We are beyond thrilled to get to talk with horror makeup FX master and good friend David Henson Greathouse for an episode on the best creature makeup in horror.
5. The Howling (1981) (Rob Bottin)
Rob Bottin won an Oscar for his FX makeup in Total Recal and was nominated for the glorious mostermaking in Ridley Scott’s Legend. Still, he may be best known for the touchstone in horror movie makeup, The Thing.
But the Bottin work we want to celebrate is in Joe Dante’s 1981 lycanthrope horror The Howling. Not because we love it more than his groundbreaking work those others, but because he shapes so many characters, and his makeup defines those characters. From partial transformations to complete metamorphosis, the makeup FX in The Howling create an unseemly atmosphere and tell us all we need to know about the characters on the screen.
4. Hellraiser (1987) (Bob Keen)
Bob Keen’s creatures have terrified in Candyman, Lifeforce, Nightbreed, Dog Soldiers and more. But his crowning glory wore pins.
Keen is the builder who brought Clive Barker’s maleficent cenobites to life and he had such sights to show us. Josh Russell took what Keen created and finessed it brilliantly for David Bruckner’s 2022 reboot, but Keen’s original – Pinhead, especially – cut a figure as memorable and identifiable as any monster since Frankenstein’s.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) (David Martí)
David Martí won the Oscar for his magnificent work on longtime collaborator Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. He’d brought del Toro’s wondrously macabre imagination to life many times – The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Crimson Peak – but never as beautifully, terrifyingly or heartbreakingly as here.
The Pale Man is a perfect example of actor and artist melding, Doug Jones taking the inspired horror of Martí’s makeup and animating the character as no one else could. The result is absolute perfection.
2. The Fly (1986) (Chris Walas)
When Chris Walas and David Cronenberg collaborated on 1981’s Scanners, a star was born. Probably two. That head explosion catapulted both artists into the genre stratosphere. With Naked Lunch, Walas was able to indulge his imagination in wildly various ways with all manner of creature.
But his Oscar came for his 1986 stroke of genius that was The Fly. Once again, artist and actor merged as Walas’s designs led Jeff Goldblum through the transformation, and his character’s arc. No matter how grotesque or repulsive, Walas and Goldblum managed to maintain a human heart, which is what was broken by the time the credits rolled.
1. Frankenstein (1931) (Jack Pierce)
What else? There may be on planet earth no image more instantly recognizable, and in the genre there is certainly no profile more iconic, than that of the monster created by Jack Pierce and brought to life by Boris Karloff.
The design didn’t resemble the description from Shelley’s text, nor did Whale’s direction or Karloff’s performance resemble the doomed monster of the novel. But what image do you associate with the Frankenstein monster? What square head, big boots, bolted neck has become the shorthand across popular culture from film to cereal boxes? And whose wild imagination conjured that image? Jack Pierce’s.