When I think of horror, there are names that stick out far more than others. The first name that pops to my head is none other than the legendary master of make-up and special effects, Tom Savini. This blog is part one of a two parter that I hope will both celebrate and enlighten many to the man that helped shape the way we view horror films. If nothing else, it will be fun to talk about his contributions to the genre!
When you think of gore in horror films, Tom Savini is the man to thank. Born on November 3rd, 1946 in Pittsburgh, PA, Tom took to special effects make-up Very early in his life. The man was awestruck when he witnessed the feats accomplished by the late, great Lon Chaney. He began to develop his craft on his own, even scoring the make-up artist role for the original Night of the Living Dead. Unfortunately for the movie, he was drafted to the Vietnam War before he could begin. This, however, soon turned into a blessing in disguise.
In Vietnam, he served as a war photographer. The grisly sights he captured in the war inspired him to take his effects to a whole new level. Instead of simply wanting to capture his imagination when he returned home, he decided he wanted to make the most realistic gore and make-up effects possible. As you will see, it didn’t take long for him to accomplish his goal.
His Greatest Works
Dawn of the Dead
While this may not be the most “realistic” of his work, it’s definitely what put him on the map. Savini’s work in this film took a no holds barred approach as the image above illustrates. This movie is full of “wow!” moments like the exploding head, grisly zombie bites, a nasty disembowelment and my personal favorite, a zombie getting the top of his head chopped of by a helicopters rotary blades. Savini may have hated the way the colors showed on the film, such as the blood, but this movie still hits people like a sack of quarters to the chin. Landmark horror at it’s finest.
Friday the 13th
Savini’s work in Dawn of the Dead got him noticed by a young upcoming director named Sean Cunningham. Completely impressed by what the goremaster was able to achieve with very little budget, he hired him on for the first in a series of movies called Friday the 13th. And I’ll be damned if it didn’t work out for the best. His work in this movie was shocking, to say the least. Slit throats, an arrow through the throat, a wicked decapitation and more filled the screen. In particular, I love how he suggested when swinging the axe down on the young girl’s face that it should hit the light. That little touch gave the scene more weight and made it feel all the more real. This was Tom Savini’s biggest release at the time and only served to get him noticed more.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Savini returned to Camp Crystal Lake in the fourth movie, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. This is easily my favorite film in the franchise, and his effects are a big reason why. This movie just gets downright mean. Leave it to Tom Savini to kill off some of the most likable characters in the franchise in some of the most horrible ways. From the nasty resurrection scene in the morgue, to Crispin Glover catching a cleaver with his face, to the insanely brutal killing of Jason himself this movie delivers! They intended to kill the character off for good with this movie and Savini made a hell of a statement with the final kill. If you only ever see one Friday the 13th flick, this is the one to watch.
Day of the Dead
This is, without a doubt, Savini’s best work in make-up effects. He still claims to this day that this is the best work he’s ever done and it’s really damn hard to argue with him. Put simply, this movie is gruesome. When the first zombie you see on screen is missing his lower jaw, you know you are in for something special. Nasty bites, multiple disembowelment, beheading by shovel… This is some of the nastiest make-up work ever seen on screen.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
The first movie used subtle camera tricks to imply the carnage that was taking place. Thanks to Tom Savini, the sequel beats you over the head with it. There’s a lot to love in this movie for fans of the genre. Honestly, I’m not even going to spoil the gags he accomplishes in this flick. Just watch it for his effects work, Bill Moseley stealing every scene he’s in and the late great Dennis Hopper like you’ve never seen him before. You can thank me later.
The Burning – This is a slasher that has lived on simply because of Savini’s work in it. The acting is bad, the story is silly, but Savini’s make-up work is astounding.
The Prowler – Ditto. Fun kills, dumb story. His work is worth seeing in this.
Martin – Romero’s ode to vampires. Savini’s work is exceptional, especially the razor scene, as is the movie as a whole. Great story, great effects.
Tom Savini is a legend. A hero of mine. The man is the entire reason I got into make-up special effects. His school in Pennsylvania is the most remarkable of it’s kind and still going strong. If you are interested in this sort of thing, I can’t recommend it enough. The man’s passion for what he does just echoes through every fiber of his being. His movies will make you squirm and howl in delight of the magic taking place on screen. They don’t make them like him anymore.
There is so much I have to say about the man that one blog won’t cover it. Part 2 will cover his acting and directing career.