With the current crop of horror films being played out in either a haunted house or a haunted child (it's always kids, why is it never a cat, a haunted cat?) using CGI and jump scares, whatever happened to the days of practical VFX? You know the type: animatronics, blood squibs, bladders, some still use them, The Walking Dead utilizes practical FX for the majority of filming but most films bitch out and use CG.
Here is a list, Like any other list, it's a personal pick of what I believe to be the best examples of practical visual FX in the horror genre. By all means, discuss the article, tell me your favorites, but please don't bitch about how I left so and so off or how a certain film is a pile of ass, the film might be balls but it might have the most insanely awesome PVFX.
So, without further ado...
1. EVIL ED'S TRANSFORMATION/ DEATH - FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
As Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) attacks Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) in wolf form, Vincent pierces the heart of Ed, throwing him over a balcony. The next two minutes are pure cinematic excellence as we watch Ed transform from the wolf back into the dying Ed. These VFX are fantastic and are made even more incredible due to the heart-rending nature of Ed's death, both horrifying and sad.
2. BRUNDLE-FLY COMPLETE TRANSFORMATION - THE FLY (1986)
Another heart-rending moment, the finale of The Fly (1986), a film filled to the brim with gruesome gore FX, hits you right in the feels as Jeff Goldblum's scientist finally transforms into the Brundle-fly, a mass of gore and tech, melded together due to the matter transporter. The sad part happens when, clearly in immense pain, he grabs the barrel of a shotgun, wielded by Geena Davis, and points it toward his head. The FX are some of the best ever committed to film.
3. THE LAWNMOWER - BRAINDEAD a.k.a. Dead Alive (1992)
Long before creating middle earth and introducing us to the CG fantasy world of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, director Peter Jackson was a badass horror director, his second horror film, Braindead, considered by some to be the goriest movie ever made, is his horror masterpiece. It's crowning glory is the lawnmower finale, a scene featuring a house full of zombies and, you guessed it, a lawnmower, as the main character, Lionel, clears his dead infested house by strapping the mower to himself and casually decapitating, dismembering and disemboweling the zombie horde. It's a moment of pure blood drenched awesomeness.
4. GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH! - ALIENS (1986)
James Cameron's incredible follow-up to Ridley Scott's original masterpiece, is a different beast altogether. Switching up the haunted house in space atmosphere to a more war movie style, but still keeping the horror element throughout. Much like The Fly, the film features amazing PVFX the whole way through but the final encounter between Ripley and the Queen Alien is the film's money-shot. Ripley is strapped into the power loader and battles a giant puppet, operated by up to 16 different men. The fight is awesome. Had Cameron made Aliens now, the Queen would be all CGI.
5. SETH VS. HELL RAT - FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)
Clooney versus a giant puppet rat in a Mexican bar called 'The Titty Twister' which happens to be inhabited by vampires?! BEST. MOVIE. EVER! Brilliant FX from KNB FX here, turning the master of gore, Tom Savini into the Hell Rat. Arguably director Robert Rodriguez's greatest achievement in film (Sin City sucked, all right?) and one of Tarantino's most insane scripts ever. Doesn't get much better than this for '90s horror!
6. BAD MOON RISING - AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
The greatest werewolf transformation scene of all time. A close second for The Howling, but American Werewolf in London takes the top spot for the sheer insanity and expertise put on film. John Landis' iconic horror film gives us the greatest transformation scene thanks to Rick Baker's incredible FX for the scene. It's truly something incredible. The whole film is brilliant but this scene, set to the song 'Bad Moon Rising' by Creedence Clearwater Revival, is one of the crowning achievements in practical visual FX.
EDIT: i've just been informed that the song playing during the Transformation was actually Blue Moon sung by Sam Cooke, The CCR song plays in the scene just before the Transformation.
7. ALL OF IT - THE THING (1982)
I would say that John Carpenter's re-imagining of the Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby original, The Thing From Another World (1951) - which was based on the short story 'Who Goes There' by J.W Campbell Jr., is perhaps the greatest sci-fi horror film of all time. A cold, paranoid invasion thriller unlike anything we'd ever seen before. it's also, to my mind, John Carpenter's greatest achievement as a filmmaker. But what really makes the film stand out, apart from the brilliant cinematography and Ennio Morricone's score, is the practical VFX, supervised and created by Rob Bottin - who at the time was only 22-years-old. He created some of the most original and breathtakingly gory FX setups we've ever seen and doubt we'll see again. The Thing is an almost - no scrap that - IS a perfect horror film...