Name your all-time favourite special effect sequence in a horror film.
Night of the Demons. The lipstick into Linnea Quigley’s nipple.
This is no doubt getting ridiculous, but my favorite is from Hellraiser: Frank’s grisly rebirth through the floorboards. The combination of that great stop-motion gore and the rapturous Christopher Young score is the perfect distillation of Barker’s conflation of the beautiful and the grotesque.
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching Cropsy in “The Burning” snip Fisher Stevens’ fingers off with a pair of garden shears as blood splatters across his face. That whole sequence, choreographed masterfully by director Tony Maylam, contains some of the best work Tom Savini has EVER done.
I’ve always been fascinated with Kong’s fight with the allosaurus in the original King Kong (1933). I’m still impressed by the way Kong plays with the dead dinosaur’s broken jaw after he wins the fight. Willis O’Brien will always hold a special place in my heart for that scene alone.
Hopefully I’m not straying too far from the question, but there was an episode of the X-Files (a TV series, I know) that featured a guy who’d been born with a tail. I remember this segment very vividly as they held up an infant and the creepy little tail writhed around.
Easily the scene in The Thing that begins with the defibrillator paddles and ends with the spider-legged head trying to sneak out of the room. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
I labored long and hard on this one. So many films immediately came to mind with regard to special effects sequences. From the silent era (Barrymore’s Hyde or Rotwang’s creation of Maria from Metropolis for example) right up to present-day techniques, this became an increasingly difficult question to answer. I found that in the end, my gut was telling me all along what the answer was. It may not be my absolute favorite effect sequence of all time, but it is definitely the first and most impactive that I can remember. In Terence Fisher’s Brides of Dracula (1960), there was an effect that put a watermelon size pit in my stomach. The real rub of the matter is that it was ridiculously simple, and sometimes, the simplest effect is the most EFFECTual.
After Gina has entered The Baron’s “unholy cult”, Marianne waits in the stable with a village laborer (Cushing’s Van Helsing gave strict orders for the body to be kept away from the school) while Gina’s body rests in a coffin which is securely sealed by two stout padlocks. The film is sumptuously rich in mood and atmosphere to begin with and at about sunset when these two padlocks suddenly fall off - IN TACT - I felt there was something especially sly and evil in this supernatural occurrence. The whole scene remains brilliant, but it starts with those old padlocks falling off of the coffin while securely locked. Creepy man. So, I will go with the pad-lock sequence from Brides of Dracula, it’s not a tour-de-force of technical wizardry, but it was damned scary, sadistically simple, and extremely effective. No school like the old school.
I don’t usually admire special effects. I find myself in agreement with Roger Ebert and his belief that if you ever find yourself saying “Wow, look at that special effect!” the effect has failed and thrust you out of the movie instead of drawing you into it. CG and compositing still haven’t quite made the necessary leap that will render them indistinguishable from reality, and I don’t know if they ever will.
I’m no killjoy, though. I admire the effort that goes into effects, especially practical effects, and I admire the expertise involved in turning latex and machinery into a monster. On top of that, I can’t deny my love of over-the-top comedy gore, so I’m going to have to say that my all-time favorite horror effects sequence is the final battle in Peter Jackson’s “Braindead.” The gigantic mutated mother-zombie… what could be better?
I know I’m probably going to get alot of heat for this, but one of my favorite sequences has to be the shootout scene from the original House of the Dead movie. Sure, there are a few continuity errors in it (switching between shots from a pair of pistols to a shotgun, for one), and my favorite character in the movie gets killed (Rudy, stop flashing back and help her!) during it, but I’ve always enjoyed the combination of the music and the action.
The whole blood-spurting finale of Argento’s TENEBRAE comes to mind. Also, though I wouldn’t want to single out anything in UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION as a “favorite,” I was very impressed at how extensively and effectively they used practical effects rather than CGI for a lot of the most striking scenes of monster mayhem.
I don’t mean to respond to nearly every question with an answer involving the work of JOHN CARPENTER, but really what choice do I have in this instance? ROB BOTTIN’s work in THE THING, as far as I’m concerned, has never been topped. The Norris spider head sequence is the be-all end-all when it comes to special effects and it blows any modern CGI I’ve ever seen out of the water. Like all great art, it not only amazes with what it’s actually showing you but also teaches you to see things in a different way as well.
I guess that in the annals of horror that, for my all-time favorite special effects sequence I should choose something from THE THING or AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but, as simple as it probably was to do, my all-time fave has to be this quick 15-second shot from a Freddy movie.
In NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS,there a scene when bad girl Taryn (played by then-hot Jennifer Rubin) is all punked-up and slings some switchblades at Freddy, proclaiming “In my dreams, I’m beautiful…and bad!”, to which Freddy’s fingers become hypodermics and, on Taryn’s arms, these little gasping mouths appears, begging for the drug in Freddy’s vials. That shot with the arms has always been so insanely and nightmarishly creepy that I have never been able to shake it, which is, I believe, the mark of a great special effects sequence.
I have to say: the “yellow corpse” sequence from the first “Return of the Living Dead” flick.
The corpse effects may not have been the greatest or most convincing effects ever (but still impressive considering that it was all done practically), but the way that Dan O’Bannon structured and shot the scene really made everything work. From the basic unnatural color of the body to the head-sawing and pick-axe impalement, it’s a fantastic scene that just gets continually worse for the characters after every gruesome attempt to stop the zombie fails. Every little effect manages to build a little on the previous one, and the cast keeps everything lively enough to get you overlooking the rubber suit and animatronic head. It’s a great (and hilarious) scene in a great movie.
This question was an unexpected stumper. I’ve seen a lot of special effects in my two-score and six. I’ve seen some of the great cities of the world leveled by water and fire and monsters big and small destroyed and reduced to dust… but the one effect that comes to mind as being particularly impressive is the spider scene in the John Barrymore version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Not only is it disturbing to imagine such a thing happening to us but from the character’s perspective the scene satisfies horror’s concern with the truly repulsive. Robert Louis Stevenson’s allegory of body horror was more than a hundred years ahead of Cronenberg and it gets a particularly vivid adaptation with Barrymore, who had his own personal demons and was a genuinely haunted man, may he rest in peace.
I can’t think of any sequence more creative or awe-inspiring than the “spider head” scene from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Starting with Norris’ chest opening as a giant mouth and eating Copper’s arms and concluding with the spider-head-thing trying to crawl away, this sequence is all the more impressive given that it’s comprised entirely of physical effects and still holds up against anything from the modern CGI era.
One of my favorite special effects sequences in any horror film is the splinter in the eyeball scene from Zombi 2. It’s rather simple but it never fails to make me a little queasy and I always get the urge to look away at the last minute. The way Fulci had a killer use a razor blade to slice up a woman in The New York Ripper was also really nasty and memorable as well. I think Italian special effects men like Giovanni Corridori, Gino De Rossi and Germano Natali (who also worked on lots of Argento’s films) really know how to make extremely effective and gory scenes that stick with you long after a movie has ended.
What a fantastic batch of considered responses. We’re really beginning to hit our stride. On a related note, two more weeks to go. Thanks to the overwhelming amount of participants for this Roundtable, and as always, if you’d like to have your say please consider leaving a comment below.