For many, the films from our childhood have stuck with us over the years. They are the foundation upon which our love of cinema was built. Even though some may not have aged all that well, that doesn’t lessen the impact they’ve had on us. For horror fans, this is often especially true as certain movies and/or sequences have left an indelible mark that can never be erased or forgotten.
In the world of horror, practical FX has a special place in fans’ hearts. It is what brought Godzilla to life, what made The Fly such a grotesquely tragic story, what saw skeletons become a terrifying adversary in Jason and the Argonauts, and what certainly allowed the creation of one of the most popular GIFs the internet has ever seen.
To celebrate the impact of practical FX on the films from our childhood, we asked the writing/directing collective RKSS, of Turbo Kid and Summer of ’84 fame, to create a Dread X where they highlighted 10 practical FX scenes that had a seriously disturbing impact on their childhood!
As one can expect with RKSS, they went above and beyond with this list, so there are actually a few more than 10 selections BUT they’ve grouped them under 10 headings, so they abided by the rules while simultaneously breaking them. Who better to do precisely that than RKSS, right?
Check out their selections below and make sure to pick up your copy of Turbo Kid through Epic Pictures!
As Quentin Tarantino once said, watching violent movies won’t make you a violent person, but it will make you a director of violent films. We were definitely way too young when we watched most of the movies listed below, and it is safe to say that while they disturbed us by hitting deep into our imagination as pure nightmare fuel – they were a key factor in our evolution from horror fan kids we were to the filmmakers we are.
We absolutely love practical FX and will praise its beauty and proven effectiveness. Contrary to CGI, practical is not only real to the actors playing in the scene but it will also pull the audience closer. As you’ll notice by our examples below, for an effect to be exploited at its maximum, you need to set the mood and build the moment around it.
We thought this one would be an easy list to make, but soon realized how wrong we were! It’s hard enough to single out a top 10 for each of us, so imagine how hard the exercise of merging these in one single list was! But we did our best and here is what we came up with!
Feisty Intrusive Tentacles in A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
We first watched this beautiful fantasy movie when we were kids, we were lucky enough that it was aired on public television! This movie has amazing poetic use of practical fx, and also disturbing ones, as it dealt with life, death, and…evil intrusive-witch-tentacles! Looking back at it now, we like to refer to is as our first introduction to hentai!
Fulci’s disturbing and very graphic work was mind-blowing as kids, but even now. The angles he chose were very bold, and rarely broke our suspension of disbelief. It felt real, so real!
- Eye Gouging in The Beyond (1981)
There is something with eyes, how vulnerable this organ is, and there is something about the obsession some horror directors have with them. As will poor Joe the Plumber discover.
- Extreme Eye Poke in Zombie 2 (1979)
I mean, guys, it’s a wood splinter slowly (really slowly) getting jammed in an open eye. There is really nothing else to add to this.
- Head Drilling in City of the Living Dead (1980)
In this one, the jealous father gets rid of his daughter’s lover boy by drilling through his skull. The practical effect used here was crazy and on the front view, with the drill spinning on both sides of his temples, we couldn’t believe the actor lived through this scene. Also, we have to give an honorable mention to the gut regurgitation scene.
Wolf Transformation in An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Again, a difficult one, as there is so much to choose from in this film again. From the amazing Oscar-winning werewolf transformation to the zombie-friend apparition rotting more and more as the movie progresses or that nasty nazi-monsters dream. Rick Baker deserves all the praise he received, what an incredible tour the force which gave us nightmares for years.
Bishop’s death in Aliens (1986)
Needless to say that Alien is the franchise who had some of the most effective play with practical fx, let alone how it cleverly introduced its monster. However, today we decided to share with you our childhood experience witnessing Bishop’s death. Not only have we grown attached to him, following Ripley’s arc throughout the first movie, but the brutal way he gets stabbed by the Xenomorph Queen’s tail, the unsettling white blood gushing through his mouth, the android’s “guts” dripping through the wound, until he gets ripped out in half was, you guessed it, really disturbing.
The Blob and its Kills in The Blob (1988)
If you’re not into creature features, you’re missing out on some gorgeous and creative practical FX. Yes, the kids we were, were impressed by this giant killer blob, who digested its preys inside his see-through slimy organism from outer space. The phone booth scene is one of the memorable ones, it still holds up and still is very brutal.
Workout Cockroach in Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master (1988)
Freddy’s nightmare world setting makes way to inventive and original deaths. Whenever a solo scene with one of the teens would start, you always expected the worst to happen. In this particular one, the girl starts her heavy weight lifting and not only does Freddy appears and pushes on the bar but her elbows fracture in the most graphic way—and it’s not even over. She soon begins to grow insect limbs, piercing through her skin, until she completes her transformation, ripping through her face into a giant cockroach—after which it becomes silly cartoon fun.
Worm / Vomit Creature in Poltergeist 2 (1986)
The whole scene leading up to this moment is disturbing in itself, but when the father starts to gag this slimy, bubbly giant larva-like creature, struggling until it finally completely drops, it’s evolution after it slithered under the bed and its horrifying final form of a skinless deformed body, crawling out of the room. What made this scene so great is the amazing use of practical effects and makeup paired with the work of actor Noble Craig who is disabled, is making CGI totally irrelevant. Everything in that scene felt so real because it actually was! Later realizing that H.R. Giger designed it, makes it all the more amazing.
Being three people who, let’s be honest, adore dogs, it’s clear we would have a few dog-related scenes highlighting absolutely terrifying practical effects. These are the three we could not leave out.
- Rabid Thing Dog in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Putting aside that this movie is one of the greatest horror movies of all times, it is also packed with the most amazing use of practical effects, one of the highlights being the Thing-dog transformation. As soon as the dog walks in the enclosure, you can feel that his energy is odd and you fear for the other dogs who are trapped with him. Then, the way the Thing-dog peels its own face, and how it transforms into full thing mode, tentacles wriggling with the unsettling seething, while the dogs are in a panic–it was a lot to process for our young impressionable dog-loving hearts!
- Dog Chest Burst in Alien 3 (1992)
The way this scene is shot and edited, paired with the effective sound design and literal gut-wrenching suffering of the dog is what makes this scene borderline bearable.
- Suffering Mutated Dog in The Fly 2 (1989)
Now if you love dogs and want to ruin the rest of your day, this one will surely do it for you. This practical effect wasn’t scary, it was heartbreaking.
Face Melt in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
In this scene, the ominous Lost Ark is being open. As a child, with Indy repeating to Marion not to look at it, you can’t help but feel as if you shouldn’t be watching the screen. The moment building to the actual face melt is beautiful by the use of atmospheric fog, but also superimposed ghosts and traditional animation. And then, as the ghost’ face shifts, you know it’s going to turn sour, fire and lightning zaps everyone until the ultimate Nazi face melting occurs in all of its awesomeness! By far, one of the scariest moments in a “non-horror” film and was probably our first introduction to gore!
Toxic Waste Death in Robocop (1987)
This one was brutal. Emil Antonowsky, gang member and bad guy, tries to run over Robocop with a truck but ends up hitting a Toxic Waste reservoir. But is he dead? No, the back doors of the truck open, letting out a wave of the toxic liquid, washing away a deformed and agonizing Antonowsky. If this wasn’t disturbing enough for the kids we were, the poor agonizing guy gets hit by a car, exploding on impact in a glorious splatter of mutant goo. These images we could never unsee. No surprise Paul Verhoeven is one of our childhood heroes when it comes to filmmaking.