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10 Greatest SFX Scenes In Horror

The horror genre is full of memorable effects sequences. You could say it’s bursting with them.

So how do you choose 10? Where do you draw the lines between makeup, prosthetics, animatronics and CGI? Do you include something that was groundbreaking in 1931 but now look positively shoddy?

The following selections vary in technique but all a) stand up, and b) pull the sick-trigger. There are other lists, other selections – more subtle and shivery, no doubt – but these are as vicious and visceral, sure to scar for life.

So while there’s no room for Jack Pierce’s masterful makeup work on Karloff’s Monster in Frankenstein, there is a place for Giannetto De Rossi’s putrid living dead in Zombie Flesh Eaters.

Some of the videos are pretty disgusting. We advise you keep a bucket handy.

10. The foot-fist way

The Fly (1986)

WTF! Brundlefly (Jeff Goldblum) vomits corrosive enzymes onto the left hand and right ankle of his nemesis Stathis Borans (John Getz). The former melts to a stump, the latter snaps off.

Behind The Curtain: It took six hours to smother Goldblum in makeup.

This particular sequence saw the beleaguered actor wear a full body suit, dentures and contact lenses, while a mechanised, full-bust puppet was employed for the jaw-flexing vomit shot. Gross.

And it would have been grosser still had Cronenberg not deleted a shot of Brundlefly ejecting an eight-inch proboscis to suck up the puddle that was once Borans’ foot.

Next: Crushed ice [page-break]

9. Crushed ice

Saw IV (2007)

WTF! Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) dangles from a chain. It’s bad, but the worst is still to come: Matthews’ ‘rescuer’ bumbles into the room and sets off a trap, causing two giant blocks of ice to swing downwards and inwards on giant pendulums.

Talk about a brain freeze…

Behind The Curtain: Average movie, great effect, water and blood pissing everywhere to steal the Best Exploding Head mantle from Scanners.

“I thought, ‘What would be visually great’,” ponders Production Designer David Hackl on the Making Of doc; “Ice blocks!”

Said blocks weighed 300lbs and Prosthetics Makeup man Francois Dagenais suspended a ball of blood between them.

Whoosh, splosh - the rest is history.

Next: Faces of death [page-break]

8. Faces of death

The Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

WTF! Not a single scene, this time – just a general commendation for Giannetto De Rossi’s astounding makeup work to bring to life Lucio Fulci’s disgusting dead.

Behind The Curtain: Fulci took one look at Romero’s zombies and said, “Do something similar”. But as Producer Fabrizio De Angels notes, “We made an improved copy…”

It’s true: you haven’t seen a zombie until you’ve seen a De Rossi zombie (see also The Beyond), creatures so rotten, so wet, so caked in toxic necro-grue you feel infected just looking at them.

Next: Terrorvision [page-break]

7. Terrorvision

Ringu (1998)

WTF! Witchy-woman Sadako crawls out of the TV and judders across the living room floor.

Behind The Curtain: The best effects are sometimes the easiest to achieve.

And so it is that arguably the single most terrifying sequence in modern horror was rendered by having Kabuki Theatre actress Rie Ino’o shamble backwards, jerkily, and then reversing the film. (De Palma had used the same technique for the dream sequence at the end of Carrie).

The Hollywood remake threw extra money at the same effect yet somehow managed to tune out the fear.

Next: The Monster within [page-break]

6. The Monster within

Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1931)

WTF! The smooth-featured Dr Jeykll (Frederic March) turns into the beetle-browed Hyde.

Behind The Curtain: Still impressive 78 years on, this stunning transformation was done in camera – or should that be in front of camera, a series of coloured filters placed before the lens to match up to different hues of March’s makeup (viewers could therefore see only sections of the makeup depending on which filters were fitted).

So heavy was the full extent of the Neanderthal facial gloop worn by March, it almost rearranged his face for good.

Next: Climactic orgy [page-break]

5. Climactic orgy

Society (1989)

WTF! Not even Bill’s (Billy Warlock) worst paranoid fears got close to the truth. His mom, dad and sister are aliens who engage in flesh-melting orgies – or shunting, as the film has it - with other societal dignitaries. Ewww.

Behind The Curtain: ‘Surrealistic makeup effects by Screaming Mad George’ read the credits, but not even that can prepare you for the mucky finale: dad really is a butt-head; a fist is shoved up an anus to burst out a mouth; everyone melts together until they look like one big bowl of porridge/a melted candle/Jabba the Hutt.

No wonder director Brian Yuzna put up a sign reading ‘Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here’.

Next: Head-spin [page-break]

4. Head-spin

The Exorcist (1973)

WTF! Sat up in bed in her nightdress, li’l Regan (Linda Blair) rotates her head through 180 degrees.

Behind The Curtain: “The only way to do it was make a whole dummy and have a mechanical head,” explains effects legend Dick Smith.

A body cast was duly fashioned and the head, made of rigid plastic, could actually spin around two or three times, its remote controlled eyes glaring all the while. (The sound of creaking tendons was achieved by twisting a leather wallet in front of a mike.)

Smith knew he was onto a winner when they placed the dummy in the passenger seat of a NY taxi and watched as pedestrians flipped out when its head began to turn…

Next: Letting rip [page-break]

3. Letting Rip

Day Of The Dead (1985)

WTF! Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato) is ripped clean in two (well, there’s actually nothing clean about it…) by a horde of moan-y, grabby zombies, his mouth somehow managing to scream “Choke on ‘em!” even as his innards are devoured before his bulging eyes.

Behind The Curtain: SFX maestro Tom Savini’s proudest moment. A combat photographer in Vietnam, he knew how to make this stuff look real.

Very real – that’s genuine pig intestines and blood packed inside the mould, ready to spill all over the floor.

It smelled bad, too: some lackey apparently unplugged the storage fridge by mistake…

Next: Hour of the wolf [page-break]

2. Hour of the wolf

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

WTF! American tourist David (David Naughton) collapses to his knees and howls in pain as he turns slowly, agonisingly, into a hellhound.

Behind The Curtain: Determined to enter “unchartered territory”, FX-man Rick Baker knew he didn’t want to implement the usual lap dissolves for his werewolf transformation.

His solution was to utilise tubes, syringes and ‘bladders’, these ingenious, DIY devices creating the illusion that the (latex) skin was bulging and stretching before our very eyes.

Baker also manufactured a series of ‘change-o’ heads, hands and arms, the mechanisms within distorting flesh to uncommon dimensions (“It took months working on it, 10 seconds to shoot it,” he later wailed).

The result was a startling transformation rendered in a brightly lit living room - so good the Academy invented a Best Makeup Oscar to honour Baker’s work.

Next: Spider-walk [page-break]

1. Spider-Walk

The Thing (1982)

WTF! Vance (Charles Hallahan) is receiving CPR when his chest yawns open in a giant maw and then clamps shut to sever his helper’s pumping arms.

All kinds of flappy, whippy shit erupts from the cavity and then Vance’s neck stretches and stretches until his head eventually slides off the table, a tendril-tongue shooting out from the mouth to pull the bonce across the floor.

Finally it flips over and sprouts spider-legs ready to scuttle away. “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me” indeed.

Behind The Curtain: Rob Bottin was Rick Baker’s protégé (they worked together on 1981’s other werewolf flick, The Howling) but pupil surpassed master with this nightmarish sequence.

The arms were made of Jell-O with wax bones and plastic veins, while hydraulics stretched the neck and mechanical FX took care of the spider-stalks.

That stuff bubbling away inside the split neck is melting plastic, bubblegum and paint thinner, natch.

Upon first viewing the sequence, John Carpenter remembers, “I realised a great sense of relief. Because what I didn’t want was a guy in a suit.”

What he got was quite brilliant, the result of Bottin sleeping on the Universal lot and working seven days a week for well over a year. He wound up in hospital but it was worth it.

Feeling nauseous? Which is your vomit-inducing favourite? Which effect deserves to make the list? Comment!

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