I almost killed Tom Savini. Seriously, I did. Just ask my friend, he was there. It was my first horror convention, the Horror Hound in Cincinnati. I was very excited, having sold plasma and saved up the money for months (which is really funny when you think about it, spilling your own blood to hit a horror con). Dave had already been to numerous conventions and regaled me with tales of all the celebrities he had met, not to mention the special showings of various horror flicks and endless booths and tables of books, movies, drawings, and every kind of blood-soaked collectible you could ever hope to find. We decided that I would do the driving, since my vehicle had the biggest trunk space for the massive haul of goodies we hoped to nab. I threw together a few horror-themed mix discs for the drive, geeking out like an eight-year old boy seeing his first monster movie, and we hit the road. So, as we approached the convention center, I quickly realized that their set-up was total shit. There was one entrance to the massive series of buildings, situated at a paltry traffic light in the middle of town. No turning lane, signal, or anything, and it was a really busy road. Well, now this kinda sucked. So I flipped on the blinker and sat waiting for a break in the dreadful traffic. Car after car flew past us, traffic light after traffic light going from green to red to green and back. Finally, I had my chance and started to hit the gas. Dave hollered out just as we began to move. I slammed on the brakes, nearly smashing into some stupid-ass pedestrians who had also decided that this was their big moment to cross. Looking up, I realized that the person glaring back at me through the windshield was none other than the great horror effects legend himself, Tom Savini. Oh shit. My friend said, matter-of-factly, “John, you almost killed Tom Savini.” Not later, but right then, before the man had even reached the safe side of the street, this struck me as ridiculously funny. So, yeah, I started laughing my ass off about it. Savini could probably hear my hysterical guffaws from the sidewalk. I’m sure, if only for a moment, he was contemplating what kind of gruesome death he could give me. God, I hope so. That would be really cool, since Savini was the absolute king of dying badly for anyone who grew up on a diet of 1980s slasher flicks and zombie movies. If you ever thrilled to someone getting a machete in the skull, fingers lopped off with garden tools, or their brains splattered all over a room like an exploding barrel of bloody apple cores, then you’ve enjoyed some of his finest work. Seen FRIDAY THE 13th, DAWN OF THE DEAD, or CREEPSHOW? How about MARTIN, THE PROWLER, THE BURNING, or DAY OF THE DEAD? Then you’re familiar with his work. You’ve probably even said, wow, I wouldn’t mind getting killed by an arrow through the neck like Kevin Bacon, if it really looked that cool. Well, chuckles, this man could make that happen. Savini’s not been called The Sultan of Splatter, or the Godfather of Gore, for nothing. The dude loves his gooey red stuff, and he can make it gooier and redder than most. Growing up in Pittsburg, Tom Savini was thrilled by some of the same monster movies that many of us loved when we were still in diapers. I mean, no matter how much of a cliché it’s become, who isn’t still a bit amazed by the first appearance of the monster in Universal’s 1931 FRANKENSTEIN? You know, that moment when the camera seems to stop, then jump forward for a closer look. For just a second there, that thing really looks dead. That was due somewhat to director James Whale and the underrated facial expressions of Boris Karloff, but it would’ve been nothing without the makeup effects of Jack Pierce. Savini, however, was most impressed with the man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney, who not only acted his ass off as such characters as Quasimodo and the Phantom of the Opera, but was responsible for doing all of his own makeup. He knew right then that he’d found his calling. He started coming up with his own effects before he had his first beer, trying everything out, Chaney-style, on himself, until some of his friends were impressed enough to let him use their faces as his bloody, monstrous canvas. He undoubtedly used these newfound skills to terrorize everyone in the neighborhood. Because, you know, that’s what me and my friends would’ve done if we could’ve made stuff even half as realistic as what Savini has made. He went to school for a while, but then enlisted in the Army, just in time to get a ticket to Vietnam. He was a combat photographer, assigned to shoot images of all the damage done to the machines of war and to the even more pliable, easily messed-up bodies of the people there. That’s the part that could’ve driven a lot of folks out of their minds. Savini admittedly took refuge behind the camera lens, zooming in on the twisted features of corpses, headless soldiers and civilians, and chunks of bloody-whatever floating down the river. It was all a matter of, do I want to let this push me over the edge, or do I want to study this stuff so I can recreate it when I finally get the hell out of this shitty country? Well, study he did, and by the end of the 70s he was recreating like a boss. He did some work in the movie DEATHDREAM, a kind of post-war reworking of W.W. Jacobs “The Monkey’s Paw,” where a mother wishes her son back alive. In this case, the son is coming back from a reported death somewhere in the war-torn jungles of eastern Asia. Yeah, you guessed it, the best parts of him died over there. You know, parts like the heart and the brain. And yeah, you also guessed it, this was damn-near perfect for someone like Savini to make his debut with, having just come back himself (except that he had pretty much kept his heart and brain). Horror fans, ask yourself this question: other than Tom Savini (which I just told you about a couple minutes ago), what else came out of Pittsburg? I’ll play the Final Jeopardy music for a moment here, while that light-bulb look better be coming up in your face as you reach down to scribble out your winning answer. If you didn’t say either George Romero or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, then you can take your pathetic loser-ass back home without so much as even a copy of the home game. And no, the Steelers isn’t a qualifying answer, even though it’s technically accurate, because – check it out, brain-donor – you’re reading an article about horror movies. Why the hell would I be talking about football, even a horrific team like the Steelers, in an article about Tom Savini? So, Romero and Savini were chatting it up one day, and George says that him and some buddies were taking a camera out to an old farm house to make a little movie, care to join? No, no, I’d love to, but I’ve kinda got this whole war thing going on; you know, life and death, dismemberment, possible mental breakdown from all the horrible shit I’m about to see. But you guys go ahead, have fun playing in the country. Well, it should be obvious to even those at the back of the class, that the movie Romero made was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. You might’ve heard of it, it did pretty well for itself over the years. So George sees DEATHDREAM a couple years later and realizes that little Tommy made it back from the war (or maybe they call each other up, I don’t know, I wasn’t there). He needs a really good wrist-cutting effect for his new vampire movie, MARTIN. Who better to slice open a wrist for you than someone who just got back from Nam? I mean, really. So Savini cuts it up really good, throwing on lots of red stuff. George is wowed, a few other folks are amazed, and about thirty-seven people see the movie. But that’s okay, because George still had a few other stories up his sleeve. The night of the living dead had ended, but the dawn of the dead was here, know what I’m saying? Savini got another call: “Start thinking of ways to kill people.” So he did, and even got a bit part out of the deal. Not to mention, he got to make a butt-load of walking dead dudes and chicks, then kill them all over again with exploding gunshots to the head, machetes, and helicopter blades. It was endless fun, really, because the zombies got up and killed, then the people they killed got up and killed, you know the drill. The only problem I’ve had with this flick is that, depending on which copy of which version you see, the zombies are kind of blue. No, I don’t mean that they’re suffering from a minor depression because they have to eat brains to survive. They are actually blue in color on the screen. I know, I know, Savini actually painted them gray, but the light and the blah-blah affected the whatsit, yeah, I’ve heard all of that. Whatever, they’re blue, and it looks stupid. But, beyond that, DAWN OF THE DEAD is still a classic for a whole bunch of reasons, and one of the biggest ones is because of Savini’s work here. Maybe adjust the color on your TV, you know, to make the whole thing black-and-white. So, the calls from Romero led to a call from Sean S. Cunningham. Still a somewhat struggling indie director and producer, he was trying to come up with a movie to go with the movie trailer he’d made. Now that one of the studios had thrown him a bunch of money for it, he figured it was time to start filming the damn thing. Savini shows up on the set like a hired assassin, with a suitcase full of death beside him. Over the next few months, he got the chance to put an axe in someone’s skull, shoot arrows into people, lop off Betsy Palmer’s head, and that whole Kevin Bacon thing. Keep in mind that whenever you see a hand in the frame, doing the killing, it was frequently Savini’s hand. The guy takes this stuff seriously. But the biggest thing he did for FRIDAY THE 13th, and for all future horror fans, didn’t show up until the end. Cunningham was thinking about the ending of CARRIE, when Amy Irving comes to visit her friend’s grave. The soundtrack goes all sweet and syrupy, making you think it’s over, and then KAPOW! Carrie reaches up to grab her from the freakin’ grave. He knew that his movie needed something like that, because when you walk out of a movie with your shorts full of poop you tend to remember that movie. So Savini was like, hey, what about the boy who supposedly drowned, giving dear ol’ Mom a one-way ticket to Looneyville? Well, shit, I think we have ourselves an ending . . . and a new beginning. The killing is finally over, Betsy Palmer’s head is in a bucket or something, and what’s-her-face is just chillin’ in a canoe. That mellow Harry Manfredini score is playing, all sweet and syrupy, and then KAPOW! There’s a dead mongoloid jumping up out of the lake. Pants, pooped. Movie, successful. Savini loved his little mongoloid so much that he came back a few years later to kill him off in THE FINAL CHAPTER. Whatever you might think about Corey Feldman, you can’t deny that his horror-obsessed kid probably drew a huge inspiration from the Tomcat. Just check out his bedroom, all those monster heads and latex and general creepiness. What this kid would lack in future girlfriends, he would make up for in Hollywood job offers. Not only was Tommy an homage to Tom Savini (get it? Tom and Tommy), but he was the lucky son-of-a-bitch who got to kill Jason Vorhees. Well, in theory, anyway. And what a death scene that was, with that big, bulbous lunatic head sliding down Tommy’s sword, the eyes and mouth still working away. Pat yourself on the back, Mr. Savini, that was a fine day’s work. But Savini’s work didn’t end on a Friday, though he wisely avoided this series after Jason had been killed the first time. Oh no, ladies and germs, he still had more time to spend with Romero. While DAY OF THE DEAD was one of the least financially successful movies in the series, it was not the worst one (I reserve that award for BRAINDEAD DEAD, or whatever the hell that one set in the South was called). Most of the disappointment in this film probably comes from it not being the epic zombie-war extravaganza that Romero wanted to make. Instead, opting to maintain creative control by keeping it indie, he wisely chose to set Savini loose on the zombie grossness. Believe me, he outdid himself on this one. There was the scene where the flaming douche-canoe named Captain Rhodes (who bears a strange resemblance to Savini himself) is ripped apart by a ravenous horde of decidedly not-blue zombies. I mean, you see his body separating and all the guts just stretching out like the worst spaghetti meal ever, while the guy is still moving around, screaming and stuff. That kind of stuff is like porn for the true horror fan, exclaiming, “Yes, yes, yes, oh god, yes!” with every drop of goo on the screen. But the best one, at least for the sick twist writing this article, was when Partial Zombie sits up on the medical table and dumps his guts all over the floor. Yeah, I know it’s basically only sausages and ketchup, but holy moly, that was a disturbingly realistic barf-fest. Absolutely loved it, and I was eating pizza the first time I saw it. Savini’s work doesn’t end with the cinematic ipecac of zombie guts either. Oh sure, that’s his best stuff. Like the raft massacre scene in THE BURNING, or the heads getting blown off with shotguns in MANIAC and THE PROWLER. But he also created the “noose-o-matic” (which is more-or-less exactly what it sounds like) used to decapitate a bunch of folks in Dario Argento’s TRAUMA. Not that it did much to shut Piper Laurie up in that movie. But the most fun I’ve had watching Savini’s work was probably in CREEPSHOW. For real, just pick a scene, any scene from that flick and there’s something to make you squeal in delight. Stephen King, covered in moss, talking about meteor shit. Daddy Undead serving up some head cheese to his ungrateful family. Ted Danson, as a waterlogged avenger, coming back to visit his killer, Leslie Nielsen. E.G. Marshall erupting with about a gazillion cockroaches. Or Fluffy. You know, he was the toothy critter in the crate, and the biggest reason that most of us wish Savini had done more creature work. Because who wouldn’t want to have some kind of stuffed animal that was designed by Tom Savini? Toward the end of my first horror convention, after endless hours trying to maneuver around the masses of WALKING DEAD fans (husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, grandmothers, infants), I finally saw Savini camped out at his little table over in the corner. Yeah, I had to go see him. Having little sense and sometimes even less tact, I blurted out that I was the person who had nearly killed him. Here I was, still finding the whole thing strangely hilarious. I was ready to tell him that, if I had actually hit him, I would have instantly leaped out of the car and taken a photo of his bloody, crumpled corpse, right there in the road, before the authorities arrived. You know, so they could study the details of his death for use in future horror movies. But, you know, he didn’t seem as receptive to that little bit of humor as I was. As a matter of fact, he seemed kind of grouchy. Maybe that’s because his would-be assassin was standing there, asking for an autograph. The nerve of some people, it just kills me. See larger image Night of the Living Dead It’s a new night for terror – and a new dawn in horror movie-making when special-effects genius TomSavini (creator of the spectacularly gruesome make-up in FRIDAY THE 13TH and CREEPSHOW) brings modern technology to this colorful remake of George A. Romero’s 1968 cult classic. Seven strangers are trapped in an isolated farmhouse while cannibalistic zombies – awakened from death by the return of aradioactive space probe – wage a relentless attack, killing (and eating) everyone in their path. The classic for the 90s: graphic, gruesome and more terrifying than ever! New From: $5.79 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.