Monday, 20 April 2015

Make-up Effects in the movies

As regular readers of my blog will know (and if you don’t, this thread might interest you), I have a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts that go into the making of a film, everything from matte paintings to miniature work and all points between.  Following on from my post about Rick Baker (which you can read here), I decided to have a look at more special effects make-up that helped spark my interest in the art as I was growing up.

In 1974, Twentieth Century Fox decided to move away from the films and shifted the Planet Of The Apes saga to a weekly TV show.  Apparently it hit the UK screens in October of that year so I would have watched it in either 74 or 75.  I was six and loved it, embracing the whole she-bang - for years, I had a plastic ape mask that my parents picked up somewhere, which for a long time was one of my most favourite things ever and I was also an avid collector of the bubble-gum cards.  That Christmas, I was bought the Brown Watson annual (which I still have) and read it eagerly.  In addition to the usual 'kids annual' fare of comic strips, prose stories and biographies, there was a section at the back called ‘How To Make A Monkey Out Of Roddy McDowall’.  Hold on a minute - Roddy McDowall was a man?  Well, that was a surprise.  So the apes, chimps and orangutans in the TV show weren’t really apes, chimps and orangutans - they were people, made up to look like them!  My six-year-old mind was blown. 

John Chambers & Roddy McDowall pose
for a publicity shot
John Chambers (September 12, 1922 – August 25, 2001) was born in Chicago, Illinois and trained as a commercial artist, starting his career designing jewellery and carpets.  Following service in World War II as a medical technician, he worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Hines, Illinois, repairing faces and making prosthetic limbs for wounded veterans, in addition to training under Ben Nye, who was then head of make-up at 20th Century Fox.  Starting out as a special make-up effects artist, he created Spock’s ears for the original “Star Trek” TV series (in 1966) and worked on “The Munsters”, “The Outer Limits” and “Mission: Impossible” before winning an Oscar in 1968 for his work on “Planet Of The Apes”.  He worked extensively in films (“Slaughterhouse Five”, “Superbeast”, “Sssssss”, “The Island Of Dr Moreau”, “Halloween 2” and (uncredited) “Blade Runner”) and retired from them in 1982, though he continued to assist and mentor new artists.  In addition, Chambers was awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for his involvement in the ‘Canadian Caper’, wherein six American hostages escaped during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.  The film “Argo” (2012) covers this and Chambers was played by John Goodman.

This image shows the process in detail.

Roddy McDowell (who played Cornelius in the original "Planet Of The Apes", as well as Galen in the TV series) was famed for his home movies.  This one shows him being made up (by Don Cash) for the film and also includes some footage of the production on location.  I love the apes in shades!

Jump forward a few years (to the very early 80s) and I picked up a make-up book (which I would love to find now, for a reasonable price) from the library which featured, amongst many other greats, the wonderful Lon Chaney and I was staggered at the illusions he was able to create.  Later (but still in the early 80s), BBC2 began to show old horror films around teatime (can you imagine that happening now?) and once I found out "The Phantom Of The Opera" was going to be shown, I was a dedicated fan of their programming thread.

The film features Lon Chaney as Erik, The Phantom and following the success of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923), Chaney - who was skilled at the art of make-up and didn’t seem to mind the discomfort he put himself through in achieving a certain look - was given the freedom to create his own make-up.  Taking his cue directly from the description in the novel, he painted his eye sockets black (to give them a skull-like impression), pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the overall look.  When audiences first saw The Phantom, they were said to have screamed or fainted at the unmasking scene with Christine - even watching it today, there's a real frisson to the piece (and the make-up) that makes me think it must have been great fun to see this in a cinema in 1925!

Leonidas Frank ‘Lon’ Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930) was an American stage and film actor, director and screenwriter, who is regarded as one of the most versatile actors of early cinema.  He excelled with tortured, often grotesque characters and was also a highly skilled dancer, singer and comedian whilst his groundbreaking artistry and development of special effects make-up earned him the nickname ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’ (which was the title of the 1957 biopic starring James Cagney as Chaney).

Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado to deaf parents, he quickly became skilled in pantomime and began a stage career in 1902, travelling with popular Vaudeville and theatre acts. In 1905, he married the singer Cleva Creighton and they had one child, a son called Creighton Tull Chaney (who, as Lon Chaney, Jr., would go on to become a horror actor in his own right).  The marriage soured, with Cleva attempting suicide by swallowing mercuric chloride - she survived but it ruined her singing career - and the scandal (and subsequent divorce) forced Chaney out of the theatre and into film.  From 1912, he spent five years doing bit parts though his skill with make-up helped his chances.  In 1915 he married a chorus girl called Hazel Hastings, a union which lasted until his death and Chaney finally gained custody of his son.

He continued to work in film with his breakthrough performance - for both his acting ability and make-up skill - being ‘The Frog’ in “The Miracle Man” (1919).  He played an amputee gangster in “The Penalty” (1920), Quasimodo in “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” (1923), Erik in the aforementioned “Phantom Of The Opera” (1925) and a carnival knife-thrower called Alonzo the Armless in The Unknown (1927).  Also in 1927, he co-starred with Conrad Nagel, Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the Tod Browning film, “London After Midnight”, now considered as one of the most legendary and sought after lost films.
from left - "The Phantom Of The Opera", "London After Midnight", The Hunchback Of Notre Dame"
He spent the last five years of his film career from 1925-1930 working exclusively under contract to MGM.  His memorable performance as a tough drill instructor in “Tell It to the Marines” (1926), earned him the affection of the Marine Corps, who made him their first honorary member from the motion picture industry. He was also widely respected by aspiring actors, to whom he offered mentoring assistance.
Two shots of Chaney with his fabled make-up kit, which is still occasionally shown to the public
Chaney developed pneumonia whilst filming “Thunder” in the winter of 1929, was diagnosed that same year with bronchial lung cancer and picked up a serious throat infection caused by artifical snow used on the film (made from cornflakes).  He died of a throat haemorrhage on August 26, 1930 in Los Angeles and his funeral, on August 28 in Glendale, California, was given an Honor Guard by the US Marine Corps.

Also part of the same BBC2 strand that year was "Frankenstein" (1931), featuring the now legendary combination of Boris Karloff's wonderful performance and Jack Pierce's iconic make-up.  I watched that monster lumber across the screen with wide eyes and until I saw "The Creature From The Black Lagoon", he was my favourite.  Pierce's design (it's not clear how much input anyone else had) was both horrific and as logical as it could be, within the context of the story.  The scar and seal come from Henry Frankenstein accessing the brain cavity and the bolts on the neck - which everyone remembers - are electrodes, to carry the electrical charge needed to revive what is, in essence, a stitched-up corpse.

Jack (Janus Piccoula) Pierce (May 5, 1889 – July 19, 1968) was a Greek born emigre who, in the 1920s, worked as a cinema manager, stuntman and actor, building an interest and ability in make-up that culminated in his  transforming Jacques Lernier into an ape in “The Monkey Talks” (1926).  Impressing  Carl Laemmle, then head of Universal Studios, with his work, he was hired full-time after creating the rictus-grin face of Conrad Veidt in “The Man Who Laughs” (1928).

Although he had a reputation for being bad-tempered (he and Lon Chaney jr especially didn’t get on)  he enjoyed a good relationship with Boris Karloff which is just as well, since the Frankenstein make-up took four hours to apply.  As head of Universal Studio's make-up department, Pierce designed and created the now iconic make-ups for “Frankenstein”, “The Mummy” (1932) and “The Wolf Man” (1941) (plus their various sequels), utiliising ‘out of the kit’ techniques - building facial features out of cotton, liquid plastic or nose putty.  During the 1940s, as moulded foam latex appliances - cheaper, quicker and more comfortable for the actors - were used more often, Pierce found it difficult to adapt to modern methods.  With the old guard at the studio gone, he was ‘let go’ from Universal in 1946 and his last credit is as make-up artist for the TV show “Mister Ed” (from 1961 to 1964).

The following video link (which is, wonderfully, a slightly ropey VHS copy of an American TVB show from 1981) helps to explain the process and also features Dick Smith and Rick Baker (with his superb "An American Werewolf In London" make-up).
For my next mini-essay in this thread, I'll look at special make-up from the 60s, 70s and (boom-time) 80s!

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Crusty Exterior in London

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.
At the Southbank Book Market - James, Phil, Steve and me
At Edge-Lit 3 last year (see my report here), we were talking about how good it was to see one another again and made plans to meet up at some point nearer to Christmas, though with Mrs Sloman and Mrs Everington giving birth as the year drew to a close, those plans were put back to 2015.  And so, on Saturday, The Crusty Exterior met for the first time, organised by Phil, to tour 2nd hand bookshops (and other places of culture, obviously) in our wonderful capital city.
In Covent Garden - Phil & I are NOT goosing the Highlander
I caught the 9.26 down, had the last seat in cattle-class before the 1st Class section and the blokes in the next seat (on the kebabs and beer already) played their music on a speaker for the whole journey.  I didn’t mind (it was 80s stuff), I had my own Walkman plus “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” but I was glad I hadn’t paid double the train fare to move one seat down and travel all posh!

From St Pancras, I tubed to Embankment and met Phil Sloman at the station there, we hugged and walked across Hungerford Bridge, running through the plans for the day.  At the Southbank, we met Steve Harris, who’d driven down and all quickly caught up, perusing the stalls, pointing books out to each other and marvelling over some of our finds.  James then arrived, more greetings and after taking an author pic for Steve (against a graffiti covered concrete stanchion, for Punk-Lit), we headed back to Charing Cross station.  It was great to see everyone, it was great to be back together and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with fellow writers, talking about projects and finds and not having to explain our conversational topics.

Since Steve had never been to Covent Garden, we took him through there (and I pointed out the location where Barry Foster brings out the body in the spud bag in “Frenzy”) and then walked along to Charing Cross Road/Leicester Square where we had lunch from the deli (and it was bloody lovely) on the corner.  Eating and chatting, we walked up Charing Cross and explored several bookshops, before cutting through to Shaftesbury Avenue (past the theatre showing ‘The Mousetrap’ - “I wonder,” I asked, “if they ever get people outside saying, if you don’t give me a tenner, I’ll tell you whodunit”) where I introduced the boys to The Cinema Store.
Outside The Mousetrap - both James and Phil made
a 'shush' noise as I took the photo...
After, we headed up Monmouth Street, past the Seven Dials (all the times I’ve crossed there, I never knew that was what it was called, so thanks for that Phil!) and picked up a drink from a newsagents and stood in the street, as London life went on around us, talking genre and books and people and it was a wonderful half an hour.  It even included a sighting of Mark Gatiss, who crossed the road into Forbidden Planet, spent a minute or so in there and then disappeared back the way he came.  When a tourist blocked the road taking pictures of a street sign, curiosity broke up our conversation and we all went to see what he’d been photographing.  The sign said “humps” and that was enough to have us thinking of schoolboy-humour-level jokes as we went into Forbidden Planet.  Spent some time (and money) in there, then walked to the Bloomsbury Tavern for a couple of drinks and more chat.  Well, I say drink - we took a table that had recently been vacated, with James & I clearing off the previous patrons dirty plates and one suspiciously full pint glass of clear liquid.  As we sat down and started talking, Phil & James sipped their pints, I sipped my Diet Coke and Steve sipped… nothing.  “Where’s my lemonade?” he asked.  Erm…

In the Bloomsbury Tavern - pint of lemonade definitely not pictured (I wonder where it went...?)
After a couple of pints - and several wonderful, tangent filled conversations - we headed towards Bloomsbury, passing ‘London’s Best Fish & Chip Shop’ on the way.  “Ah, London,” said James, “that well known seaside resort.”  “Smells like Skeggy,” I said and that set us off on a brief, but initially enthusiastic, idea of setting the next gathering there before good sense prevailed and we filled Steve in on why Mablethorpe wasn’t worth seeing.  We visited Skoob books (great cellar bookshop, filled to the rafters - quite literally), saw some blue plaques, nipped into another bookshop before calling into the Norfolk Arms for another drink and a conversation at the outside tables which encompassed critiques, what to do if you read a friends story and it’s not good and ruminations on genre.  After a lovely (and very reasonable) dinner at the Tavistock Tandoori, the day was up.  Steve & Phil were heading back across London, James & I were heading for St Pancras, so we said our goodbyes and wandered off.  We got into the station just in time, caught the 7.29 and talked the whole way back to Kettering, where I got off.
Ah, curry.  In the Tavistock Tandoori - we don't know why the waiter chose to cut most of Steve off...
As inaugural meetings go, it was brilliant - it was great to see everyone again, the conversation, humour and laughs flowed easily, we all picked up some decent book stashes and, most importantly, we had a good time.

Provisional plans have been made for the next Crusty gathering to be in Brum towards the end of the year, notwithstanding seeing one another at Edge-Lit and FantasyCon and I, for one, can’t wait.
In a Charing Cross bookshop cellar.
 p.s.  Membership of The Crusty Exterior is liquid, with several members unable to make this meeting, thus making it - in Steve's words - a "mini-con".

p.p.s. Just in case you were wondering, the name of the group comes from an off-hand comment made at Edge-Lit.  We were sitting in the cafe comparing scars (or, more to the point, the worst rejection letters we'd ever received) and, following Steve's newsletter, someone (we can't remember who now) said "we're not the Inner Circle, more like The Crusty Exterior".  That made us all laugh and when Phil set up an FB group to organise the meeting, that's what he called it.
My stash from the day

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

What Gets Left Behind, now available as an ebook

In 1981, Gaffney was terrorised by the Rainy Day Abductor.

Local girls went missing.

And two boys made a terrifying discovery.

Now one of them has come home, to try and lay the past to rest.

In September 2012, Spectral Press published my story "What Gets Left Behind" as the seventh in their acclaimed limited-edition chapbook line (and I was thrilled that it sold out four months prior to publication).  No ebook version was released.

Since the original run was limited to 100 print copies, I thought it might be a good idea to publish the story in a digital edition and - having spoken with Simon Marshall-Jones at Spectral - that's precisely what I've done.  At the present time, there are no definite plans in place for any further print editions of this story.

The ebook version of "What Gets Left Behind" is essentially the same as the print one (with just a few minor tweaks) but includes an exclusive afterword where I spend 1,500 words talking about how the story came together.  The digital edition was built by Tim C. Taylor of Greyhart Press and I designed the new cover.

The ebook is available on Kindle now and for a limited time you can pick it up for 99p...

"Very strong writing and with a nice evocation of time and place.  West conjures the sense of a particular era with skill and the horrors he finds there are universal."
- Gary McMahon, author of "The Concrete Grove" trilogy

“Where this story excels is Mark’s amazing talent at intertwining the stories narrative with an emotional depth and detail, that will stir the emotions of the reader.  Mark West’s writing has a heart and soul that many writers would kill for.”
- Jim McLeod, at Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"Mark West has a knack for making the bonds that bind friends and family tangible and very
real. In What Gets Left Behind those bonds reach forward from the past to ensnare Mike and
draw him back to a place he never wanted to visit again...”
- Ian Whates, author of “City Of Dreams & Nightmare” and “The Noise Within”

“[A story] about loss and regret, as well as unsettled ghosts.  If you love the terror of good horror then there’s plenty for you in this slow-burner. And if, like me, you enjoy Mark West’s writing, there’s even more.”
- Sue Moorcroft, author of “All That Mullarkey” and “The Wedding Proposal” 

"What Gets Left Behind" garnered some very good reviews for me and I'm proud of the story.  If you decide to take a chance on it, I hope you enjoy it.

And I'll leave you with the Rude Dude Films trailer, complete with a soundtrack from the fine Gary Cole-Wilkin.
Pick up the ebook...

Monday, 30 March 2015

An Appreciation of Rick Baker

The 54th Academy Awards were presented March 29th, 1982 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, with the ceremony presided over by Johnny Carson.  It was the first year that the award for Best Make-up was presented and the winner was Rick Baker for his work on "An American Werewolf In London"

When I discovered the magic of movie special effects make-up, first through a Planet Of The Apes annual in 1976 and later by watching a wonderful BBC2 strand of old black & white horror films, I was an instant fan of the art.  Around the time that I was developing an interest, a man was starting to make waves in the industry with his superb designs, solid work ethic and photo-realistic creations.
‘I wasn’t the average kid in my neighbourhood. I really liked monsters and monster movies – even the cheap crummy ones’

At the 'local drugstore photobooth'
Richard A. “Rick” Baker was born in Binghamton, New York on 8th December, 1950.  A fan of monster movies from an early age, he once said “the first make-up artist I was ever really aware of - and became a fan of - was Jack P. Pierce. He did all the great classic Universal monsters, especially Frankenstein's monster [and] that make-up hasn't been outdone. It has become this iconic image. Everybody when they think of the Monster thinks of Jack's make-up.”  His passion was fuelled by TV shows, such as “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits”, as well as the magazine “Famous Monsters Of Filmland”, especially the articles by a make-up artist called Dick Smith.  Baker began building monster kits and, a good artist, he took to making himself and his friends up when he was a teenager.  In fact, he often used his parents oven to create make-up appliances and is quoted as saying “You don’t want to put a turkey in the oven after you’ve just baked some foam.”  He took photographs of these appliances, often going to the “local drugstore in full make-up to use the photo-booth there”, which must have caused quite a stir!

His first professional industry job was at the Clokey Studios, where he was a puppet designer for the stop-motion animation series “Davey And Goliath” but his life changed in 1965 when he got a copy of Dick Smith’s “Monster Makeup Handbook”.  Smith was already an influential make-up artist who helped revolutionise the field, starting out in TV before branching into films and creating work that still has the power to amaze today.  For Baker, the book showed him a way forward and he’s open about how much it inspired him - as it also did the late, great Stan Winston.  In fact, Baker and Winston maintained a good working relationship and friendship, sharing ideas and information with each other well into the 1980s.

When he was 18, Baker wrote to Smith, who invited the young artist to his house (where he had his make-up studio) the next time ‘he was in town’.  Baker, with relatives nearby, took up the invitation and Smith, immediately seeing the talent, quickly became his mentor, showing his young protégée the tricks of the trade.  Baker’s first credit on a big film was assisting Smith with his work on “The Exorcist” (1973).

Working on Baron Samedi, for "Live And Let Die"
Following this, he worked uncredited on “Live And Let Die” (1973) (creating the shot Baron Samedi and Yaphet Kotto’s exploding head), created the monster baby in “It’s Alive” (1973) before joining forces with fellow Dick Smith fan Stan Winston on the television movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1973), in which the lead character ages to 110 years old and for which Baker won an Emmy Award.

Baker’s next big break came with the 1976 version of “King Kong”.  A long-time admirer of apes, he felt he was the right man for the job and joined in eager collaboration with Carlo Rambaldi, for director John Guillerman and producer Dino DeLaurentis.  Unfortunately, the production was plagued with problems and he now sums up the experience with “my mind tries to suppress the memory of King Kong”.  He describes the Kong he and Rambaldi designed, amidst restrictive union rules and creative differences with the producers, as "a joke" and much was made of the full-size animatronic version that Rambaldi built though for the bulk of the time we see Kong, it’s Baker in a suit.  Rambaldi’s mechanical Kong, all 40ft and 6.5tonnes of it (built at a cost of $1.7m), is only seen in a few brief shots, racking up about 15 seconds of screen time.

Rick Baker, with some of his "Star Wars" creations
Burned by his experience, Baker worked on the lower-budgeted killer worm movie “Squirm” and “The Incredible Melting man” (both 1976), before helping out friends with second-unit work for the cantina sequence of “Star Wars” (1977).  He contributed several aliens (some of which are only visible in the original releases) and also played one of the band members.
The final 'change-o-head', just before its few seconds of brilliance, from "An American Werewolf In London"
“An American Werewolf In London” (1981) was ground-breaking in many ways.  John Landis originally wrote the screenplay in the early 70s and discussed the film with Baker when they were making “Schlock” (1973) together, giving Rick plenty of time to come up with some effects that hadn’t been seen on film before.  The delay - it took eight years to get the film financed - meant that Baker had already used some of the ideas when he started work on “The Howling” (also 1981) though Rick left that production in the hands of his protégée Rob Bottin (who would go on to create the special effects for “The Thing”).
There were a lot of effects in the film (werewolf victims, ‘meatloaf’ Jack, the wolf itself) but the key sequence was the transformation, which Landis specified in the script ‘happens in bright light and it's extremely painful.’  As well as featuring make-up appliances on the actor David Naughton, the sequence employed what Baker called ‘change-o-heads’.  These were elaborate puppet reproductions of parts of Naughton’s body (head, face, feet, torso, hands) that could stretch and transform into the wolf in real time on camera.  Naughton said the transformation sequence (shot at the end of the production schedule) took six days to complete, the make-up and effects so laborious that only half an hour of footage was filmed in the week.  The snout pushing through, the key change-o-head, was the last thing to be shot.  As Baker says, “It would take us months to make one of the Change-O-Heads, but it would be quick to shoot [and] we laughed that the head parts took so little time on camera. It would be, “Action!”, the thing does its job, “Cut! We got it!” seconds later. I'd be, like, “What? Is that it? Don't we need another take?” And John would ask, “Does it do anything else?” “Nope…” And that would be it. All that work and it was over in a blink!  But when the movie came out, I took my crew to see it and when the transformation came on screen, people stood up, clapped and cheered…”
Behind the scenes - left: John Landis pushes Rick Baker, who is operating the wolf puppet head in Piccadilly Circus
right - the crew working on the 'spine' segment of the transformation sequence
The "American Werewolf In London" crew
In fact, the result was so impressive that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to create a new Oscar award category specifically - Outstanding Achievement In Makeup - with Baker the first recipient.

And here it is, in all its glory (with the key 'Change-o-heads' at 2.01 and 2.09)…

After extensive work on David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983) (which I blogged about at length here), Baker re-united with John Landis for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1983), which came about because the singer was so impressed by “American Werewolf” (and Rick gets a cameo, as “the guy who opens the door and comes out of the crypt, with my eyes rolled back.”).

Rick Baker's make-up for Kala, which graced the cover of Cinefex 16
Then came Hugh Hudson’s “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984), which was a true labour of love for Baker and the opportunity to create the ultimate ape suit that he’d tried so hard to do with King Kong.  He poured all of his experience into the project and relocated to England, setting up his workshop in Stage 5 at the EMI Elstree Studios.  For a year, Baker’s fifty-person crew (along with a further forty wig-makers) became an ape-suit factory, turning out numerous finished suits in an assembly-line fashion (each one took about eight weeks to complete).  None of the suits were identical and some, for key characters, had to be shown to age.  Baker said in a Cinefex interview; “We went for a fictitious kind of ape - not a chimp and not a gorilla, but some lean more in one direction or the other. That's what was fun. I could draw what I liked from different apes and combine them according to what seemed to fit the character. Kala, Tarzan's ape-mother, is more like a chimp, though her ears are smaller. White Eyes, a mean one, is closer to a gorilla. Figs, a big fat one, has a lot of orangutan in him.”  Although he was Oscar nominated, he lost out to Dick Smith’s work on “Amadeus”.

Baker works on Kevin Peter Hall, buried under the Harry make-up
Eddie Murphy, as Saul
Baker won his next Oscar for “Harry And The Hendersons” (1987).  He has since called his work on the film “one of my proudest achievements.  I really loved that character and I think it still holds up.  I read an article about CG stuff and somebody was talking about animatronics and how they didn'’t think they could do something better than Harry was in that film -– and I did that in the 80s.”.  He was nominated the following year for “Coming To America” (1988).  As well as re-uniting him with John Landis, it was also the first time he worked with Eddie Murphy, making him up as several different characters in the film.  Of them all, the one that took most people by surprise (including those who I watched the film at the cinema with) was Saul, the old Jewish man in the barbershop.  Says Baker, “the make-up was something like 15 or 17 separate pieces of foam rubber, and when we got him all made up he couldn’t believe it, it was much more real than he expected it to be.”

Rick Baker working on David Warner in "Planet Of The Apes"
Dave Elsey and Rick Baker work on Benicio del toro for "The Wolfman"
For “Gorillas in the Mist” (1988), Baker created hyper-realistic ape suits that were mixed with real primates in the film and virtually undetectable, created a horde of Gremlins for “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990), which he also co-produced, made a werewolf of Jack Nicholson in “Wolf” (1994) and won another Oscar for transforming Martin Landua into Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood” (1994).  In “The Nutty Professor” (1996), Baker worked with Eddie Murphy once more, making him both big and all the members of the Klump family, before taking on aliens in “Men in Black” (1997), which was great fun.  Another ape (much bigger this time) featured in  “Mighty Joe Young” (1998), Jim Carrey became the Grinch in Oscar winning make--up for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000) and Eddie Murphy was back in the make-up chair for “Nutty
Professor II: The Klumps” (2000).  For Tim Burton’s poorly received “Planet of the Apes” (2001) - it’s really not very good - Baker created the excellent ape effects and his work was one of the few things praised in the film.  Although he worked solidly through the 2000s, it wasn’t until “The Wolfman” (2010) that he won another Oscar, in partnership with Dave Elsey.  Unfortunately, the transformation is all CGI and it shows.  More recently, Baker worked on “Men in Black 3” (2012) - the Boris The Animal make-up is superb - and “Maleficent” (2014).

He was married to his first wife, Elaine Baker (nee Parkyn), from 1974 to 1984.  In addition to helping him with the effects, she also appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) as The Emperor (her voice was dubbed by Clive Revill and the eyes of an orangutan were composited over hers), though her appearance was replaced by Ian McDiarmid in all prints following “Return Of The Jedi”.  He is now married to Silva Abascal, with whom he has two daughters.

Baker was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Academy of Art University San Francisco in 2008.  In 2009, he received the ‘Jack Pierce - Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the Chiller-Eyegore Awards.  He also has a star (the 2,485th) on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, located in front of the Guinness World Records Museum.

He holds the record for the most Academy Awards wins (seven) and nominations (twelve) for make-up artists.
Rick Baker wins his first Oscar, 1982
Filmography (make-up effects, unless specified)

Octaman (1971) (costume, with Doug Beswick)
Bone (1972) (uncredited)
The Thing with Two Heads (1972) (uncredited)
Schlock (1973)
The Exorcist (1973) (special effects assistant)
Live And Let Die (1973) (uncredited)
Cop Killers (1973)
Black Caesar (1973) (uncredited)
It's Alive (1974)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)
Flesh Gordon (1974)
King Kong (1976) (plus actor)
Track of the Moon Beast (1976)
Squirm (1976)
Zebra Force (1976)
The Food Of The Gods (1976) (uncredited)
The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) (cantina make-ups for second unit, plus one of the band members)
The Fury (1978)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The Howling (1981) (consultant)
The Funhouse (1981)
The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)
Videodrome (1983)
Thriller (1983)
Starnan (1984) (transformation sequence, with Dick Smith)
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)
Into the Night (1985) (actor only)
My Science Project (1985)
Captain EO (1986)
Ratboy (1986) (design only)
Harry and the Hendersons (1987)
Beauty and the Beast (1987–89) (design of Beast)
Werewolf (1987–88)
Coming to America (1988)
Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
Missing Link (1988)
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) (also co-producer)
The Rocketeer (1991)
Wolf (1994)
Ed Wood (1994)
Batman Forever (1995)
The Nutty Professor (1996)
The Frighteners (1996) (design of The Judge)
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Ghosts (1997)
Men in Black (1997)
Critical Care (1997)
Mighty Joe Young (1998)
Life (1999)
Wild Wild West (1999)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000)
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Men in Black II (2002)
The Ring (2002)
The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Hellboy (2004)
The Ring Two (2005)
King Kong (2005) (actor only)
Cursed (2005)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Click (2006)
Enchanted (2007)
Norbit (2007)
Tropic Thunder (2008) (makeup design for Robert Downey Jr.)
The Wolfman (2010)
Tron: Legacy (2010)
Men in Black 3 (2012)
Maleficent (2014)

Academy Award wins

An American Werewolf in London (1982) (First year of the award)
Harry and the Hendersons (1988)
Ed Wood (1995)
The Nutty Professor (1997)
Men in Black (1998)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2001)
The Wolfman (2011)

Rick has a presence on Twitter which is up-to-date and good fun - @TheRickBaker

In a wonderful twist, Rick Baker favourited my tweet promoting this blog post.  I really do hope he read it and enjoyed it.

* thanks to Cinefex #16, “Rick Baker - Maker of Monsters, Master of the Apes” by Jordan Fox

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

My part in Sue's Bloghop

I've been challenged by my fine friend Sue Moorcroft to join in the Lovely Blog Hop to talk about some of the things that have shaped my life and my writing.

At the end of this post, you’ll find links to some blogs and writers I like. The writers have all agreed to participate in and continue this Lovely Blog Hop.
me, Dude & Sheepy, April 2010.  Dude's probably forgotten this...
First Memory
As the father of a young son, it’s become increasingly obvious that whilst I’m already aware even the most vivid of memories will fade over time, when you’re a kid, they can slip away altogether.  Sometimes I’ll ask Dude if he remembers something and he’ll look at me blankly, even though I know we had a great time doing it and I have the photographs to prove it.  In my case, my first memories go back to living in Corby in the early seventies with my folks - playing with my friends, collecting Planet Of The Apes cards, the toys of the era (especially Action Man), Saturday morning pictures, Bullet comic and Spider-Man weekly.

Bearing in mind that I write horror, this is what I recall as my first memory of being scared (always good for a laugh, eh?).  When I lived there (and it's the same today), Corby had a huge contingent of Scottish folk and some of their cultural elements were brought down with them, including the Highland Gathering.  One year (I reckon it was either 1974 or 1975), my parents took me and my sister to one such gathering and we sat on the grass (near to the rope ‘fence’) and I can’t remember anything we saw, except perhaps for a motorcycle display team.  One act that I do clearly remember, however, was a bunch of clowns that ran into the ring to, I assume, distract the kids attentions whilst something was being set up.  I remember one clown in particular, a short round bloke who seemed to be completely blue, running over towards us - in my minds eye, he’s gibbering and laughing and sticking his tongue out as he waves his arms wildly in the air, but maybe didn’t happen in real life.  What did happen, though, was that I reacted - I was terrified.  I remember Dad hugging me and taking me away, I remember him explaining what clowns were and - later - I remember him assuring me that no clowns could get into the house and none of them would be hiding under my bed when I went to sleep.

I’m not coulrophobic, though they’re still not my favourite thing in the world - there’s just something about their need to hide behind a mask and caper desperately to get a laugh, that jars me.  Not nice.

Me and Dude, reading on the patio, summer 2013
I can’t remember when I started reading for pleasure, but (see above) I was reading comics - Spider-Man and Bullet - from an early age and once we moved to Rothwell in 1977,that took off.  Having an excellent town library - in the old Market Square building, up a spiral stone staircase and into a dark room with what seemed like more books than the space should have fitted - and a great one at my juniors school, I embraced them.  At school, I discovered The Three Investigators series (as I’ve blogged about here) and began reading some of the books from my Dad’s shelves (though his copy of “The Fog” - with the cut-off ladies head on the cover - scared me for years).  In the early 80s, Dad took me and my sister into a second-hand bookshop in nearby Wellingborough and, because I’d heard people talking about having watched it on TV, I picked up a battered copy of “’Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King.  That was a revelation and I gobbled up as much of his work as I could, using his non-fiction exploration of the horror genre “Danse Macabre” (which I blogged about here) as a guide for further reading and I got into Clive Barker early, on King’s written recommendation.

I still love reading and often get through sixty or more books in a year.  I used to be one of those people who, once they’d started a book, couldn’t stop it midway through but life’s too short for that - I have books on my shelves that I know I’ll probably never get to, so why waste my time reading something that clearly doesn’t sit well with me?

I try to read widely across genres and take in crime, thrillers, drama, Chick-Lit, autobiographies, behind-the-scenes stuff on films, Snoopy and Calvin & Hobbes collections, some sci-fi and - of course - horror.

Rothwell's old library, or The Market House, designed by
William Grumbold for Sir Thomas Tresham.  Construction
began in 1577.
As I mentioned above, my first experience with a public library was in Rothwell and even though it’s not in the same building any more (a new one was built on wasteground across the road in the 80s and although it’s lovely and well-stocked, it’s not a patch on the old one), I still use it and signed Dude up for his library card as soon as we were able to.  Back in the day, when research didn’t mean a few sentences typed into Google, the library was where you did homework that required the use of encyclopaedias and it was generally a treasure trove of information (and new Three Investigator books!).  Whilst that research aspect might have been replaced with laptops, tablets and smart phones, the wealth of books, the huge range of worlds that are ready to be visited with the aid of the readers imagination, is a wonder to behold.  I don’t use the library enough - and if you saw my TBR pile you’d understand why - but I passionately believe they should be there, open to everyone who wants to explore the written word.

What’s Your Passion?
My family, especially adventures with the Dude and hopefully giving him a childhood he’ll look back on favourably (assuming he remembers our adventures...).

I quite enjoyed school and have warm memories of my junior school years (I’m a Parent Governor now and although the old building is still there, the new additions mean that it doesn’t really resemble the place I remember) and my stint at Montsaye (especially the Sixth Form, which I think was the best school year of my life).  I wanted to go on to study journalism, though that never quite happened and I fell into accountancy, which led me back to night school, where I got my professional qualifications (the course was three hours a night, up to three hours a week - how on earth did I manage that?) just before Dude was born.

I’ve been writing stories for a long time, starting when I was about eight and wanted to know more about “Star Wars” so expanded the universe and put me and my friends into the various adventures.  I also wrote about Steve Austin (there were always short stories in the Six Million Dollar Man annuals and I enjoyed reading them), spies (for a while, I wanted to be either James Bond or Simon Templar) and detectives.  I didn’t write much about my own life until I went to Montsaye (our Comprehensive, or senior school), which coincided with the start of “Grange Hill” (“flippin’ ‘eck, Tucker!”), but apart from a few stories, I focussed on crime fiction (I homaged The Three Investigators with my own Three Intrepids series).  I hope I’ve come a long way since then and I love the process (though I do prefer editing to writing - I’m one of those writers who ‘likes having written’).  I don’t write as much as I would like to - there’s a lot of life going on, but I’m also still battling a couple of the demons from a serious block that struck me just after Dude was born - but I’m still there, still plugging away.  After all, whatever would I do without it?

Sue's original post can be found here.

These are the links to other blogs from writers you might find interesting. Not all of them write in the same genre as I do, but they're all very good, as is Sue herself.

Anthony Cowin
Sue Fortin
Donna Bond
Steve Harris
James Everington

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Dude in print...

A chuffed Dude, with the anthology
On Monday, when I got home from work, a very excited Dude came barreling through to the kitchen to greet me.  He was clutching a copy of "Out Of This World", which features his poem "Icy Wind".

My Dude, a published poet.

I read his poem again (it's very good) and watched him over the course of the evening, as he looked at the book cover, checked out his poem and beamed, from ear-to-ear.  It reminded me a lot of the way I reacted when I first saw "Strange Tales" and also the way Dad looked at his book of my Grampy's war diaries (which I blogged about here).

My Dude, a published poet at aged nine (knocking on ten).

I was first published, in the school magazine at Montsaye, in my first year there (so I'd have been 11 - I went on to co-edit an issue when I was in the Sixth Form).  My wonderful son, the apple of my eye, has beaten me by two years.  The little git.

He's taken an interest in my writing for a good few years now (though he's never read any of my published stuff) and has helped me out a couple of times too.  I sometimes run through ideas in my head as I drive and, when I was working on my werewolf short "Last Train Home", I was thinking aloud in the car.  Dude, in the passenger seat, gave me the perfect ending and what he said is the last line of the story (he was thrilled to discover that, though I haven't let him read the rest of it).  So instead of horror, I've written a few short stories for him and we've collaborated on a couple of things and I've really enjoyed those moments.

As I've mentioned elsewhere before, I started writing fiction when I was eight, expanding the Star Wars universe or coming up with new adventures for The Six Million Dollar Man and my love of the creative process - whilst taking dents over the years - has never lessened.  I'm not sure yet how strong Dude's love for writing is but I am happy to nurture it and I hope it never goes away.

Very proud Dad.

Friday, 13 March 2015

The Death House, by Sarah Pinborough (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

Toby’s life was perfectly normal… until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House: an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.

In an unspecified near future, children under the age of 18 can contract a mysterious and apparently terminal illness.  If tested positive, these so-called Defectives are taken away from their families to an isolated country manor which serves as both a boarding school and a hospice to see out their days, which end in the dreaded sanatorium.  The Death House, as they all call it, is run by the Matron and a squad of nurses, backed up by teachers who sit through lessons teaching children who will never need the information they’re being given.  Toby, the narrator, is 17 and top dog of Dorm 4, keen to protect his friends - young Will, brainy Louis and the religious Ashley - and while away his time until he falls ill, thinking about the past and what might have been with a girl he fancied from school.  Understanding that the kids are sedated at night, he stops taking his ‘vitamins’ and roams the house whilst everyone else is asleep, catching up on his rest during the day.  When a new batch of Defectives is brought in, one of them is a girl called Clara who also skips her medication and likes to roam after dark.  After an initial frosty period - Toby resents her presence, thinking she will spoil his night-time freedom - the pair become friends, even as things begin to go bad in the house.

Simply put, this is a stunning novel, perfectly constructed by a writer who is at the top of her game.

The characterisation is superb, from the main players down to those who are seen only briefly during lunchtime.  Toby is angry, with his condition, the House and being away from his family, sinking into a mass of hopelessness and it’s only the arrival of Clara that brings him back.  As one of the older kids, his young friends - Will and Louis especially - look up to him for guidance (and, perhaps, love) and his interactions with them form part of the books emotional heart.  The other part is his burgeoning relationship with the vivid and vital Clara, a free spirit who gives him a new sense of purpose.  Their love affair is wonderfully observed, from the first stirrings to the night-time adventures as they explore the house and island, making plans for their future.  They begin to form a family unit, rescuing an injured bird they call Georgie, as well as uniting the kids in the house who before struggled to cope with the situation.  Those kids are written as real children - stroppy and funny, playful and spiteful, eager and annoying - and never less than believable.  This did have the drawback for me, however, that as the parent of a young boy, I identified strongly with one particular character and it was heart-breaking to follow his development, especially that his greatest adventure was also his last, a set-piece that brought tears to my eyes.

Another strength is seeing the adults as Toby perceives them, vague characters who intrude upon his life (apart from his parents, where we see their love for him clearly, especially in a harrowing flashback) with the Matron the de facto villain who might, actually, just be someone who divorces herself from reality in order to cope.  When touches of humanity from the adults are glimpsed - the kindly nurse who mentions she’s read “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, for instance - the reader is surprised as much as the children are.

Perfectly paced, the book is peppered with well staged set pieces, from the Northern lights on the cold beach to the special cave that becomes more signficant as time goes on; from the one-up-manship between Toby and Jake over who’s top dog to Ashley’s increasing religious fervour, that creates divisions in the house; from the desperate plans made for the future and a tough decision that breaks a lot of hearts.

The location is well used, with the gloomy house, its empty rooms and the bare countryside around it - we don’t know where the Death House is any more than the characters do and their sense of being isolated and trapped seeps into the gaps between the sentences, creating an air of foreboding that is never properly shaken off.  In fact, the sounds and activities of the Death House create the horror, especially the clanking of the lift as it comes down from the upper floor to whisk away the ill children.  In a clever touch, the disease - and what happens to the Defectives in the sanatorium (indeed, why they need to go there) - remains a mystery, as does the timeframe (at one point, the children mention that it hasn’t snowed in England for over 100 years, yet they are all familiar with record albums) and I liked that it added to the sense of unease.

The writing is smart and assured, capturing a teenaged voice (as I remember it) with apparent ease and there wasn’t a jarring note in the book.  Topped with an ending I didn’t see coming - that is both uplifting and melancholic, but absolutely perfect - this is already a strong contender for my book of the year.  Tightly constructed, well paced and full of believable characters, this is a fantastic tale that packs a real emotional punch and I think it’ll linger with me for a long time.  Very highly recommended.

The novel can be bought from Amazon in hardback here or as a Kindle ebook here