I like taking box cutters to my friend’s faces. They willingly sit in a cold metal chair while I completely rearrange their face. The smell of liquid latex burns off every hair in their nostrils and the spirit gum evokes a feeling of burning pain. I man handle their face to the point their neck is twisted in unnatural fashions. But, that is what we want: unnatural fashions. Their time in my folding chair is finished by a few swipes of a fluffy brush to smooth out each shadow and wrinkle I formed in their skin. They look hideously deformed and it is beautiful.
On this morning, I crawled across campus at seven thirty in the morning. I had a cup of coffee in one hand and a bag of makeup in the other. As I arrived at the building, I called my friend, Matt, so that he may let me into the building, but a kind smoker heard my phone call and beat him to it. He seemed alarmed by the bottle of fake blood balanced on top of the makeup bag. Matt sat half asleep at his desk and I began to work. This was the first time I had performed this sort of makeup job on someone I had only know for a short time. Other times I had done this, it was done for my friends who had known me for years and allowed my trial and error method of makeup. Matt sat patiently as I began layering on liquid latex and filled his room with the pungent odor. To create the wound he desired, I had to take my box cutter and slice through the latex. Nervously, I told him that if I was touching any real skin he would have to tell me immediately. He replied with “I trust you” and I went to work finishing his “wound.” I layered blacks and reds to create dead skin. We ripped up an old T-Shirt to create fake blood soaked gauze wrapping under the wound. With a box cutter in my hand and held to his arm, it was weird that he trusted me. I twisted his arm in multiple different angles as we had a normal conversation about the class that this was whole ordeal was for.
The fake wound went on to terrify my family members on Facebook and Instagram. I think they failed to notice the glittering black eye shadow I thriftily used to create dead skin. I got complements from friends on Instagram and students from Matt’s class where he showed off his wound for the skit saying that it looked like a real festering wound. In reality, I used the cheap stuff. If you watched the stuff the professionals do to create their horror movie monsters, my wound would look like amateur hour. I used layers of Puffs tissues and watered down Halloween brand latex and Five Below eye shadow pallets. The professionals can create wholly new humans and missing limbs. I am still working on the basics of trying to remove an eye and lips. People ask me when I walk around with zombie makeup around Halloween time, if I would do this work professionally. Seeing my work compared to Greg Nicotero’s often persuades me to avoid the question. I understand how to make stuff people have already done and created a thousand times. I don’t understand how to create characters that can convey emotions and look more than just gruesome.
When I was a kid, the movie The Ring scared the hell out of me. So, I watched the movie a thousand and one times until the fear went away. I wanted to pin point what exactly made me afraid of The Ring and the resulting anxiety over televisions and phone rings that occurred after every viewing. The jump scares did their job and made me jump. However, they did not scare me. It was Samara who scared me. The way she walked and the way she looked terrified me. Her hair dangled in front of her face only to reveal the horrified, decayed, and mangled face when she was about to kill always sent shivers down my spine.
Samara’s horrifying face was the product of Rick Baker. He began his career as a special effects makeup artist when he assisted on the makeup team for The Exorcist. His team also did the makeup for the Thriller music video. Baker conveys intense horror by building off the human face. This is based off of the manipulation of the human mind and sight. Shadows and highlights mixed with intense prosthetics to manipulate the human form can either convey a horrific sense of dread or an ethereal beauty. Rick Baker is the man you go to if you want to watch your actor turn into your worst nightmare. Rick Baker is hailed as royalty in Hollywood cosmetics.
The makeup artist for the show adds reality to the fiction. They can make your monsters look real—look like what the writers and directors dreamed. Tom Savini describes his role as a special effects artists as equal to the job of the director’s: “They [the directors] can dream up the monsters but someone has to make it real and it’s the makeup artists and the special effects artists that make it real.” If you want the fear to be real, the special effects makeup must be realistic. Behind the director is the perfectionist makeup artist fixing every minute detail until everyone is out for his blood. However, it is for the authenticity of the movie’s monsters. Border lining the uncanny valley allows a creepy and troubling feeling while going to the gory brings a grossed out feeling. Without it, your monsters are laughable and your “horror” movie becomes a comedy. The worst horror movies are the movies that underestimate the intelligence of its audience. The audience does not want to feel like it is being fooled. Bringing the audience into the movie is how you sell a movie. What brings the audience into the horror genre is the horror and uneasiness of the special effects makeup. Humans are naturally thrilled by being sent to the edge of their seats during horror flicks.
Lon Chaney would set the bar for how intense the makeup should be in horror movies to bring in an audience. Chaney was the “Man of a Thousand Faces” with famous moves in his repertoire like Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He did his own makeup for all his movies. He believed that by doing his own makeup, he would be able to move his face more freely in his movies. Expression was everything in silent films so neglecting facial movements would be out of the question. The methods he used to create his famous looks would seem insanely primitive and borderline gross and morbid. Chaney gave the Phantom more than just a gruesome face. He could convey the emotion necessary for the brooding and demented character. His molded faces became more famous than his own. The turned up pig nose he donned in The Phantom of the Opera was created by using a thin layer of fish skin to pull the tip of his nose up. The pungent smell of liquid latex sounds lovely compared to the smell of the fish skin.
Working in the theatre in my high school gave me a creative outlet. I enjoyed my time as I deformed my friends. I never did my own makeup before school. I thought of those ten minutes of sleep more important than doing my makeup. I learned how to do makeup through the persuading of my theatre’s director. My job became more than just painting sets and managing the stage. I learned how to do stage makeup that twisted a person’s face into an old and wrinkled look or like a porcelain doll. My friends became canvases that I could paint with bronzer into a whole new person. Their hair would become clay that I could sculpt into a delicate and intricate design. They would just let me have at their face and go nuts. They barely batted an eye when I would pinch their skin or twisted their neck. They would let me burn their hair and my hand in an attempt for the perfect curl only to let me have another try when the smoke settled. My ambition probably scared them but they never let it show. They always gave me their trust.
I cut their face open and make them look horrifying and they trust me. They watched this neurotic mass of ambition and macabre imaginations mold their face with a box cutter and eye shadow and marveled at their face in the mirror. Watching YouTube videos turned me into a trust worthy makeup artist. The knowledge I gained from my trial and error efforts will never make me a
professional. Instead, creating monsters and ethereal beings will always be my morbid hobby. Stephen King once said that “We sometimes need to create unreal monsters and bogies to stand in for all the things we fear in our real lives.” This hobby came from a weird fascination with horror movies as a child. I became good enough to the point I could scare people. I enjoyed making people look like their favorite movie character. It’s morbid, macabre, and a bit gruesome but it is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy Halloween time so I have the ability to create these monsters and characters that I have thought of. I enjoy my friend’s reactions to looking at the finished product and the relief they get when I say I am finished. I enjoy cutting their face up and making them horrific monsters. It is a morbid, macabre, and gruesome hobby but it is a lovely time when I get to break out the fake blood.