The Godfather of Gore: Tom Savini


‘Gore’, a noun, is blood that has been shed due to injury, usually as a result of violence. Gore is what allows us to perceive an image to be frightful, or intriguing for that matter. C.G.I., or a computer-generated image, has its sufficient uses. It can bring to life visual scenes or landscapes that would otherwise be constrained by the laws of physics. It must be done well however.

Some films do indeed use C.G.I. effectively; however, too many movies, most notably horror films, will attempt to portray monsters or gore itself as images that are simulated by use of a computer. Personally, my disbelief can only be suspended so far until someone decides a computer-generated clown is going to have me shaking in my hypothetical britches. I use the word hypothetical as I am presently both without a breech or pants. I am however wearing a kilt so generate that image with your computers.

There is one person who has strayed away from C.G.I.; the actor, director, stuntman, author, and special make-up effects pioneer, Tom Savini, the sultan of splatter himself. He has worked on films such as Friday the 13thThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and From Dusk till Dawn. Savini first attempted to start his career by handing George A. Romero his portfolio and finally worked with him in the 1977 film Martin, which is Romero’s favorite flick of all his films.

Tom elevated himself towards legendary status on the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, the second of seven films in the Living Dead series. Tom was unable to work on 1968’s Night of the Living Dead with Romero due to his deployment to Vietnam, which I will comment on later. Not only did Savini provide the make-up effects & stunt work, he also acted in Dawn of the Dead as the character Blades. Romero has said that “Tom basically made it possible for me to make some of those movies”.

One of those movies is the 1982 film, Creepshow. Roaches play a heavy part in the film as 10,000 of them were gathered by entomologists from Trinidadian caves and imported to Pittsburgh. Apparently only a temporary permit was obtainable for them so they had to be counted before and after each shot. While en route to Pennsylvania, the roaches increased in numbers as they grew to 28,000 due to breeding. Many of them escaped towards the end of production and the use of painted peanut shells was implemented along with the remaining insects.

Prior to Tom Savini’s career in film, He enlisted in the Vietnam war as a combat photographer. He has described this time as a lesson in anatomy and real death which has led him to incorporate those experiences into creating aspects of realism in his movies. Part of what kept him sane as he peered through a lens in Southeast Asia was telling himself, “How would I create what I’m seeing? How would I create someone blown in half, or an arm severed, or a horrible disfigurement to the face?”

Two months before he would leave Vietnam, Savini was ordered to do 30 days of guard duty. He and three others were placed in a tower that overlooked the Vietnam Jungle in order to ensure the safety of the men who stayed in the barracks that surrounded the area, seven in total. Tripwire attached to flares were set up and if any enemies were spotted, the commanding officer would be called. If he saw any “charlies” through his night scope, the C.O. would then contact battalion and an order to engage the enemy would be given.

One night at 2:00 AM, the tripwire was manipulated and the attached flare went off. Disobeying orders, Tom immediately fired towards the bushes that were illuminated by the flare. His fellow soldiers followed suit. Unharmed, a duck casually walked out from behind the bush, indicating that he had tripped the wire. Savini was taken off guard duty because of this and was nicknamed The Duck Slayer from that point on.  A few days later, the same tower he was in previously was attacked and the men perished. Because of this, Tom has vowed never to eat duck as his life was spared because of one.

Savini’s interest in practical make-up effects didn’t start in Vietnam. Those interests first came to fruition when Tom was only 11 years of age after seeing the film, Man of a Thousand Faces. Savini learned how actor and make-up artist Lon Chaney Sr. was able to transform himself into grotesque and repugnant characters.

The 1985 film, Day of the Dead, is what Savini describes as his masterpiece. Gore was heavily displayed in this film. He pointed out that every zombie is different rather then gray make-up for every zombie as it was in Dawn of the Dead. Due to research through various coroners, Savini has explained the difference in the body depending on where and how you die. He says “you’ll be bloated in the basement and fried in the attic”.

Next: The Man of Our Dreams: Robert Englund

Savini continues to inspire many through his work and advice. His 16 month special make-up effects program in Monessen, Pennsylvania, allows students to receive an associate degree in specialized business while learning a curriculum created by Tom himself. Though the program started in 2000, one “student” learned under Savini’s tutelage starting in 1985. His name is Gregory Nicotero and his work in special make-up effects can be seen on television today. Savini has said that Nicotero is the “new king of zombies”. In saying that, if it weren’t for Tom Savini, the dead would not walk on AMC.