From Fangoria #6 (June, 1980). I have an interview with Savini here in which he describes his Friday the 13th experience as “one of the greatest times [he’s] ever had.” If you’ve somehow forgotten the scene, watch it here.
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Surveying the Gen X landscape and the origins of geek
(Via Cinematic Wasteland)
Nickelodeon’s Livewire was a talk show for kids that ran from 1980 to 1985. I haven’t seen it before, and unfortunately I can’t find an episode list online (not even on IMDb). But I’ve been going through the clips available on YouTube, and I’m impressed.
Savini is charming and giddy as he talks about “splatter films” being “on the way out” and demonstrates some of his special makeup effects. Creepshow was about to hit theaters, and he names “fluffy,” the nickname for the crate monster, his masterpiece. He also says that, among the films he’s been involved with, the controversial Maniac (1980) is his least favorite, and generally tries to separate himself from the ultra-violent genre he pioneered. (Read a 1980 interview with Savini here.)
Even if you’re not a horror fan, listen to the intelligent, searching questions the kids ask him, and ask yourself if it would be possible to produce a talk show for teens and preteens today in which kids are trusted to ask maverick adult guests articulate questions on live TV. (The Ramones, R.E.M., and The Psychedelic Furs all performed on the show and answered audience questions.) Not to mention the fact that every movie Savini had done to this point was rated R or unrated (now NC-17).
The level of respect kids got during this time—a level of respect we demanded—will not be seen again.
Tom Savini’s first makeup effects job, at the recommendation of George Romero, was Deathdream (a.k.a. Dead of Night), a brilliant 1972 film about a G.I. in Vietnam who dies in the war but returns to life—and comes home—as a vampire. After that, Savini did makeup for 1974’s Deranged (written by Alan Ormsby, who also wrote Deathdream), loosely based on the grisly career of Ed Gein. Martin (1976), another outstanding vampire film (kind of) written and directed by Romero, was next. Savini, already a theater veteran, wanted to play the lead. He did makeup and stunts instead.
After Martin, Savini returned to the theater, taking the part of King Philip in a production of The Lion in Winter. When that wrapped, Romero called him in to do effects for Dawn of the Dead (1978), the greatest zombie movie ever made, and easily in the all-time horror top 10. On to Friday the 13th (1980), whose realistic effects sent the American slasher film into the mainstream. (Bob Clark, who directed Deathdream, also directed the first true American slasher: 1974’s underrated Black Christmas. Clark is best know today as the director of A Christmas Story.)
No one in the makeup effects business did more to define the modern horror genre than Savini, not even Rick Baker or Stan Winston. His experience as a combat photographer in Vietnam gave him a unique (and terrible, I would think) insight into death.
Not at all the grisly brooder or the “deranged butcher” people expect, Savini emanates an easygoing affability in interviews. It’s clear that he loves life, and he’s giddily dedicated to his craft. All of that comes through when FF asks him if he had fun on Friday the 13th:
Oh, it was one of the greatest times I’ve ever had. The weeks in the Poconos, riding around without a helmet, taking my time and doing really elaborate things, and having a fortune to spend. Toward the end, I received a Dear John phone call from my girlfriend, which at the time seemed to destroy the whole experience. But as I look back on it, it didn’t at all. I just had a terrific time.
Despite his genius for illusion, Savini saw himself as an actor first. Romero finally gave him his chance in Knightriders (1981), a misunderstood movie about a jousting motorcycle troupe that’s also an elegy on the decline of the ’60s counterculture. Savini plays one of the leads, opposite a 30-year-old Ed Harris, and more than holds his own.