While enjoying critical acclaim and commercial success with his latestRead more...
In the otherwise excellent book The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio, aside from a few brief mentions Stan Winston’s early work in the horror genre was strangely omitted. This dismissal was not only reserved for the slice ‘n’ dice cycle of Friday the 13th, however, as both the overlooked splatter classic Mansion of the Doomed and the atmospheric thriller Dead & Buried were also overlooked. There was a section set aside from many of his earlier projects, ranging from the made-for-TV movie Gargoyles to the Star Wars Holiday Special, along with his input on the supernatural drama The Entity, yet the first genre picture to receive significant page space was James Cameron’s sci-fi slasher The Terminator.
Stan Winston first emerged during an era in which special make-up and creature effects had taken a giant leap forward due to the innovative work of the legendary master Dick Smith. Through his elaborate and convincing imagation showcased in such ’70s milestones as The Godfather and The Exorcist, Smith took the art of FX to a whole new level and inspired a new generation of fans who themselves would embark on successful careers in the special effects industry, with Rick Baker, Tom Savini and Winston soon following in his footsteps. The latter initially dreamed of becoming an actor, relocating from his home state of Virginia to Los Angeles shortly after graduating. ‘I still had to make a living, even as I was acting at night at this theatre. I had a family to take care of by then,’ he told author Jody Duncan. ‘I distinctly remember making fangs for a movie called Dracula’s Dog as I waited backstage to go on at Theater East.’
Winston’s first foray into the horror genre would coincide with that of cult producer Charles Band, whose low budget exploitation picture Mansion of the Doomed would borrow heavily from Georges Franju’s acclaimed masterpiece Les yeux sans visage. Also marking his first collaboration with actor Lance Henriksen, whose subsequent work together would include Aliens and Pumpkinhead, the movie told of a demented surgeon who, after causing a car crash that resulting in his daughter’s loss of sight, had begun to abduct potential donors and remove their eyeballs, leaving them to rot in the basement. This would begin aa recurring theme within Winston’s early work of the disfiguring or removal of the eyeball, with both Dead & Buried and The Terminator also featuring graphic scenes of ocular horror.
Winston’s first controverial project would be James Glickenhaus’ gritty revenge thriller The Exterminator. The movie, which like many of the era explored the effects that the Vietnam war had on those who made it home, saw veteran Robert Ginty struggling to make ends meet while working menial jobs with his former army buddy Steve James. But when his friend is hospitalised after a senseless attack he is forced to exact brutal vengeance against those responsible. Dismissed by critic Roger Ebert as ‘a sick example of the almost unbelievable descent into gruesome savagery in American movies,’ the film became a minor success when it was released in 1980, inevitably followed by a disappointing sequel several years later.Winston’s contribution to the movie would be the prologue, which depicted the ruthless beheading of an American soldier by members of the Viet Cong and Eastland’s escape from captivity. Shot in five days in Indian Dunes, California, shortly after principal photography had concluded, Winston’s involvement would increase the budget significantly but would become the film’s standout moment. To achieve the effect, Winston built a full-size body made from fibreglass that he then covered with foamed latex, make-up, dentures and artificial hair. Using a moto-tool, holes were drilled around the neck so that the head could be attached, while Winston created a rig that would allow the head to fall backwards as the soldier was beheaded.
Dead & Buried, released the following year, had begun life as a Twilight Zone-style thriller before screenwriting duo Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, fresh from their success with Alien, were recruited to deliver a more Grand Guignol-style draft. With the gruesome death scenes in The Omen and Friday the 13th providing there was an audience for graphic cinematic violence, Winston was brought onboard to add a more visceral element to the picture. ‘There are some extraordinary effects in it; I feel it will be nominated for an Oscar for its special effects work by Stan,’ boasted Shusett in a magazine interview prior to its release. Despite his enthusiasm, the movie was released to little impact and was ignored by the Academy, yet Winston’s impressive work would ultimately result in the film being targeted by the British censors under the Video Recordings Act 1984.
During the production Winston was approached by an old friend, Steve Miner, to assist on his directorial debut Friday the 13th Part 2. With the first film’s effects artist, Tom Savini, declining the chance to return in favour of working on another summer camp slasher, The Burning, Miner was determined to recruit Winston, who would be required to relocate to Kent, Connecticut, for the duration of the shoot. Unable to commit to the project due to other obligations, Winston would agree to help cast the head of actress Betsy Palmer, who would briefly reprise her role of deranged killer Mrs. Voorhees. ‘He said he wanted to do it but had a bunch of conflicts,’ explained Miner in The Complete History of Friday the 13th.
With Winston unavailable he instead suggested contacting Dick Smith, who at the time was balancing such projects as Altered States and Scanners. It would be through Smith that Miner would be introduced to a young rising artist called Carl Fullerton, who would be tasked with the challenge of delivering graphic death scenes even more elaborate than Savini’s. ‘Stan Winston had to cast Betsy Palmer’s head because they were both in Los Angeles,’ Fullerton told Fangoria. ‘Stan did a great mould. The only thing I had to do was gouge out its eyes, because Betsy’s had bee closed and slightly change the position of its lips.’ All their hard work would ultimately prove futile when the MPAA insisted on heavy cuts that would result in the sequel proving a disappointment for the fans who hoped to see the same kind of carnage that had made its predecessor such a success.
Regardless, Friday the 13th Part 2 would provide Paramount with another box office sensation and so the studio wasted no time in bringing Miner back for another sequel, this time to be shot in 3D. The director would once again approach Winston in the hope that he would be able to provide an exciting new look for the film’s villain, Jason Voorhees. Bringing actor Richard Brooker to his workshop in Northridge, California, Winston would subject him to a minimum of six hours a day in the make-up chair as he applied latex to create the new Jason. ‘Stan wanted to do a new make-up technique on Jason because of the 3D,’ recalled effects artist Doug White to author Peter M. Bracke. But by the time principal photography was set to commence both Miner and the producers decided that they were unimpressed with Winston’s efforts. ‘They wanted a look closer to Tom Savini’s work on the first one. So I was stuck with Stan’s make-up and had to blend the two together.’It could be argued that while The Terminator was a science fiction thriller and would incorporate far more technical special effects that would include not only prosthetics and stop motion, it was still ostensibly a slasher movie, sharing as much in common with John Carpenter’s Halloween as it did with Michael Crichton’s Westworld. The tale of a machine sent back in time to assassinate the mother-to-be of the future leader of the resistance, as with Carpenter’s movie The Terminator told of a woman being pursued by an unstoppable killing machine. The project would mark a significant advancement in Winston’s work as the titular cyborg, portrayed with menace by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is slowly stripped off its humanity by first the removal of one of its eyes and ultimately its flesh, revealing a metal skeleton underneath.
Its director James Cameron would once again reunite with Winston two years later for Aliens, the big budget action sequel to Ridley Scott’s claustrophobic horror Alien, which would expand on the universe created in its predecessor with the introduction of an alien queen. ‘When in fact Jim Cameron decided to do Aliens he wanted to do it without any stop motion animation. He wanted to do it all live,’ revealed Winston in a featurette. ‘The queen alien is a fourteen-foot puppet and fourteen puppeteers bring her to life. But she’s a live action performance.’ He later added several years later, ‘It was going to be completely either full-size or a small animatronic rod puppet of the queen…And for the first time actually getting into hydraulics…we actually used little steering wheels to move the body with hydraulic oil.’
It is perhaps inevitable that a special effects artist will eventually progress to directing, after all; they often choreograph the set pieces that they have designed, much as a director would. Tom Savini turned to filmmaking with a remake of Night of the Living Dead, while John Carl Buechler, an alumnus from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, would helm both Troll and the seventh instalment of the Friday the 13th series. Winston, meanwhile, would create his own creature feature with Pumpkinhead. The story of a grief-striken man who resurrects a mythical monster to avenge the death of his son, the picture allowed Winston to showcase his special effects talents without the interference of a director.
‘It was a small picture, something I thought I could handle as a director and I felt there was a lot I could bring to the story. So I told the producers, ‘Yeah, I’ll do the creature – but only if I can direct the movie,’ he admitted in The Winston Effect. ‘Dino DeLaurentiis said to me, ‘Remember, kid, the most important thing is the face of the monster.’ I thought that was a funny thing to say to me, of all people. I may have been a first-time director but I knew monsters!’ He would explore the most iconic monsters of all in 1993 when he collaborated alongside Steven Spielberg in a big budget adaptation of Michael Crichton’s best-seller Jurassic Park. Whereas previously dinosaurs were created through the use of stop motion, ever since The Lost World in 1925, Winston would work alongside Industrial Light and Magic to develop a mixture of animatronics and CGI that would blend seamlessly together in a way that had never been seen before.
While audiences were eager to finally see the Tyrannosaurus Rex in all its glory the true villain of the movie would be the Velociraptors; fast and deadly hunters that have the ability to sneak up their prey and lure them into a trap. According to puppeteer John Rosengrant, who would be one of the actors inside the Raptors, the creatures were designed using what they dubbed garbage bag tests; life-size recreations made out of foam to test the movement of the beast. ‘I call it a garbage bag test because it dates back to when we did Aliens for Jim Cameron,’ he explained. ‘We actually constructed a queen alien, full-size, out of garbage bags and foam core similar to this. It’s proof of concept and what we’re doing here is the same thing, it’s just a more elaborate version.’While Winston and his team would continue to work on relatively inoffensive monster movies like Lake Placid and the Jurassic Park sequels his last creature feature would be Wrong Turn. Taking its cue from ’70s horror movies about rural inbreds like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, the movie allowed Winston the chance to create a clan of deformed hunters who prey upon a group of city slickers who have become lost on the backroads. ‘The original script didn’t feature the characters as well defined as what they are now,’ he told MovieHole during the promotion of the movie. ‘Originally, they were just three huge mountain men…Ultimately, we ended up creating three very specific characters – Sawtooth, the hair lip, who’s somewhat of a father or leader, One-Eye, Who’s like our Lenny, a Big Kid of sorts and, of course, Three Fingers – who’s just a screaming kid.’
Tragically Stan Winston passed away in 2008 at the age of sixty-two after a long battle with cancer, leaving behind a body of work that would not only include an array of horror classics but also such acclaimed blockbusters as Edward Scissorhands, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Iron Man. For over thirty years he both fascinated and scared audiences with his collection of dinosaurs, aliens and superheroes, his studio becoming one of the most prominent forces in Hollywood. ‘I don’t think of myself coming from a special effects point of view, but rather as creating characters,’ he once told the BBC. ‘I don’t do special effects, I create characters and I use the tools of special effects necessary to do it.’