Top 10 Best Practical Effects in Horror Movies
VOICE OVER: Kirsten Ria Squibb
WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
No computers needed here! For this list, we'll be looking at the best, most believable or iconic examples of practical effects found within horror movies. Our countdown includes scenes from "Jaws", "Evil Dead II", "The Fly" and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Practical Effects in Horror Movies. For this list, we’ll be looking at the best, most believable or iconic examples of practical effects found within horror movies. Do you have a personal favorite? Let us know in the comments!
#10: The Shark
It’s well-known movie lore at this point that Steven Spielberg and crew had one heck of time getting the shark, affectionately named “Bruce,” to operate correctly on the set of “Jaws.” The issues were so severe, in fact, that Spielberg was forced to hold back on showing the final special effects, which succeeded in building up the tension towards a final reveal. And to be honest, we actually think Bruce looks pretty good! Worries about the shark “looking fake” certainly seemed to melt away during scenes such as its first on-screen appearance, or the harrowing demise of Quint late in the film. “Jaws” is considered an all-time classic for a reason, and one of those reasons is certainly cinema’s favorite shark.
#9: Digestion Death
“The Blob” (1988)
There are few horror remakes from the 1980s that have held up as well as 1988’s “The Blob.” In fact, many fans of the genre point to this entry as perhaps the finest example of the titular creature on-screen. It’s difficult to argue this point when the gross special effects are on display, such as the graphic digestion of Paul early on in the film. The violence of his death is so brutal and realistic, that it becomes difficult to even associate this version with the 1950s counterpart. At the same time, the willingness of director Chuck Russell and crew to absolutely go for it with this level of gross, alien slime consumption has made “The Blob” the stuff of horror legend.
“Child’s Play” (1988)
The production of 1988’s “Child’s Play” is another example where restraint and tension actually led to the final effect being all the more impressive. The movie takes a while in building things up to the point where Chucky actually moves, speaks and comes alive while in the presence of an adult. Up until that point, the potential for it all to actually be just the figment of a child’s imagination is plausible. However, once we watch Chucky’s scurrying feet, see those dangerous hands, and hear that iconic voice from Brad Dourif, it’s official: a full-fledged horror icon is born. Seriously, the puppeteering and animatronics on display are top-notch.
#7: The Shunting
You may be asking yourselves, “what the heck is a ‘shunting?’” To which we’d reply, “you’re gonna be sorry you asked.” That’s because this infamous sequence from the 1989 body horror flick “Society” is the stuff from which perverse nightmares are born. Special effects guru Screaming Mad George achieves here some sort of absorptive body melding, as high society aliens suck out nutrients from their victim in perhaps the grossest way possible. There’s an almost gleeful humor to the scene, as classical music accompanies a symphony of slurping noises, all while George’s sticky special effects work their magic. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
#6: Henrietta Knowby
“Evil Dead II” (1987)
The first installment of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” franchise boasts some serious special effects, particularly when taking into account the director’s limited budget. That said, there’s a marked improvement with the sequel, as evidenced by this fantastic bit of work from special effects designer Tom Sullivan. The director’s brother Ted Raimi assisted the production in bringing Henrietta Knowby to life, playing the woman (with heavy makeup) as her deadite form becomes more progressed. Elsewhere, actor Lou Hancock plays Henrietta in her first deadite form, although we admit to being partial to the creature going full “Gooseneck,” as it were, showcasing first-hand Sullivan’s imaginative creations.
#5: Glen’s Death
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
The world of special effects is full of questions like, “how did they do that?” The “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise has been front-and-center for a number of such questions, such as the time when the third installment shoves poor Jennifer into a television. Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the iconic bed scene from the first film, where a young Johnny Depp gets sucked into his mattress, never to return. That is, unless you’re counting the geyser of blood that shoots out onto the ceiling, in which case Depp’s Glen Lantz most definitely returned to make an impression. Just not the impression he likely intended.
Directors will often try a number of different approaches with actors, all in order to achieve that one, perfect take. Ridley Scott tried something with the iconic chestburster scene from the first “Alien” film, in that he didn’t actually tell the cast what specifically to expect. As a result, the reactions of actors like Veronica Cartwright are very real, and very effective, as the whole cast got to view this tiny Xenomorph burst out of poor John Hurt’s chest. It’s grim, goopy and never fails to grab our attention each and every time. As for Cartwright, maybe she would’ve liked the “Spaceballs” variation a wee bit better?
“The Fly” (1986)
The cinema of body horror maestro David Cronenberg is littered with examples of special effects brilliance. One of these is the head explosion against which all others are measured, from 1981’s “Scanners.” Elsewhere, the amazing makeup effects used on Jeff Goldblum in Cronenberg’s remake of “The Fly” stand as some of the finest ever achieved. Goldblum appears practically unrecognizable as Seth Brundle messily devolves into Brundlefly. He gains super strength, sure, but soon pieces of him are starting to fall off, and that acidy spit sure doesn’t look too pleasant. Finally, the transformation is complete, and the Fly’s grotesque final form is revealed.
#2: Transformation Sequence
“An American Werewolf in London” (1981)
We just mentioned how Cronenberg perfected the subtle art of head explosions with “Scanners,” but what about werewolf transformations? Cinema is populated by excellent examples, from Universal’s original beast, to Joe Dante’s impressive werewolves in “The Howling.” BUT. And this is a very big but, all of them need to take a knee and bow their collective heads to the alpha of this wolf pack: “An American Werewolf in London.” Director John Landis and special effects legend Rick Baker constructed a transformation sequence that not only looks scary, but looks painful. It convincingly depicts the horror of physically transforming from man to wolf, in bone-stretching detail. It’s simply the best to ever do it, the GOAT of wolves, if you will.
#1: All of It
“The Thing” (1982)
It’s difficult narrowing down one specific, special effects moment from John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, “The Thing.” This remake of “The Thing from Another World” remains leagues away from its 1950s predecessor in terms of special effects, thanks to a couple of certified legends, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston. The entire team created cinema magic with nightmare imagery, such as the Dog-Thing early on in the film, as well as the disgusting sequence where an assimilated Norris is defibrillated… with harrowing results. “The Thing” may have flopped during its initial run, but today it’s thankfully been adorned with all of its proper genre accolades. It may just be the finest example of practical effects ever laid on film.