Without visual effects, movies would be a dull wasteland devoid of outer space explosions, alien superpowers, and Superman's weirdly unnatural upper lip. But for every masterstroke of cinematic magic, movie history is littered with examples of creepy-as-hell effects that will haunt your dreams, such as ...
In his quest to freak out every single literate child in the world, Roald Dahl's novel The Witches tells the story of how Earth is secretly populated by hideous witches in disguise. The 1990 movie adaptation is appropriately terrifying in its portrayal of a witch convention, in which seemingly un-witchy guests peel off their skin revealing their cartoonishly monstrous true selves -- which in retrospect may have, unfortunately, been an allegorical outlet for Dahl's rabid anti-Semitism.
But amazingly this scene in which screen legend Angelica Huston peels her goddamn skin off like a tangerine isn't the most disturbing effect in the movie. Earlier, the witches unveil their plan to turn the children of the world into mice using candy laced with a magic potion, which they demonstrate on a boy named Bruno. Which doesn't sound like it would be all that scary -- except that the scene plays out like an episode of Animorphs directed by David Cronenberg.
Because Roald Dahl thinks kids who desire candy should be immediately subjected to existential torture, Bruno's stomach bloats, his rodent head nearly detaches from its body, all while his body gyrates as if undergoing an exorcism. It would have been even more intense if the filmmakers had gone with the original ending in which the afflicted children never return to human form and live out the fart-in-the-wind lifespan of mice. That's less depressing than learning that the Big Friendly Giant was in fact having sex with the Giant Peach (all while Willy Wonka watches pantsless from the Great Glass Elevator).
Instead of just botoxing the crap out of his face, the filmmakers behind 2010's Tron: Legacy de-aged Jeff Bridges using new digital technology. Why? Because the evil computer program that rules Tron looks like his character from the original 1982 film for some convoluted reason that seemed like it made sense when set to Daft Punk.
And sure, it seemed impressive at the time, but now it looks real bad. Like Polar Express or "first 10 minutes of X-Men: The Last Stand" levels of bad. Sure, this character sounds like Jeff Bridges, but it looks like a Playstation 2 game about an offbrand Ken doll.
And while we can overlook some of its jankiness in the heightened, computerfied reality of Tron, the movie opens with a flashback of Flynn in the real world. We have to watch this dead-eyed CPR dummy hanging out with a small child who somehow doesn't flee in terror. Even just a decade later, random internet users managed to improve on these scenes using "deepfake" technology.
This world has given us all many profound questions to ponder: is there a God? Does intelligent life exist on distant planets? Who would win in a fight between a zombie or a tiger shark?
At least that last question has been answered in horror master Lucio Fulci's 1979 Zombi (also known as Zombi 2 because it served as a strictly Italian sequel to 1978's Dawn of the Dead, which was released as Zombi internationally). Set on a fictional Caribbean island, one of the heroes of Zombi is threatened by a shark while scuba diving. As she escapes, she is also attacked by a zombie, who proceeds to tear her bathing suit off because, well, it's an Italian horror movie from the 1970s.
Then the zombie and the shark duke it underwater out like a Jacques Cousteau Halloween Special -- the below YouTube clip is NSFW, that is, unless you presently work in the Italian horror film industry 40 years ago.
The gonzo stunt was considered too "silly" by Fulci, who refused to shoot the scene. The second unit had to rope underwater photographer Ramon Bravo into playing the zombie after the original performer backed out. Shockingly, even after tussling with a (fed and heavily-sedated) tiger shark underwater while dressed as the living dead, Bravo somehow received no credit for his work.
Amazingly, the 1990s saw the release of two movies called Jack Frost, both of which were about a guy dying in a car crash only to be reincarnated as a snowman. Yes, two separate screenwriters had this same idea (and somehow didn't quit the profession and immediately seek therapy). While 1998's Jack Frost was a supposedly heartwarming (but actually super-creepy) family film, it was beaten to the punch by a 1997 movie of the same name; a low-budget straight-to-video slasher movie about a serial killer who goes full Frosty thanks to some mysterious toxic chemicals and a dash of Christmas magic.
And while we can't argue that anyone should actually watch this movie, it does feature some impressively grungy special effects involving the demonic snowman puppet. After multiple killings, Jack the snowman faces off with his small-town Sheriff rival, hiding in the back of his car.
Only to have half of his face melted off by antifreeze ...
And ultimately get mowed down by a car.
While invisibility movies have had a long and bumpy cinematic history ranging from 1933's The Invisible Man to that one starring Kevin Bacon's wang. Less notably, in 1992, John Carpenter directed Chevy Chase in Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Most impressive was the film's effects, which were utilized to craft some real nightmare fuel, like the scene where Chase's character is rendered visible by slathering flesh-colored make-up on his face. Not to mention the scene where Chevy Chase disrobes, exposing his nude body minus his genitalia which have been disturbingly erased thanks to movie magic.
(We haven't even mentioned the part where he randomly dresses in brownface, which we have to presume was Chase's idea.)
Warren Beatty's 1990 adaptation of the classic '30s comic strip Dick Tracy is an impressive artistic feat, painstakingly recreating the vibrant colors and art deco style of the original illustrations. Itâs also pretty impressive that Beatty somehow convinced Disney to release a movie for children in which the hero repeatedly mows gangsters down with a Tommy Gun.
At the time, one of the most-heralded parts of the movie was its make-up effects, which transformed the faces of acclaimed actors into real-life caricatures befitting the exaggerated style of the comics, even earning an Oscar in the process. The prosthetic get-ups were so intense, the production hired "Makeup Police" to follow the actors around the set and make sure that they didn't mess up their faces by, say, eating a plateful of spaghetti between takes. But in retrospect, the make-up doesnât so much transport you into a comic book world, as much as it does provide a terrifying distraction. Al Pacino looks like he had testicles glued to his chin, Prunceface is basically a walking scrotum and Influence resembles a background ghoul from Beetlejuice.
And the character Littleface became, not merely a man with a large head and small features, but this walking nightmare:
Meanwhile, the "Tramp" character straight-up looks like Ron Perlman melted.
These grotesque monstrosities are rivaled only by the time the Today Show crew horrified America with their Peanuts gang cosplay.
Top Image: Warnes Bros. Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures