July 31, 2014

Dick Smith, 1922-2014

With great sadness we learn that special effect makeup master Dick Smith has passed away, July 30, 2016. He was 92 years old.

Dick Smith was a giant in his field, an innovator, and massively influential, though he might be best remembered for his generosity as a teacher and a mentor to aspiring makeup artists. He was even willing to share his knowledge with the very youngest monster movie fans as he did in 1965 with the magazine-format Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook published by James Warren’s Famous Monsters.

Here, reposted, is an article I wrote back in 2010 about Smith and the Handbook.

Dick Smith's Frankenstein

For first generation Monster Kids in 1965, Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook was the holy grail. There had never been anything like it before. Here, incredibly, was a step-by-step guide on how to turn yourself into a monster, written in simple language, easily understood, and published in an inexpensive magazine format by Famous Monsters!

I sent away for the book and would spend the next year or two experimenting with monster makeup. I hunted down the suggested ingredients, esoteric stuff like spirit gum, collodion and thick, smelly liquid latex.

Soon, I could lace my arms with disturbingly realistic scars and give myself a bubbly burned face using corn syrup and breadcrumbs, adding red and blue strings for veins. I could arthritically deform my knuckles using glue and cotton matted down and shaped with acrylic paint. I even made a bald-head skullcap, painting liquid latex on a balloon, and worn to hilarious effect.

Smith’s book described a number of makeups, from an easy Weird-Oh character and a painted on split-skull face to more elaborate jobs, stepping up the difficulty level as he went on.

I never attempted the complex werewolf or the book’s pièce de résistance, Smith’s New Frankenstein Monster, which took its cue from Mary Shelley’s description, “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath.

I can’t imagine how any kid could achieve this one without infinite patience, helping hands, and uncommon talent. The full-head job required hammering out a metal skullcap, carefully building up facial muscles with cotton and mortician’s wax (an anatomical diagram of facial muscles and arteries was provided), and covering everything with a transparent gelatin skin. The finished effect must have been stunning. Smith admitted that it did not photograph well, writing “the weird transparency of the skin is more apparent to the eyes than to the camera, but it was most effective.” The whole thing would theoretically peel away easily, though Smith suggested using baby shampoo to clean the red stains off your face!
Dick Smith’s book is symbolic of his generosity and his eagerness to share his knowledge, an avowed reaction to the wall of silence he encountered as a fledgling makeup artist in the late Forties. Hollywood makeup men wouldn’t share their secrets. “None of them would give you the time of day,” Smith said. Throughout his life, Smith was kind to fellow artists, most notably in his mentorship of Rick Baker, who was guided and encouraged by Smith when still a teenager.

Amazingly, when Dick Smith wrote his Handbook in 1965, his best work was still ahead. Smith would go on to create the latex appliance methods still in use today. He introduced the use of bladders for breathing effects, spurting blood, and the crawling skin transformations seen in Altered States (1980). He created the ultimate “old man” makeup, still a reference, for Dustin Hoffman’s Big Little Man, a design also used on vampire Barnabas Collins in House of Dark Shadows, both made in 1966. Smith designed the gruesomely realistic effects of violence in Coppola’s Godfather pictures, Scorcese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and, in what is perhaps his masterpiece, he created the astounding makeup effects on display in The Exorcist (1973).

Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup Handbook, in both its original Warren magazine format and an updated book edition from 1985, is an expensive collector’s item today. Still available is a 40-minute demonstration video, Monster Makeup Hosted by Dick Smith, directed by John Russo.

Scans from the original Warren edition are on view over at the Magic Carpet Burn blog archives. Here’s The New Frankenstein Monster. Click and scroll around to see the rest of the mag.
Dick Smith’s website.

Still online, an abandoned blog, Max and Courtney Make Monsters, attempted to recreate every makeup described in Smith’s Do-It-Yourself book.

Dick Smith’s makeup for TV’s Arsenic and Old Lace.

July 24, 2014

Frankenstein Cannot Be Stopped!

Art/Horror filmmaker Larry Fessenden, Spirit Award winner and Fangoria Hall of Famer, knows his Frankensteins. We previously posted his Frankenstein Mashup, a glorious edit of 27 different Frankenstein films — Be sure to follow the link if you haven’t seen it yet! Now, Fessenden revisits The Monster with FRANKENSTEIN CANNOT BE STOPPED, a music video for the New York-based band Life in a Blender.

The classic Monster is evoked with a rigid, kabuki-like mask, with lighting, shooting angles and context bringing it to life. Fessenden also uses an animated puppet to introduce The Monster, and again at the end for its fiery demise in the requisite burning windmill.

I have always loved the design of the classic flat-top Frankenstein Monster,” Fessenden says, “and as I patched these images together I was amused to see how subtle differences in the performance of the puppet and of Mike Vincent in the mask would evoke specific cinematic incarnations of the monster.

The filmmaker had Frankensteinia readers in mind! “I thought of your readers...” he writes. “Who else could distinguish between Karloff, Glenn Strange, Herman Munster and the Aurora model kit!

The clip is a loving homage to the James Whale original, and the song is a tragic ballad of The Monster’s disastrous flower game with the little girl.

With thanks to Larry Fessenden.

Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix Productions

Frankenstein Mashup by Larry Fessenden

June 23, 2014

Fearless Frankenstein

Korkum yok!... I Have No Fear!

Thus reads the title of the cover story for the Turkish magazine, 46. The subject is rock/pop musician and composer, and film/TV actor Özkan Uğur, posing in an elaborate classic Frankenstein Monster makeup.

There’s a bit of a Glenn Strange vibe to Uğur’s Monster, don’t you think?

Instantly recognizable, truly iconic, the image speaks to the classic movie Frankenstein Monster’s universality. 

June 20, 2014

Eustace Frankenstein

Not an actual cover, Peter Emmerich’s illustration is a witty variation on The New Yorker’s colorfully named cover mascot, Eustace Tilley. 

Originally painted by art director Rea Irvin in 1925, adorning the magazine’s first issue, Eustace appeared as a glorified dandy, a high-hat in a high hat, with a high collar and a large coat with vast lapels. He peers blithely through a monocle at a butterfly, begging the question: Which of us is more ephemeral?

Through the years, Eustace has returned to the magazine’s cover, usually to celebrate its February anniversary. From the mid 90’s on, various artists have been commissioned to interpret the character in new and often wildly original ways. More recently, readers were invited to contribute their own takes in an annual “Your Eustace” contest.

Cartoonist and character designer Peter Emmerich submitted this Frankenstein variation in 2008, landing a spot as a Top Twenty finalist. The Monster’s expression is properly conceited as he gazes upon a flower, his high forehead a perfect substitute for Eustace’s stovepipe.

Peter Emmerich’s blog.
The New Yorker’s Flickr page for the 2008 Eustace Tilley Contest.
Mystery Man, a New Yorker article about Eustace Tilley, by Louis Menand.


June 7, 2014

Penny Dreadful's Other Monster

Season’s halfway done and the new Victorian horror TV series Penny Dreadful is shaping up as a cult favorite. Earlier this week, the Showtime Network greenlighted a second season.

It’s all beautifully done and drenched in atmosphere. Monsters are multiplying, with hints of lycanthropy, perhaps Dracula himself to come and — possible spoiler if you mean to watch it later — two Frankenstein monsters. The docile, innocent Creature, Proteus, conjured in the first episode, has been brutally superceeded by Frankenstein’s original Monster, Caliban, turning up to demand a custom-made mate for himself.

Nice twist: The Monster holds down a job as stagehand for a London Grand Guignol theater. Episode 4 featured a splendid recreation of 19th Century stagecraft with Rory Kinnear’s Monster rushing about, moving scenery and backdrops, rattling tin for thunder and operating trapdoors.

The series’ viral promo campaign makes a big deal of Kinnear’s very intense Monster — pardon me, “Creature” — being exactingly faithful to the book’s original but, of course, it isn’t. With a smooth round face, porcelain complexion and straggly hair, sporting a heavy overcoat, this Monster would look at home in a post-punk gothic alt-rock band. This version of The Monster is as different and new and, ultimately, “of its time” as any of those that preceded on film or onstage, and that’s fine. I welcome the originality of this interpretation.

June 5, 2014

Mike Mignola’s Bride of Frankenstein Poster Goes On Sale

Heads up! Mondo’s new Bride of Frankenstein poster by Mike Mignola goes on sale today, June 5, 2014. The time of release will be announced on Mondo’s Facebook page and Twitter. Print run is strictly limited to 325 copies, going for $50 apiece. I expect it will sell out in a very few minutes.

Hellboy creator Mignola has drawn several Frankenstein images evoking the Universal classics, as well as original pieces, all perfectly scrumptious. A number of these can be seen through the links below.


May 28, 2014

Ismail Yassin Meets Frankenstein

One of the great curios of the Frankenstein films list is the 1953 Egyptian-made HARAM ALEK, sometimes spelled HRAAM ALEEK and otherwise known as ISMAIL YASSIN MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The film is notorious as a straight up, nearly scene-for-scene remake of the classic ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).

The A&C classic was massively influencial — not to mention, box-office gold — inspiring several knock-offs, many of them from Mexico, with local comics stepping in and squaring off with the famous monsters, complete with key gags lifted from the original. The formula had also re-ignited Abbott and Costello’s movie career and spurred them to a series of “Meet the Monsters” films of their own.

Long unseen in the West, copies of HARAM ALEK have popped up on YouTube, mostly as low quality video, sometimes sporting an annoying TV logo. The cleanest, sharpest copy is here, in its original language. Worth a peek, with its devilish, pointy-beard Dracula, a downscale Wolf Man and the curious, Herman Munster-like Frankenstein Monster. It’s required viewing if you’re a serious fan of the Abbott & Costello original.