Tom Savini is a make up effects legend and an original badass. He is responsible for making the demise of hundreds of fornicating teenagers look realistic as well as bringing all sorts of disfigured monsters to life. Tom Savini was in love with horror before it was en vogue to work in genre film. He has pulled off some of the most realistic looking and insanely difficult practical effects ever. In addition to being responsible for some of the most epic impalements, exploding heads, decapitations, and stab wounds, Savini also acts and runs a make up effects school for aspiring FX artists. As a “thank you” to one of the most respected men working in fright films today, we are paying tribute by highlighting ten of our favorite special effects created by the renowned make up artist himself.
Friday the 13th: Decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees
This scene stands out in my mind, whenever I think of a classic example of practical effects. The decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees was bitter sweet for me. The actual effect was amazing, but seeing the psychotic matriarch of the Voorhees clan lose her head always makes me a little sad. Sure she is dangerous, but she strikes me as the kind of lady I would like to sit down for a cocktail with. As far as her on-screen decapitation, Savini pulled it of almost seamlessly. Her head did a slow motion summersault in the air while viewers cheered. The one detractor is that the viewer can see a man’s hairy knuckles in the shot. However, if you weren’t looking for it, you likely wouldn’t notice it.
Dawn of the Dead: Screwdriver to the Head
Tom Savini brought the gore effects to the next level in Dawn of the Dead. A screwdriver makes its way in to a zombie’s ear canal and a giant pool of blood gushes out, immediately after. The effect is pretty simple from a technical standpoint, but it plays out very effectively. The contrast of chalk white zombie flesh and crimson blood really made an impression on me the first time I saw Dawn of the Dead.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter: Tommy Jarvis puts a Machete Through Jason’s Head
The Final Chapter marked Tom Savini’s return to the Friday the 13th franchise (after being absent from parts II and III). In a fitting turn of events, marking Savini’s return, Tommy Jarvis is a major movie makeup enthusiast. And Tommy uses movie makeup when he turns the tables on Jason and puts a machete through Jason’s head. The effect looks brutal and really goes all out, in terms of showing the whole ordeal onscreen. Watching Jason’s partially severed head slide down the machete is pretty amazing.
Canoe scene in the burning
Any time The Burning comes up in conversation with a fellow horror fan, the discussion is always steered to the raft/canoe sequence. In the infamous canoe scene, Cropsey takes out, not one, but 5 teenagers, in one fell swoop. Cropsey stabs, slices, impales, and cuts off fingers over the course of 30 seconds. It’s like the death toll for a low budget slasher film compressed in to one scene, over the course of less than a minute. Savini reportedly turned down Friday the 13th Part II to work on this film and on some level, we are glad he did. The canoe sequence is one of the most outrageous mass murder scenes in slasher film history. The vigor with which and the variety of ways in which Cropsey sends campers to their demise is not to be missed.
Maniac: Exploding Head in Car
The late Joe Spinell brought Frank Zito to life in an unforgettable way, but Tom Savini was also a big part of the magic behind Maniac. The film wouldn’t be the epic, creepy, depraved masterpiece that it is if it weren’t for Savini’s prowess with prosthetics and special make up effects. When Frank Zito jumps on top of a young couple's car and shoots a man’s head off (Savini himself), the resulting aftermath is expertly crafted and bloody enough to satisfy even the most discerning gore hound. The woman in the car is coated in blood and very little is left to the imagination.
“The Raft” segment of Creepshow II: Tar-like goo envelops Laverne and eats her face
‘The Raft” segment in Creepshow II is a fan favorite amongst the vignettes in this 1987 follow up to the original George Romero/Stephen King classic. It starts out fairly formulaic, with a group of college kids heading to the beach, but it quickly veers away from the horror film tropes that viewers are expecting to follow. The physical appearance of the tarry mass was spectacular. If this segment were made today, it would likely be created with CGI and it probably wouldn’t look as cool or as realistic. Watching the goo engulf Laverne and disfigure her face is amazing. It’s the kind of effect that makes the astute viewer wonder how the FX team pulled it off.
The Crate segment of Creepshow: Throat Chewed Open by Bigfoot
This Creepshow segment was yet another testament to how talented Tom Savini is as an effects artist. The wound itself is ultra realistic looking and the rampant arterial spray that results from the Bigfoot bite is delightfully gory. Savini’s ability to create lifelike looking bloodshed is phenomenal. As always, with Savini’s handiwork the effect serves to further intensify the scene and keeps the viewer highly engaged.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre II: The Sheriff Saws Through Leatherface
The second installment in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is kind of a love it or hate it affair. One of my friends wisely observed that the film did a very smart thing in going the ‘camp’ route. Tobe Hooper realized that nothing could top the original film, so the best course of action was not to try. The film didn’t please everyone, but Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson created a film that people have come to enjoy more with time. And in terms of gore, the film fired on all four cylinders. The scene where the sheriff impales Leatherface with a chainsaw is absolutely exquisite. It looks incredibly realistic and is every bit as grotesque as horror fans wanted it to be. Dennis Hopper is completely crazy and an expert casting choice for the film. The sheriff (Dennis Hopper) cuts through Leatherface with a maniacal glee that few others could have so effortlessly pulled off.
The Prowler : Knife in Head and Out Chin
The Prowler features great effects throughout the film. It’s one of four films that Savini leant his creative genius to in 1981. The knife in the head scene is an epic achievement in movie makeup and it really stood out as one of Savini’s best. The logistics of stabbing someone in that manner may be slightly questionable, as there is more than just skin and muscle to stab through, but it was a major crowd-pleaser, regardless. The Prowler also has a great exploding head scene-one of Savini’s specialties. But, the knife through the head took the cake for us.
Friday the 13th: The Arrow Death
Jack’s (Kevin Bacon) death scene in Friday the 13th furthered the assertion that if you smoke drugs or have sex in a horror movie, you will die. The way that the scene plays out-with an arrow penetrating Jack’s chest-is clever, brutal, and extremely fun for gore fans. This scene required Tom Savini’s assistant to be under the bed during filming. When the tube didn’t deliver the stage blood like it was supposed to, Savini’s assistant Taso Stavrakis blew in to it to start the blood flow. And we wouldn’t change a thing about the end result; blood went everywhere and it looked great.
We extend honorable mention to Tom Savini for the monster he created for the Tales from the Darkside television series, and the decapitations from Dario Argento’s Trauma.