While I have a love and passion for all things film the one area I have never found myself truly on board with is the Horror genre, from the Hollywood blockbuster to the Z-movie schlockers. They have never garnered much appeal to myself other then a few seminal classics that I hold in high regard; The Thing, Evil Dead II and An American Werewolf in London to name a few. But the one thing that has always stood out in the genre is their creativity for effects from their creature creations to how much blood can be pumped into a single frame, and the fact they always tried to do it for real. I am a massive advocate for use of practical effects for numerous reasons, which I won’t name here for fear of repetition and also of potentially running out of ways to say; they’re just so much better. And recently I was happy to find out I wasn’t the only one, as during a re-watching of the Jurassic Park trilogy constant remarks were made on how superior the practicals looked before descending into, ‘when was the last time you saw a real animal used substantially in a feature?’. These days it seems any animal counterpart to a human character seems to be CGed. Yes there have been brilliant advances in CG and I love to see the creation of fully realised new worlds far beyond my own conception brought to life but I’m bored of the constant mindless splashing of CG blood or dodgy fire effect come on just set someone on fire. Please.
Now before I get labelled as a psychopath let me enlighten you, yes that’s a pun move on, for me there is nothing more impressive then seeing a stuntman being allowed to perform to the top of his abilities nor more thrilling then knowing that what you are seeing happened for real, it just adds that little more tension to the scene, even if it is just a fire effect off to the side surrounding the actors it just adds that little bit more, and plus looks a thousand times better to the animated effects that now pollute our screens. And for a long time, until recently the Horror genre held these sensibilities close to their hearts, that was until the influx of nonsensical found footage films and torture flicks, while they display a penchant for fantastic make-up and gore effects where are the creature features featuring seven foot men in prosthetic suits full of animatronics or stop-motion transformations of a live animal. I may be going a little off track here with my lamentation for some more originality in cinema even in a genre I have little passion for. There is a need for a push in practical effects, as CG is taking over and creating a legion of lazy film makers unwilling to try the old ways nor adopting them into the new ways of CG. Leading to an over-saturation of effects that are already becoming dull and un-interesting.
It’s hard to convince anyone, especially those sacrilegious persons who care little for effects, that practicals are better then CG effects and in a time where everything is CGed without compromise it’s hard to show someone the stop-motion warriors of Army of Darkness without them breaking out in hysterics or people don’t even recognise the effects just assuming they were done with a computer rather then a team having filled an elevator with gallons of blood and then allowing them to flood the halls of the Overlook Hotel. So all I can do is show you the way, so here are my 5 favourite use of practical effects in horror films:
1. Evil Dead II Dead by Dawn; Attack of Henrietta
This showcases it all, stop-motion, awesome creature creation, gore, explosions and the Evil Dead’s trademark ludicrous humour, therefore a perfect summary of why I love the series and practical effects.
2. The Thing; Attack of the Thing
There is a magnitude of talents on show throughout The Thing from the unimaginably talented Rob Bottin and his team, Bottin himself worked consecutively for 57 weeks 7 days a week to create everything we see in The Thing, using all sorts of practicals from stop-motion, animatronics, rubber appendages and more to create some of the most beautifully nightmarish scenes of all time, pair that with Carpenter’s storytelling and Morricone’s score and you have a thing of beauty.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street; Glen’s Death
I needed a blood explosion for this list, as there is nothing more spectacular then seeing a frame filled upon filled with blood With the film makers pumping gallons of blood into the room to create one of Krugers most satisfying and oddly beautiful kills.
4. An American Werewolf in London; Transformation
Of course a Werewolf transformation was needed as many have left their mark on cinema and many have looked to re-invent the tried and tested transformation of one Hollywood’s favourite monsters but Landis version is the most complete and sublime visions, with the entire transformation captured in camera with the application of dozens of prosthetics and in camera tricks including reversal footage and pupeteering, Rick Bakers work has well and truly left it’s mark on the mytho’s of the Werewolf transformation just like Landis’s film has on the general mytho’s of the Werewolf flick.
5. Gremlins; In the Kitchen
A childhood favourite of mine, which I often mixed for the nightmare inducing Critters which I saw way too young, thanks mum and dad for that. This is pure class in terms of puppeteering and inventive use of how to kill off the Gremlins, each ironically killed by an electrical appliance which was obviously lost on me as a child.
I would implore you to go out and watch these films, to fully understand their mastery but that’s up to you. But while their have been many great scenes outside of the horror genre and with a rare few in recent films, in particular in the work of Nolan who continues to champion the form, horror has always done it with devilish charm. Firmly making an impact on the nightmares of a generation of film goers and continuing to do so to this day.
So? Who’s laughing now…