Thursday, 10 January 2013

5 More Best Practical FX In Horror

Joey has done a great list of the best effects films not to feature computer generated images, in honour of the upcoming Evil Dead remake's promise to be CG free. Check out her piece for some lovely words, and now see as I add on some of my own.

For those too lazy to click the link (seriously, check it out), here are her top 5 practical FX films:
5. The Evil Dead (original)
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (original)
3. An American Werewolf in London
2. Gremlins
1. The Thing (again, the original, of course)

That's a pretty mind blowing list, and there is no way to better it, but I can certainly add some well deserving names to it.

Echoing Joey's sentiments, I am a massive fan of practical FX. Maybe a big part of it comes from me growing up to see the development of CG effects, so it is easier for me to pick them out in a film, but I also think that films not only reached their peak with these effects about a decade ago (around the Lord of the Rings), but that the effects have actually gotten worse as the movie making machine pumps films with more effects wall-to-wall in considerably condensed time frames. 

Before Jurassic Park opened the floodgates for the digital revolution, there was a latex revolution, and what a mighty fine revolution it was. Nowadays, the only limit to a film is the filmmakers imagination, but with this accessibility comes a massive sense of unease. I have yet to watch a film with CG effects that have felt as visceral as the real-life prosthetics and puppetry of days gone by. There is no weight to the 1s and 0s, not like some stretchy rubber has. Even though we all know that moments like the chest-burster scene in Alien are fake, they still have a sense of realism that the millions of dollars of computer renderings in Alien Vs Predator could never hold a candle to. 

There is plenty written on the uncanny valley that can explain a lot of this, but hey, let's not focus on the now, let's lovingly look back in time at some other amazing films that were responsible for defying reality before computers were even portable.

5. The Exorcist
The one that shocked em all, with breathtaking effects by Dick Smith. Heads spining, puke projecting, bodies being thrown in ways they were never meant to. The stories of just how brutal the shoot was have passed in to legend, with lead Ellen Burstyn coming out with permanent back problems, but hey, this one made a generation not just scared, but left some fearing for their very souls. Have an CG shadows done that lately? Didn't think so.

4. Ghostbusters
Alright, this one dates quite badly. Even the matting is obvious in this age of hi-def video transfers, but there is something spectacular about this constant classic's use of composited in puppets. The librarian and Slimer are obviously on the plush side, but still, they have an undeniable charm to them that I would take over some PS3 reject any day of the week. And the Gozer dogs and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? Just suits, but you never cared. And now that you know, you still won't care.

3. Videodrome
Pretty much all of David Cronenberg's films up until Naked Lunch could apply, but I'll keep it to his best examples. Videodrome blends in latex effects with their surreal settings; where a man falls into an unreality of a bizarre TV station. The film has a man reaching in to his own stomach, a gun fusing to his hand, a shape reaching out from the TV set and a man deforming on stage. Videodrome does not always hit the realism button, but its effects could never be matched by a computer rendering. We are physically experiencing a mental breakdown, and even though we know what is happening cannot be real, we can touch it, feel it, it must be. 

2. Aliens
This could be a double barrel here. Both films had different effects and designs going in to their special effects, and both come off flawlessly. In terms of realism, these can't be bet. But let's stick with James Cameron's action tour de force. You might never really think about it, but image just how complicated it is to have the facehuggers run around and jump, but it is completely worth it. And again, our monsters are guys in rubber suits, but they have a life to them that the elegantly designed xenomorphs from Resurrection onward lack. Possibly the best example of use versus need is the Queen Alien and her intimidating and thunderous movements as she leaves her hive and battles the powerloader in Aliens. Alien Vs Predator wanted to one up this by having her run around, but it comes off looking silly and cheap. 20 years later, and it still couldn't be beat.

1. The Fly
Another David Cronenberg entry. Let's just say he isn't the master of the body horror for nothing. The Fly is a grotesque display of the scientist's transformation into a human fly after a failed experiment on himself. He loses teeth, ears, limbs, you name it, until becoming the thing of nightmares. And let's not forget about the arm wrestling scene. Both this and Videodrome would be considered far out in their visuals by today's standards, but for films the guts of 30 years old, they both hold up not just remarkably, but exceptionally.  The Fly is realistic in its approach, and often reaches gut-churning level, never once giving us the safety of a Shrek-like poorly done character to distract us from this horrorshow. 

Nope, the latex revolution may have passed, but it can be said it was certainly for convenience as opposed to development. The above examples are just a small portion of what was an era where you could worry what you were seeing could physically be under your bed, not just sitting in a hard drive waiting to be booted up. Let us hope the Evil Dead remake brings these glory days back.