It takes more than great acting and directing to create a great fright for audiences—make-up is key to a character’s believability. Blood, guts and gore are all necessary, whether you’re talking about the undead or soon-to-be dead, and Rick Baker, Rob Bottin and Tom Savini are among the best in the business at making you believe it’s all real. Among them these make-up men have been key in some of horror cinema’s most frightening faces, from the zombies of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to human-to-wolf transformations like in An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. Their reputations precede them and their awards are numerous, but just to review, MM takes a look at some of the best in the business.
Baker is so good, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had to create a brand new category for him. Well, that may be a stretch, but he did win the first ever Oscar for Best Makeup for his work on An American Werewolf in London (1981). Since then, the once-assistant to Dick Smith (the make-up wonder behind The Exorcist) has gone on to win five more Academy Awards for his makeup work. From Star Wars to Ed Wood, Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video to The Ring, The Nutty Professor (1996) and the upcoming Benicio Del Toro remake The Wolf Man, Baker has dealt with aliens, zombies, ghosts and absurd creatures (ahem, Eddie Murphy) on a regular basis, giving each the truly original stamp that comes with the make-up artist’s vision.
Rob Bottin’s makeup work can be seen everywhere: The bruised and beaten look of Fight Club; the dark murder scenes of Se7en; even the bloody lizard orgy in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But before all this, Bottin was John Carpenter’s right hand man when it came to devising the look of the director’s characters, doing makeup work on Carpenter’s zombie-like ghosts in The Fog as well as the parasitic alien and body snatcher in The Thing. For Bottin’s greatest achievement, however, look no further than the werewolf transformation he created for 1981’s The Howling.
Before his breakthrough work on Sean Cunningham’s movie, Friday the 13th (1980), made him the most sought-after man in special effects and makeup, Savini’s life was one big preparation for his title of “The Godfather of Gore.” After spending his earlier years attempting to mimic the makeup work of Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera, 1925), Savini went on a tour of duty in Vietnam as a combat photographer, a period which proved to be another source of inspiration for the gruesome scenes later found in his work. From the limb decapitation seen in Romero’s Martin and Dawn of the Dead to the innards-removal and intestines-eating of Day of the Dead, Savini has defined the very look of horror movies.