: In “Eraserhead”‘s surreal climax, Henry (John Nance) approaches the baby with a pair of shears and cuts open the bandages that cover its body. As it quivers and cries in protest, Henry discovers the bandages were its body; underneath lies a discombobulated sack of organs. As some of these organs pulsate, Henry stabs at a particularly swollen gland with his scissors, which sends up a geyser of blood from the baby’s trembling mouth, followed by some sort of mysterious foam pouring from the baby’s cavity. Then its head grows and extends on an impossibly long neck. Then I passed out and woke up inside my radiator talking to a woman with huge cheeks.
2. PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Directed by Rupert Julian
Makeup by Lon Chaney Sr.
“Feast your eyes — glut your soul, on my accursed ugliness!” Erik the Phantom (Lon Chaney Sr.) bellows after his beloved Christine (Mary Philbin) yanks off his mask and reveals his face in all its malformed glory. He’s yelling at Christine, but he may as well be talking to the audience; after all, nobody went to see the original cinematic “Phantom” for grand romance (Christine and her lover Raoul’s atrociously swoony love scenes may well be the model for the Gene Kelly-Jean Hagen relationship in “Singin’ in the Rain”) or opulent recreations of famous operas (the lack of sound in silent film renders that entire aspect of “Phantom” worthless). No, moviegoers in 1925 went to watch “The Man of a Thousand Faces” in his signature role. According to Cinefantastique, “much of what is ‘known’ about [Chaney’s makeup] is actually studio propaganda” — they cite Rick Baker in debunking the myth that simply padding your cheeks with cotton could achieve the character’s skeletal look (layers of putty on the outside of the face is much more likely). They do confirm one remarkably painful sounding detail — that Chaney actually rigged own face with wires to pull his eyelids permanently open and his nostrils permanently flared. Suffering for his art paid huge dividends: all those unflinching holes imply Erik is frozen in unending agony, emotionally and physically. It’s a feast for the eyes that leaves you clutching your stomach.
SIGNATURE MOMENT: Chaney was more than a makeup innovator. It wasn’t just that he created this incredible face, but that he knew how to exploit his expressions on camera to provoke a rise out of the audience. After he gives the audience that first big reveal, he immediately buries his face in his hands in shame, then turns his back to the camera and glances over his shoulder ever so slightly. He’s teasing us; giving a glimpse of what we want, then pulling it back. And his instructions to the viewer to “glut their soul!” reminds the audience what distasteful voyeurs they’ve become as they implore a disfigured ghoul to get his hands out of the way so we can see how freaky his nose looks.
1. NOSFERATU (1922)
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Art Direction and Costume Design by Albin Grau
Here’s a movie that not only predates most of the modern advances in makeup; it predates most of the modern advances in cinema; historians credit “Nosferatu” director F.W. Murnau as one of the pioneers of montage and parallel editing (where multiple threads of action happening simultaneously in different locations are linked by cuts between the two). But while those innovative techniques are so ingrained in our moviewatching vocabulary that they now pass our eyes unnoticed, Max Schreck’s Count Orlock (a thinly disguised stand-in for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula) remains such an convincingly inhuman creature that we still marvel at his performance and appearance 86 years after the film’s initial release. Orlock, as designed by Albin Grau and performed by Schreck, is a figure of extreme angles: jagged fangs, spindly fingers and claws, huge furry slashes for eyebrows, a head so wide at the top and so pointed at the nose and chin that it resembles a giant wedge of noxious cheese. Most movie vampires to the present day have taken their cue from Bela Lugosi’s smoother, seductive Dracula from 1931; Murnau doesn’t soft-peddle the Count’s reality: he’s a decaying pile of flesh that spends half of every day in a casket full of festering dirt. The illusion is so plausible it even became the jumping off point for its own movie, 2000’s “Shadow of the Vampire,” which posits that Schreck’s performance as a vampire was so believable because he was actually a vampire. The fact that “Nosferatu” is so old, and that Stoker’s widow went on such a fevered quest to destroy the film in order to protect her copyright, now works in its favor: the grainy, public domain prints that litter Internet video sites and discount video bins add a forgiving layer of blurriness to all of Schreck’s appearances. It is testament to Schreck and Grau’s achievement that they don’t really need the help.
SIGNATURE MOMENT: It’s a good thing they don’t; if not for the remarkable costume and makeup design, the character would not be particularly scary. Murnau’s cadaverous conception extends even to Orlock’s movements, which are sluggish enough to make George A. Romero zombies look like Usain Bolt in comparison. Appropriately, the vampire’s one fluid movement doesn’t involve the use of its ineffective limbs, but comes as he rises, as if by magic, out of his coffin when his unholy slumber is disturbed by a member of the crew transporting him to his new home in Germany. The image not only conveys the depths of Murnau’s ingenuity — the effect is utterly seamless — but suggests the extent of the power Nosferatu once wielded before he turned into this pasty rat-faced albino corpse.
Makeup and special effects artists weigh in on their favorite moments in the mediums here: “The Experts Speak.”
[Photos: James Woods in “Videodrome,” Universal Pictures, 1983; Griffin Dunne in “An American Werewolf in London,” Universal Pictures, 1981; “Eraserhead,” Libra Films International, 1977; Lon Chaney, Sr. in “The Phantom of the Opera,” Universal Pictures, 1925; Max Schreck in “Nosferatu,” Film Arts Guild, 1922]