There are lots of reasons to love horror movies: suspenseful atmosphere, a subversive script… but sometimes you just want to watch a guy transform into a bat. Or you want to marvel at an arm being ripped off and then shoved through that bat-person. Special effects drive the genre’s ability to transport an audience into completely unknown territory. Whether it’s awe-inspiring or vomit-inducing.
Part of our Best of 2020 episode.
Hellraiser is an effects fan’s dream. You have iconic monster makeup and costuming on the Cenobites, a gloriously gross transformation sequence as Frank pulls himself out of the floorboards, and of course the epic finale of Frank being literally exploded by hooks. Exploded. By. Hooks. Also, it’s so minor in comparison, but the nail-on-the-hand effect makes me squirm more than any other effect in cinema.
This movie did a lot to legitimize werewolves to moviegoers in the 80s, but An American Werewolf in London did just as much to legitimize monster effects to the more mainstream public. Not since Reagan had spun her head around and spit out pea soup had the effects in a movie received more water cooler talk. Whether it’s the infamous transformation scene, the Nazi wolf monsters, or Jack’s progressive decomposing, Rick Baker’s effects transformed this strange horror-comedy into an Oscar-winning strange horror comedy. It changed the expectation over what was possible from horror makeup effects.
This one was a surprising entry on the list. Don’t get me wrong, The Evil Dead is an incredibly fun film, but it’s not know for its Oscar-caliber effects. However what it doesn’t have in budget, it makes up for with pure inventive energy: the POV camera smashing through windows to chase Ash, the Deadite cellar-granny makeup, or simply the various ways Bruce Campbell is thrown, smashed, stabbed, and beaten throughout the film.
Another low-budget entry on the list, A Nightmare on Elm Street managed to create one of the most iconic villains in film history. Freddy’s melted sneer haunted many real-life dreams in the 80s. Highlights include the a rotating room built to get poor Tina to slide on the ceiling, and fabric stretched over a wall to give Freddy the appearance of pushing through, hovering over Nancy as she sleeps.
Throughout cinema there is a long history of silly looking aliens in rubber suits attacking hapless astronauts. In the wrong hands, Alien could have been a laughable disaster. What they got instead was a creature unlike anything moviegoers had seen before. Creatures bursting out of chests. Jaws within jaws, dripping saliva. Acid blood. Reconnecting a decapitated android’s head. These effects scenes are unforgettable, and only served to define the film’s legacy.