Note: We’re full steam ahead on Collider’s Halloween month! This week is all about movie monsters. In the spirit of the monster mash took a look at the best monsters in movie history, the best vampire movies, best zombie movies, best werewolf movies, and a few evil doll movies that are actually scary. Today, we’re wrapping up monster week with a look at one of the effects artists who set the standard for bringing believable monsters to life on screen.
When it comes to practical monster effects, Rick Baker is still the guy who set the standard. Horror has long been the premier destination for stunning practical effects work, dating back to the Universal monster movies, which made fantastical nightmares come to life on screen without the tools, materials, and technological advancements that have developed in the near-century since.
Over the decades, artists have expanded and advanced horror effects to staggering heights. In addition to his iconic work on Maniac and Friday the 13th, Tom Savini set bloody the standard for zombie movies in his grotesquely gorgeous collaborations with George Romero, a tradition that’s honored weekly on The Walking Dead by Greg Nicotero (who got his start in the industry as Savini’s assistant on Day of the Dead.) Rob Bottin topped his previous collaborations with Joe Dante and John Carpenter with the early 80s double whammy of The Howling and The Thing, both of which pushed the envelope of technical invention in the effects sphere. And of course, there’s the legendary Dick Smith who added his flourish for otherworldy nightmares to the era with The Exorcist and Scanners.
But if you want big beastly monsters or critters from across the universe, it’s hard to beat Baker, who changed the industry landscape in 1981 with John Landis‘ An American Werewolf in London, which earned the first ever Oscar for makeup in 1982.
These brilliant effects artisans were a driving force in the horror industry and during their reign, horror fans were equally as excited to see the latest film from their favorite FX guru as they were to see the latest from their favorite director. “[Effects] were the stars of the movies,” Savini once said. “When you watched Friday the 13th, you really didn’t remember anybody that was in the movie. You just remembered the great kills.”
Unfortunately, the industry underwent significant shifts in recent decades with the rise of VFX, which can be melded with practical effects to create even more polished visuals, but are too often used as a paint job in lieu of old-school effects. That’s the climate that led Baker to retire in 2015. “I like to do things right, and they wanted cheap and fast,” he explained at the time. So with monster week coming to close, let’s take a look at some of the amazing creatures he designed before he left the industry behind.
Baker’s done plenty of impressive makeup work outside of the realm of creature horror. He concocted the skin-crawling images of the new flesh in Videodrome, transformed Eddie Murphy in Norbit, and then there’s Robert Downey Jr.‘s unconventional, eyebrow-raising transformation in Tropic Thunder. And lucky for us, Baker may have tired of the film industry, but he never abandoned his craft, and he regularly serves up new designs and expertly wrought tributes on his social media, including a fantastic update on a classic Twilight Zone episode and a gruesome interpretation of The Joker. I can’t wait to see what the Baker family gets up to for Halloween this year. He also left moviemaking behind with an exceptional catalogue of creature creations, so let’s take a look at some of the best below, from his groundbreaking work on An American Werewolf in London to some of his lesser-known creations.