30 years ago this month, Hollywood’s best and brightest gathered together to celebrate the greatest cinematic achievements of the year, one of which just happened to be the super-gross practical effects of David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’. Like the Academy honoured Seth Brundle’s grisly transformation from man to fly, we now honour the greatest and most disgusting visual effects in movie history.
Let the great gross-out begin…
‘The Fly’ (1986) – Brundlefly’s barf
There are several moments in Cronenberg’s iconic sci-fi remake that turn the stomach, but only one showed the contents of a stomach, and threatened to reveal the insides of ours as well. When John Getz’s Stathis gets too close to a mutated Brundlefly – by now more insect than man – he gets puked on.
And it’s not just run-of-the-mill, end-of-the-night, five-pints-and-a-biryani barf – it’s vomit so acidic it burns Stathis’ fist into a grotesque nub. And then, for good measure, Brundlefly pukes on his ankle and severs his foot. It’s a lot like the goings-on outside a Newcastle nightclub at 3am.
‘The Thing’ (1982) – Chest defibrillation
John Carpenter was the daddy when it came to dreaming up nightmarish visuals, and he raised the game of the entire practical effects industry by forcing them to bring his hideous visions to life. ‘The Thing’ is packed full of monstrous moments that burn into your retinas, but the most enduring image is of Copper attempting to revive Norris with a defib (“Clear!”) only for his stomach to open up and bite his hands off. The pulsating, wibbly-wobbly, multi-legged demon beast that emerges is genuinely one of the most upsetting and distressing creations in all of cinema; a testament to the power of practical effects.
‘Alien’ (1979) – Chestburster
The reason the rest of the cast look so surprised is because they had no idea it would be so brutal; just look at Veronica Cartwright’s face as she mutters “Oh God!” and you can see just how terrifying HR Giger’s Chestburster alien must have been in the flesh. John Hurt, now dearly departed gawd love ‘im, made his eternal contribution to sci-fi cinema here, thrashing around with the world’s worst stomach ache, but the Chestburster was the star: having made his entrance via Hurt’s belly, the twitching, phallic interloper surveys the room and then scuttles away. And you thought the Facehuggers were bad.
‘Slither’ (2006) – Grant Grant’s final form
These days he’s tasked with herding the ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ and Disney don’t look too kindly on gross body horror, comedic or otherwise, but director James Gunn got his start with schlock masters Troma and he never really lost his knack for conjuring a disgusting image. ‘Slither’ is basically Troma with a budget: an alien parasite landed on Earth makes Michael Rooker its host and morphs into a giant, creeping fungus-like entity, with the rest of the townsfolk slowly melded into its quivering pink mass. It is a masterpiece of disgusting design and way scarier than any CG monster that might one day pop up to menace Star-Lord and the gang.
‘Day Of The Dead’ (1985) – The death of Captain Rhodes
Life never ends well during a zombie apocalypse: if you get the luxury of a nice quick bullet in the head then consider yourself lucky – you got off easy. Take poor Captain Rhodes, for example: not only is he shot by a zombie, he’s immediately set upon by a horde of shufflers. Dismembered by the undead’s many hands and literally torn to pieces, Rhodes’ innards swiftly become outards and he’s devoured faster than a under-11s football team dismantling a Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat buffet. At least Rhodes manages an iconic kiss-off: “Choke on ’em!” he cries, with his last breath.
‘An American Werewolf In London’ (1981) – The transformation
John Landis’ iconic horror comedy is 36 years old this year but it somehow remains the standard-bearer when it comes to werewolf transformations on film. David Naughton’s bout of lupine puberty is the work of special effects maestro Rick Baker, whose makeup – along with Landis’ expert editing – makes you feel every howl right down to your bones. It’s the fact the camera never cuts when you expect it to: Landis wants you to experience every sprouting hair and elongated tooth, and Baker had the goods to sell it.
‘RoboCop’ (1987) – Toxic waste decapitation
None of the villains get off lightly when going up against Murphy in this Paul Verhoeven genre classic, but poor Emil really gets a rough ride of things. Driving his truck into a vat of toxic waste was a bad start: he emerges from the frothy goo with his skin dripping from his skeleton like an ice lolly left out in the sun. To make matters worse, he’s turned into soup minutes later when Clarence Boddicker’s car speeds round the corner, vapourising what used to be his body and sending his useless head bouncing off the roof. At least Dick Jones only got shot and fell out of a window.
‘Society’ (1989) – Flesh orgy
The rich literally feed off the poor in this 1989 shlock flick, using class issues as a jumping off point for some seriously gross body horror. Billy Warlock’s character figures his rich brethren are up to foul play but he only suspects a murderous orgy. Cut to the movie’s final scene, where the upper class strip naked and begin devouring poor Billy’s friend by way of a nutrient-sucking, body-melding orgy; before long, the room is filled with one giant pulsating, slithering mass of flesh, and you can’t tell where one body begins and the other ends. The centrepiece of the scene is when Warlock reaches inside his classmate Ferguson and literally turns him inside out like a glove puppet.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) – Nazi face melter
Here is your annual reminder that Steven Spielberg managed to finagle a ‘PG’ rating for Raiders Of The Lost Ark, despite the fact that it featured an extremely graphic scene of a Nazi having the skin blasted off his skull. The effect is stunning and was achieved by speeding up footage of a gelatine and plaster model of Toht’s head exposed to a heat lamp. Nonetheless, it scarred an entire generation of children for life – and if this scene didn’t scare them, the heart removal in ‘Temple Of Doom’ certainly would have.
‘Braindead’ (1992) – Lawnmower versus zombies
Peter Jackson’s career trajectory is fascinating: before he was the master of Middle-Earth and all things Orc, he was the baron of bad taste. Jackson got his start making lo-fi horror movies in his native New Zealand, mixing practical effects with buckets of blood. Movies like Bad Taste were liberal with gore, but Braindead went full-on Grand Guignol – there couldn’t have been a thimbleful of corn syrup left in all of Wellington. The movie’s bloodiest set-piece saw hero Lionel fend off the advances of a horde of zombies with a whirring lawnmower: who knew the humble grass-cutter was capable of causing so much carnage? Guts. Dismemberment. So much blood. It’s a miracle the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy was the family-friendly crowd-pleaser it ended up being.