Now when I say ‘special effects’ I don’t mean some computer animated robots, I mean REAL effects, Im talking about the times when if a film needed a monster then you hired a crew to build one 2 meters tall hung from a forklift truck, covered in slime with ridiculously complex controls that took ten dudes with wires to operate. Now I’ve got nothing against CGI, those guys work hard, I mean it takes Pixar 4 years to finish a film, thats dedication, but when it comes to horror movies I just don’t think it’s the same. However good the CGI is you know deep down that the actors are performing in front of a green screen and screaming at a tennis ball on a stick, with the old effects you know that that thing actually exists and they’re really face to face with it, I dunno it just seems to make it scarier for me. So many classic films used these kind of effects to create staggering performances: Alien, Predator, Jaws, The Thing, Terminator even Star Wars.
A perfect example of what I’m talking about can be seen in the 1986 and 1989 ‘The fly’ movies. For those unfamiliar with thefilms, they’re based on a short story written by George Langelaan in 1957 about a brilliant scientist (played by Jeff Goldblumin the 1986 film) who invents a teleporter, but in his haste to try a human trial tests it on himself, but unknown to him a fly lands in the pod with him. Though successfully teleporting, the scientist comes out of the pod not 100% human. The following story is a twisting tale of tragic love and gruesome effects. The sequel deals with a similar story about the scientist’s mutant son, but is a film focused much more on action and horror than love. In both films the creature effects were designed and executed by Chris Walas (he also directed the second film and invented the ‘Gremlins’). These effects are simply amazing, the detail and subtlety of some of the early effects (over the film the scientist slowly mutates into a hideous hybrid) while the later effects are shocking and truly horrifying. The creatures are made by a combination of time consuming make-up (early) and epic cable controlled puppets (later). What truly makes these effects amazing is how while they are able to create a horrifying creature they can also give it emotions and actually make the audience relate to the creature. An example of this can be seen in the second film when the main character finds a failed teleportation experiment in the form of what used to be a beautiful golden retriever (this dog gave me nightmares for a week) the way that the creature is controlled and the sounds it makes are so sad and painful that even the guy who wet himself at the back row when he first saw it, will start to see through the monster to the victim inside.
Like I said before, I’ve got nothing against CGI, but nothing beats a monster thats actually there, I really think that it just has so much more passion and subtly than a CG monster and I believe that you can see it in the actors’ performances too. Now far from gone I can see that these effects have evolved and combined with CGI; while the larger more complex effects are CG, the smaller and more subtle effects are created with more traditional means, we can see this happening in films like 300, where the deformed humans were good old fashioned men is grotesque suits while the shots of the army and the larger creatures were CGI. Now this I love, combining the strengths of both while dealing with none of their weaknesses.
Nowadays in horror films I always look for ways in which old school effects have been used in modern films, and I can say that I am glad that CGI is there. Films can now truly expand in ways that old effects held them back, like taking a moving shot of a creature running, or having a lot more creatures. As long as we still remember the horrifying results that puppets can cause, I think we’ll be alright.
Take it easy