Disgusting DIY Special Effects That Have Been Used In B-Movies  

Lisa A. Flowers
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B-movie ingenuity (especially in the annals of horror) is a real art. Filmmakers working on tiny budgets have to be far more resourceful, creative, and enterprising than those working with billion dollar allotments. The former must whip up DIY movie effects for maximum low budget gore, while the latter can pretty much afford to have everything done for them. And, wouldn't you know it, big money work sometimes suffers because such productions can afford to have their fake heads handed to them on real silver platters.

Practical effects on a short leash ... the type you see in B horror movies ... let you know you're watching a picture that was crafted with love, affection, and madcap creativity. And it's an enduring truth that low-budget gore is fun ... far more fun than anything produced on a computer; and far more impactful than any aesthetically homogeneous, annoyingly gilded CGI effects could ever be.

If you think you can't make a homespun masterpiece with rotting roadkill, mannequin limbs, marshmallow fluff, and maybe a few real corpses bought from overseas suppliers on the cheap, read on. These indie movies with crazy DIY effects just might blow your mind.

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With its eye-popping colors, gloriously deranged surrealist aesthetic, and bizarre juxtaposition of slapstick and menace, Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead remains a singular artistic achievement, one that no amount of billion-dollar special effects and generic CGI will ever top. The film is also a, if not maybe the, ultimate masterwork of horror textures, which take center stage in the form of melting, spurting, putrefying corpses galore.

How were these effects created? With common kitchen cabinet staples and household pests. As make-up and visual effects supervisor Tom Sullivan explained at a 30th anniversary cast and crew reunion, "I wanted to make it seem like their [the corpses'] biology actually changed" ... to which end he employed oatmeal, snakes, guts hewn of marshmallow strings, and cockroaches acquired at Michigan State University.

Never let it be said that living fast, dying young, and leaving a rainbow-gushing corpse is just a pipe dream.

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The Scanners head explosion scene is undoubtedly one of the most famous moments in horror movie history, and its execution was actually super DIY. In a supplement created for the Criterion Collection release of the film, the effects crew explains how the scene came to fruition:

"We took a life cast of [actor] Louis Del Grande and we made a gelatin positive in the mold and lined that with a plaster sort of 'inner support skull' ... and that was then packed with various materials ... latex, wax, just bits and bobs of a lot of stringy stuff that we figured would fly through the air ... we filled the head with literally leftover burgers, and so on, because we were living off that crap. So we just threw it in there with a bunch of Caro syrup blood and gelatin brain and so on. And then we sealed it with wax."

After that, it was all systems go: Special Effects supervisor Gary Zeller simply lay down behind the dummy, put a shotgun to the base of its skull, and blew its head off. Voila!

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Seriously, what's more DIY than using real body parts? It certainly alleviates the stress of having to make props appear realistic. That's what Tobe Hooper had in mind when he directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a brutal masterpiece of visceral horror if there ever was one. 

According to The Telegraph, the skeletons in Leatherface's slaughterhouse were "real human skeletons from Japan, because it worked out cheaper than buying a fake prop." The piece goes on to point out this likely wouldn't be the case anymore, because of the rising cost of corpses ("skeletons were cheaper in the '70s").

Other resourcefully free, scavenged, and abundant props included bits and pieces of "eight cows, three goats, one chicken, two deer, and an armadillo," all of which started out their film careers as run-of-the-mill rural Texas roadkill. Waste not, want not.

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The Tingler is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Disgusting DIY Special Effects That Have Been Used In B-Movies
Photo:  Columbia Pictures

The history of special effects going beyond screen and speaker to create a multi-sensory experience for audiences is a long and fascinating one. In 1916, just at the dawn of cinema, rose perfume designed to complement a screening of that year's Tournament of Roses parade was wafted through the ceiling of a theater. And in 1982, John Waters famously handed out Scratch 'N Sniff cards to accompany the action in his cult romp Polyester

William Castle had the same crossover techniques in mind when he pioneered audience-jolting "Percepto" seats to complement screenings of 1959's The Tingler

As Horrorpedia puts it,

"During the climax of the film, The Tingler [a parasitic entity that attaches itself to people and can only be expelled through screaming] was depicted escaping into a generic movie theater ...  this cued the theater projectionist to activate the buzzers and give ... members an unexpected jolt [in their seats]."

Virtual reality that was way ahead of its time.

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