We all know that the monsters and murderers we watch in scary movies aren't real. Ridley Scott didn't use actors from the Xenomorph Performers Union, and Steven Spielberg didn't hire his nephew who also happened to be a great white shark. But when a horror movie is done well, we're more than happy to forget all about that and believe the illusion. But get ready for all that to abruptly come to an end when you see ...
As far as memorable Stephen King movies go, Cujo falls somewhere between The Shining and the one where the cat dude was fucking his mom. But even if you haven't seen it, you probably know the gist: an enormous rabid dog terrorizes a woman and her son, who get all sweaty in a Ford Pinto (even though making a run for it and risking the mauling probably would've been safer than driving the Pinto away). While it got mixed reviews, the film did a really good job of convincing us that a St. Bernard could present a terrifying threat beyond drooling all over your new couch.
Warner Bros. Pictures
But if that perilous pooch with bloodsoaked fur had you fearing for lead actress Dee Wallace, allow us to ease your mind:
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Since this was made in an era before the director could even consider ruining the film with a CGI doggelganger, some of the scenes that required more nuance than a pack of trained dogs could handle were performed by a mechanical mutt, or a gentleman in a (nonsexual) furry suit. Careful observers may notice that Cujo's coat seems to suddenly get shorter every now and then. It also explains the part when Cujo takes off his own head and tells the director "I'm sweatin' my nuts off here, I'm takin' five," then smokes a cigarette, which is not in the novel.
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One of the most iconic moments in the original Nightmare On Elm Street is the sinister "bathtub shot," an equal mix of danger and lasciviousness that catapulted '80s pubescent boys into a bewildered expectation of manhood. It was heavily used in all the promotional material.
In the midst of Freddy-mania, final girl Nancy falls asleep in the bath and dreams about ... taking a bath (the Elm Street teens have really shitty imaginations). Suddenly, Freddy's claw emerges from the bubbles ...
New Line Cinema
In our non-dream dimension, the bladed glove didn't belong to a melted murder-pervert. It was worn by crew member Jim Doyle, who was tasked with the absolutely not-awkward job of holding his breath between a 19-year-old girl's legs for a nine-hour shoot. Actress Heather Langenkamp's first big role required her to sit on a two-by-four in a bottomless bathtub for hours, mere feet away from a mustachioed stranger lunging towards her crotch with finger-knives.
New Line Cinema
While Freddy doesn't necessarily have a corporeal body in that dream, it is funny to imagine him crouching super awkwardly in the corner of the tub just to slowly bring up his hand in a cool way. That mental image is WAY less scary. Except for Langenkamp, who probably opted for showers going forward to avoid flashbacks to the weirdest gynecological visit ever.
When the first Child's Play film came out in 1988, it was hard work to construct a believable killer doll, especially when the most complicated thing computer graphics could do was make children question God's existence when fighting Mike Tyson in Punch-Out!! Back then, directors had to work with whatever made a convincing shot -- puppets, shaved chimpanzees, or if all else failed, a lost child looking for his mom.
The crew built robot versions of Chucky, but the bots couldn't move independently of wires, so for some of the trickier moving shots, producer David Kirchner turned to a tried-and-true historical solution: child labor. Kirchner put his neighbor's two-year-old in a Chucky costume, directed the kid to run across the room to his waiting mom, and voila! Horror magic. When the tiny child wrapped up a long day of cosplaying a demonic toy voodoo-possessed by a serial killer, he really earned that ice cream.
Despite the fervent wishes of AMC executives, as of this writing, zombies and their apocalypse remain not real. That's a good thing for most reasons, but it does present challenges when you're making a film about an outbreak of zombies who are accompanied by undead-man's best friend -- namely, the iconic zombie dogs from 2002's Resident Evil:
In the movie, they're relentless hunters undeterred by cage or gun in their thirst to rip Milla Jovovich to pieces. In reality? It's a bunch of well-trained puppers earning their SAG cards.
The "skinned," sinewy monsters are nothing but dogs that got a bunch of latex and makeup draped over them while they stood around looking incredibly bored. It's a little tougher to experience visceral, gut-wrenching fear when you know the We Rate Dogs Twitter is ready to give them a 13/10 for their efforts.
Pumpkinhead, for the uninitiated, is your typical 1988 creature feature. Rascally teens go dirtbiking and accidentally kill a kindly old widower's only child. The man does what any good dad would do: He asks the local mountain witch to summon up the West Appalachian Dick Ripper to rip some dicks as revenge. It's a love letter to Golden Age Hollywood.
Despite his name, "Pumpkinhead" looks nothing like a pumpkin, but rather a wet alien-ish creature who's been altered just enough to avoid a lawsuit from H.R. Giger:
Another key way this monster differs from a Xenomorph? Look down, to just out of the camera's view ...
Turns out full-body latex and foam suits get a little sweaty, especially in the foot region. So for this day of shooting, they just let the Pumpkinhead actor slap on his finest $8 T.J. Maxx bargain-bin Nikes and filmed him from the ankles up, leaving him equally equipped to disembowel the teens and school them at H.O.R.S.E.
Following in the great sand worm tradition of Dune and Beetlejuice, the 1990 comedy monster film Tremors follows Kevin Bacon and his pals stranded in an isolated desert town that's about to be overrun by giant burrowing worms with hentai mouth-tentacles. Here's what these unstoppable slithering juggernauts look like onscreen:
And here's the behind-the-scenes photo of the puppeteer operating them in some of the shots:
It turns out the monster that ripped apart Kevin Bacon's town was part of a man's arm. And not just any man, but a guy in khaki shorts and Ray-Bans who looks like an extra that wandered over from Encino Man.
The full behind-the-scenes video shows all the other visual effects, but it's pretty hard to go back to believing that they're unstoppable monsters who are so terrifying that a character dies of dehydration rather than risk going back to ground level. The magic of cinema fades a tad when you've know they're just the arm extensions of some indie band's keyboard player.
Ghostbusters isn't a "horror" movie per se, even if getting bukkaked by an exploding 100-foot corporate mascot is many peoples' deepest fear. But the scene wherein Sigourney Weaver gets possessed by terror dogs often makes for a jarring experience during a Saturday afternoon Comedy Central rewatch:
The logistics of the scene are so DIY-simple that it punctures the supernatural veneer just a bit. To shoot it, they had three guys kneeling out of frame and each reach in with one hairy hellhound hand:
Still a creepy image, but not exactly the mystical power of a Sumerian god.
Will Smith's 2007 apocalyptic thriller I Am Legend was met with generally mixed reviews, but it does have one extremely intense scene with a jarring outcome. While Smith and his German Shepherd Sam are roaming the barren streets of Manhattan, they're ambushed by a darkseeker (the infected mutants living in the world's shadows) and two infected dogs. Smith ends up on his back in the middle of the road swarmed by dogs, frantically trying not to get mauled. It's total chaos.
Spoiler alert: Smith survives, but Sam gets bitten and infected, and it leads to a devastating scene in which he tries to cure her, but fails and has to kill her before she turns. It's pretty bleak. But it's way less bleak if you imagine Smith lying on his back pretending to intensely grapple with a dude in a full green screen suit and a little dog-head hand puppet:
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Although to be fair, living in a New York City that's entirely empty except for dudes in full-body green suits with zombie dog puppets wouldn't be not-terrifying.
E. Reid Ross has a couple books, Nature Is The Worst: 500 Reasons You'll Never Want To Go Outside Again and Canadabis: The Canadian Weed Reader, both available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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