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The Most Memorable Practical Effects in Horror


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Before the onset of the digital age, movie monsters were lovingly rendered in reality, as special effects wizards would come up with ingenious ways to create fantastic creatures and bring them to life on screen. The 1980s proved to be the high-watermark for these practical effects before computers arrived to usher in a slick new era. While it’s hard to argue against the photorealistic graphics of modern movies, there’s something about the tangible quality of their practical counterparts that can’t be bettered.

Acclaimed new cosmic horror The Void harkens back to the glory days of creature features. The film’s directors, Steve Kostanski and Jermie Gillespie, learnt their trade working on the production side of modern hits including Pacific Rim, Suicide Squad, the Total Recall remake and the Resident Evil series. Having been influenced by classics like The Fly and The Thing, the pair used all their skills in practical effects and prosthetics to bring their original, terrifyingly old-school designs to a nightmarish new story.

In The Void, a mysterious and violent cult threatens to breach an isolated hospital, forcing a lone police officer and a group of staff to band together and fortify themselves within its walls. But as they prepare for the fight of their lives, they will discover the real terror is already inside…

The Void has been gathering all manner of accolades on the film festival circuit, along with rave reviews comparing it to everything from the works of H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter to recent hit TV series Stranger Things. In advance of the film arriving on UK screens, we’re taking a trip back in time to rediscover the some of the most memorable and scary practical effects of all time…

The Exorcist – Spinning head & vomit (1971)

Perhaps not as technically impressive as other entries on our list, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist contains two unforgettable moments that led to audiences walking out of theatres in horror. The tale tells of a little girl possessed by a demon, and in one legendary scene young Regan’s head spins a full 180 degrees as she screams blasphemous obscenities at her terrified mother. In another, the girl, after another round of vicious cursing, spews a jet of pea green vomit into the face of a priest. The scenes are truly terrifying due to the quality of the performances and direction. And while it’s these two scenes that have stuck in the nightmares of generations of moviegoers, another great effect went completely unnoticed. Make- up artist Dick Smith took a 44-year-old Max von Sydow and added 30 years to his appearance as the elderly exorcist, father Merrin. Not having the fame the veteran actor enjoys today audiences didn’t realise the actor was not an aged, 74-year-old man.

Alien – Chestburster (1979)

In space no one can hear you scream‘ ran the tag line, but the screams in theatres were entirely audible after one notorious scene. Alien’s “chestburster” dinner sequence sees a rag tag crew of space truckers enjoying a last meal before hypersleep, only to be interrupted by the violent arrival of an alien creature directly out of John Hurt’s chest. Bloody, violent and shocking, it’s since become one of the most famous scenes in movie history. Contrary to popular belief, the cast was aware of what was going to happen in the scene, however they didn’t realise the sheer volume of blood and viscera that would be used. With buckets of blood spraying into their faces, the horrified reactions were aided by the shock. Truly an iconic scene and it’s the creepy little practical alien that’s the centerpiece.

Scanners – Exploding head (1981)

David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror sees telepathic-power possessed people known as ‘scanners’ square off – with explosive results. Make-up man Dick Smith, back from The Exorcist, was in charge of producing the unforgettable scene were Michael Ironside, at his villainous best, uses his powers to make a man’s head explode. The effect took several attempts to get right; pyrotechnics would result in an unwanted spark, an expanding balloon head looked ridiculous, and a wax model equally so. Eventually a gelatin and plaster life cast of actor Louis Del Grande was filled with leftover burgers, syrup blood and bits of wax and latex. But the model repeatedly failed to explode so how did the team get it to explode? A guy sat behind it with a shotgun. Boom!

An American Werewolf in London – The Transformation (1981)

Legendary makeup man Jack Pierce may have introduced audiences to The Wolf Man when he went to work on Lon Chaney Jr. back in 1941, but it was modern special effects maestro Rick Baker who put the definitive stamp on the horror staple in 1981’s An American Werewolf in London. The film sees hapless backpackers Jack and David savaged by a wolf on the North York Moors. Jack is killed but David survives, only to transform into a werewolf when the next full moon rises. The incredible, prolonged transformation scene – a mixture of prosthetics and robotics in which actor David Naugthon’s body twists and contorts – has never been bettered. In addition, David’s dead pal Jack returns throughout the film in various states of stunningly realised decomposition. Baker rightly earned an Academy Award for Best Makeup for his industry-changing efforts.

The Thing – Chest Chomp (1982)

Perhaps the most direct influence on The Void in terms of its body- horror themes and practical effects is John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, The Thing. Featuring an unforgettable array of hideously distorted alien monstrosities; one scene stands above all others for its stomach turning audacity. A research team stranded on an Antarctic station is battling an alien creature that can disguise itself as any one of them. When one crew member suffers a heart attack, team doctor Cooper, goes to work with a defibrillator. Suddenly, the patient’s chest splits in two, forming horrendous gaping jaws that bite off the unfortunate medic’s arms. A hydraulic chomping chest, a double amputee and some painstakingly produced, incredibly lifelike models and masks were just some of the techniques used by young effects wiz Rob Bottin to create the unforgettable scene. As the now-revealed alien is torched by a flamethrower, the patient’s head stretches and splits from its body, grows spider legs and scurries away. Crew mate Palmer echoes the stunned audiences likely reaction, saying; “You got to be f–cking kidding!”

Signature Entertainment presents The Void at UK cinemas 31st March and Digital 7th April, DVD & Blu-ray 24th April

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