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Top 5 80's Monster Makeups

by Natalie Wright
Top 5 80's Monster Makeups

Top 5 80's Monster Makeups 

Ah, the eighties; a decade of excess. From the hair, to the shoulder pads, to the ballads, everything had to be big. Even the movies got in on the action, as technical advances in the special effects industry meant that filmmakers could realise their most grotesque visions in glorious, disgusting detail.

While slashers and demonic spawns of Satan made their first tentative steps in the 1970s, the 80s were the age of the monster. No longer forced to deal in shadows and subtly,  less-is-more went well and truly out of the window, giving makeup artists of the decade leave to craft some of the most memorable and stomach-churning creations in cinema history. 

Leaps in animatronics, as well as the rise of malleable foam latex, meant that the physical form could be twisted,  disfigured and manipulated in ways never seen before, making it possible to produce visceral, authentic-looking monsters in Technicolor glory; nightmares come to life.

And boy, did those artists take that opportunity and run with it. Along with the great "Video Nasty" panic, the eighties' great cinematic legacy is that of the birth of "body horror". The most corporeal, repulsive and down-right jaw-dropping of all the sci-fi and horror sub-genres, body horror would never have dragged its slimy, mutated backside from the imaginations of Clive Barker and John Carpenter without the talent and toil of their makeup artists.

And proof, if more were needed that the eighties were a stellar time for practical makeup; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was prompted to instate a new category for Best Makeup and Hairstyling to the Oscar stable in 1981.

Here, we raise a glass to the gross with our top 5 1980s Monster Movie Makeups:



In 1987 the original Hellraiser was released, and plunged its viewers into a world of inter-dimensional, sado-masochistic super-violence.

Hellraiser's Cenobites were unlike anything that had previously been seen in cinema, intelligent beings bearing nightmarish self-mutilations; a terrifying combination of eloquence and cruelty. Special Effects Designer Bob Keen and his crew managed to take that wincing feeling you get when you think about pushing something underneath your fingernail and turn it into living, breathing creatures.

While it was Hellraiser's female lead that was intended to carry the franchise, the movie's monsters struck such a cord with audiences that the series was re-focused on the Cenobites themselves. Their design has proved so iconic that the series is still continuing today, with Hellraiser: Judgement penciled for release next year. And we can expect the makeup design for the tenth film in the series to be as unpleasant and genuine as ever, as the series' primary makeup artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe will be taking the reigns as both writer and director.

An American Werewolf in London

Here it is. The holy grail. The monster makeup that to this day stands as one of the most impressive, ground-breaking spectacles in movie history.

What was truly incredible about American Werewolf was its innovation on more than just one front. Moving away from the typical depiction of a werewolf as a furry, bi-pedal man, artist Rick Baker worked under the instruction of director John Landis to create a "four-legged hound from hell"; meaning not only did he have to create an autonomous creature that would function independently of actor David Naughton, he had to facilitate Naughton's transformation into the creature. Not satisfied with smashing cinema audience's expectations on both of those counts, he also made astounding leaps with his makeups on the creature's victims; both recently and not-so-recently deceased.

You're unlikely to find special effects that have been written about and discussed more than Baker's Academy Award winning work, and in particular the transformation scene, on American Werewolf, so all we'll say is this; the reason it worked - and still works - so well is its savage intimacy. Since the slow dissolve of 1941's The Wolfman werewolf transformation scenes have been an opportunity to dazzle audiences with effects, but having the audience see the transformation wasn't enough for Baker; he wanted them to feel it. Stripped down to the bare cinematic essentials, Baker shone light on the agony of the transformation, with every bone-crunching stretch of limb shown in painfully visceral detail.

So jaw-droppingly horrifying was the resulting mixture of prosthetics and revolutionary animatronics that it prompted the Academy to award Baker its first gong for makeup effects, which for Baker, would be the first of many to come.


The Fly

If you could be any animal what would you be? It's the sort of innocuous dinner party icebreaker that's been bandied around for years. A tiger? A bird? A pampered Golden Retriever? Maybe. Probably not a fly though.

If you think body horror, you probably think David Cronenberg. And rightly so. A proprietor of the violent and bizarre for many years, Cronenberg arguably reached his zenith with 1986's The Fly, in which a scientist finds himself slowly transformed into the irksome, perpetually-vomiting insect of the title.

The protagonist's transformation from dorky scientist to insectoid fever-dream is incremental, with effects running the full gamut from subtle rashes, through full-body foam suits, to rod-controlled puppets;  utterly unafraid to shy away from the un-stomachable, The Fly is a makeup artist's dream, and a hot-dog eating audience's nightmare.

The Thing

Released in 1982, The Thing was both was simultaneously praised and reviles for its makeup effects, being touted as technically brilliant but nauseating and unwarranted. The world watched, in disgust, but could not look away; a sentiment which is now both a badge of honour for a makeup artist.

The reactions of cinema-goers were perhaps unsurprising; as well as being helmed by John Carpenter, who already had several horror films under his belt, the film also took inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The Thing delighted in displaying all the things the human body should absolutely not be capable of in sweaty, ligament-tearing, skin-bubbling close up.

Movie fans had seen nothing yet, however, as The Thing heralded in a long and sticky era of monstrous transformations of the human body, and almost 30 years later still wields the power to illicit screams of "OH GOD KILL IT WITH FIRE".


A Nightmare on Elm Street

A departure from the strong, silent type slasher villains we'd seen in the late seventies and early eighties, Wes Craven wanted a monster no less horrifying, but a little more able to crack wise for his 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street.

And so, out of the flames of a revenge arson attack, Freddy Kruger was born. Designed by David Miller, Freddy's makeup made the character visually terrifying and abhorrent, and facilitated his over-the-top - highly eighties - persona by allowing actor Robert Englund freedom of speech and movement while under the makeup.

Complete with circular burns, exposed muscle and dangling flaps of skin, Miller's design purposefully moved away from the smoother,  more realistic style of burn makeup to create something more fantastically ghastly, even applying Vaseline and K-Y Jelly to give it a fresh, untreated sheen.

Freddy's later makeup design would eventually move into a more realist, healed-over style, with sharper features  (and would briefly go full "science classroom anatomical model" for 2010's A New Nightmare) but it was the foundations laid by Miller in 1984 that would make Freddy perhaps the most familiar movie monster in horror history.