This October, special effects extraordinaire Tom Savini graced downtown Manhattan with his presence at the Metrograph. As part of their ongoing series with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, acclaimed craftsmen within the biz guest speak, engage in Q and As with the audience and give us longtime fans a bit of insight into their illustrious repertoire. Who better to kickoff the lead-up to Halloween than the makeup guru who’s most singularly responsible for the decapitation scene in Friday the 13th, the head pop in Maniac and some the most visceral zombie carnage cinematic history has to offer?
Metrograph’s “An Evening with Tom Savini” kicked off with a reel of rarely seen behind the scenes footage from Day of the Dead, included a discussion with the maestro of macabre himself (moderated by Shudder’s own Sam Zimmerman) and conclude with a screening of From Dusk Till Dawn, in which Savini appeared as the crotch codpiece pistoled Sex Machine. Savini came baring props from the film (including the aforementioned crotch cannon) and regaled the crowded theater with tales from his long career as an actor, director and effects man in film.
Savini spoke of his fledgling forays into monster makeup after watching Man of a Thousand Faces, the James Cagney staring biopic on silent era effects legend Lon Chaney Sr. (Phantom, Hunchback, London After Midnight). Savini was age 11 at the time. When an older cousin told him spirit gum was used to apply hair on the Wolfman, young Savini thought he said spearmint gum. As he grew he’d begin to learn the tricks of the trade and “of course, that killed the magic forever…but it was replaced by a new magic, the magic of creativity.” “I think of special effects as magic tricks” states Savini. “The mindset you have to have going into this [is] what do I need to see to make me believe what I’m seeing.”
Savini, winner of the Saturn award for best makeup on Dawn of the Dead, would go on to wear numerous other hats in Hollywood. He appeared as an actor in such films as Django Unchained and Machete Kills and directing a remake of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead; a remake in which Savini was determined to make his female lead, Barbara, “more [Sigourney] Weaver.”
There are a number of long held questions within the fandom that neither Savini nor the moderator got into. Questions such as Savini’s involvement with Romano Scavolini’s video nasty, Nightmare (Savini denies any and all connection to the film despite set photos surfacing online). That having been said, Savini did bring props from Creepshow such as Fluffy (the yeti like crate creature) as well as his below the belt bang bang and bullwhip from From Dusk till Dawn. He did cue us in on his recipe for blood (Karo corn syrup with red and yellow food coloring, “same as Dick Smith”). He also fessed up to the only two films that still scare him, The Exorcist and Alien respectively, before the screening began.
From Dusk till Dawn represents the second of three major collaborations between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez; released a year after their anthology film Four Rooms and acting as a forbearer to 2007’s Grindhouse. In what begins as a simple tale of robbers on the run, Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his brother Richard (Tarantino) make a mad dash toward the Mexican border accompanied by preacher Jacob (Harvey Keitel) and his two kidnapped kids. Our troupe of mismatched misfits find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire upon their arrival at a south-of-the-border saloon; a saloon whose menu options include tequila, Salma Hayek’s foot and any trucker unfortunate enough to pull on in.
As those who’ve seen this fanged flick can imagine, it’s a hoot to see with an audience (especially one as lively as the audience in attendance at the Metrograph). The film helped transition Clooney from television talent to feature film icon and provided Savini with one of the most memorable cameo appearances in horror history.