To many people, gore is a four-letter word. Well, technically it’s a four-letter word no matter who you are. But to some, the sight of ghastly explicit violence is enough to deter from a movie altogether — although it shouldn’t. Tolerance for shocking imagery is obviously going to vary by the individual, but the danger here is in the labeling of all gore effects with the negative connotations of exploitation or schlock.
The fact of the matter is, that there is a brilliant artistry behind practical gore effects. Often, the artists responsible are working within such limited means as to make the fruits of their labor all the more impressive in their grisly ingenuity. As we gear up for the Evil Dead remake, the goriest studio release in recent memory, it’s high time we zeroed in on some of the gooiest, grossest, and indeed most beautiful gore effects in movies:
Regarding Henrietta — Evil Dead 2
It seems fitting to start this list with a look back at Evil Dead franchise past. The first film was an absolute experiment, a student film in many ways. Evil Dead 2 had roughly 10 times the budget of its predecessor, yet it was still a low-budget horror outing requiring innovative practical effects work. Direct Sam Raimi shot the film inside a high school gymnasium, for crying out loud.
Luckily, the burgeoning team of Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger (who would later form KNB Effects of, most recently, The Walking Dead and Oz The Great and Powerful) was up to the task. In this scene, the long-dead wife of the original occupant of that fateful cabin in the woods returns with a vengeance, her possessed corpse never having been properly dismembered. Latex body suits, wire rigs, plenty of fake blood, and even stop-motion animation similar to that of Ray Harryhausen are all employed to bring this manic monster battle to life.
Bad Moon Rising — An American Werewolf in London
The favoritism shown here to practical effects isn’t meant as a slight against digital artists, nor is it a curmudgeonly refusal to acknowledge the changing times. The fact of the matter is that practical effects wizards ply their trade without the limitless assistance of computer programs.
Case in point, the iconic transformation scene in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. Over six days, working 18 hours each day, Rick Baker crafted one of the most dazzling and brutal man-to-werewolf transitions ever captured on film. The soothing music nicely offsets the viscerally upsetting symphony of makeup, prosthetics, and animatronics. Baker won an Oscar for his efforts; he was the inaugural recipient of the Best Makeup Award. Say what you will about horror movies, but they had to invent an Oscar category to adequately commend Baker’s artistry.
The Ultimate Headache — Scanners
Many of David Cronenberg’s films have been collected under the banner of “body horror.” They often involve some sort of extreme trauma to or horrific transmutation of the physical form of the characters involved. In Scanners, a group of individuals develops powerful psychic abilities, some of whom use their powers for violence.
During the opening of the film, which has become horror canon, one unfortunate scanner finds out just how vicious his more nefarious brethren can be. There are instances in which, were you to slow down a scene involving a practical effect, the seams become unfortunately visible. However, the exploding head created by effects legend Dick Smith, who also worked on The Godfather and The Exorcist, is just as remarkable when viewed frame by frame, the jubilant burst of fabricated viscera every bit as spectacularly lifelike.
Any THING and Every THING — The Thing
Rob Bottin may not be a name readily on the lips of every film fan, but anyone with an appreciation for magnificent gore effects should genuflect when they hear it. In John Carpenter’s The Thing, Bottin created not one, but an entire cavalcade of gorgeously macabre iterations of the film’s antagonistic shape-shifting creature from another world. The breadth of his work in The Thing is so astonishing that it made choosing just one scene from the movie to highlight very difficult, between the results of the blood test, the slimy craftsmanship of the alien autopsy, and, of course, the man-eating chest cavity. Few films can match the bounty and sustained quality of effects of this gruesome classic.
He Told Them Not To Look — Raiders of the Lost Ark
So horror’s just not your bag, and you can’t be convinced to watch any of the aforementioned classic titles. Surely you’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, the landmark first entry in the Indiana Jones franchise. During the film’s climax, the foolish Nazis disregard Indy’s advice and open the Ark of the Covenant. The result is an astounding light show that concludes with the melting faces of the commanding officers. Talk about working with what you’ve got, these deaths were apparently created using a vacuum, a heat gun with time-lapsed photography, and a garden-variety shotgun. It is one of the more disturbing images in any PG film and, beautiful as they are, it was the presence of these effects that nearly saddled Raiders of the Lost Ark with an R-rating.
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[Photo Credit: Renaissance Pictures]