Review Date: September 21, 2002
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 1986
MSRP $??.?? (OOP)
Full Frame 1.33:1
In the late 70s, the horror film got a massive makeover with the rise of the "splatter" film. While gory scenes had been done before, it was films like Dawn of the Dead
and Friday the 13th
that made realistic and extreme bloodletting a requirement of horror cinema. On the forefront of this gore revolution was makeup special effects wizard Tom Savini. In 1986, Fangoria magazine introduced their line of "Scream Greats" videos with a Savini documentary, produced by Paramount on videotapes and laserdisc. While this laserdisc can be hard to find, it's essential viewing for any Savini fan, or any horror fan for that matter.
Well naturally, there is no story, since this is a documentary. What you get is interviews with Tom Savini and the people he's worked with, along with clips from his movies. Tom's love for makeup came at an early age when he was exposed to the work of Lon Chaney. His career began in earnest after the Vietnam War, when he worked with George Romero on the films Martin
and Dawn of the Dead
Savini was a driving force behind the slasher craze of the early 80s, and we see clips from Friday the 13th
(Parts 1 and 4), Bill Lustig's infamous Maniac
, and lesser known slashers The Prowler
and The Burning
. There is also a little at-home with the Savini family, where Tom demonstrates (on his wife!) the use of squibs to simulate gunshot wounds. This provides a nice segue into the extensive work involved to create Romero's last zombie epic, Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead
had some of the most graphic effects ever put on film, and we are treated to some great behind-the-scenes footage. Future effects whiz Greg Nicotero discusses the fun things he did with a model of his own head, and also relates the story behind the animal intestines that were used for some of the gruesome scenes in Day's blood drenched finale. And lastly, Savini's work as an actor (Knightriders
) and a director (Tales from the Darkside
) is profiled. Perhaps the most telling moment in the documentary is when Savini shows a puppet used in Tales From the Darkside
and remarks, "Someday this will probably all be done with computers." That day is now Tom, and it's not for the better. Scream Greats: Tom Savini
is a wonderful and entertaining documentary. Perhaps the only faults I noticed were the misspelling of Greg Nicotero's name, and footage from Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3
, which Savini did not work on. Other than that, this is everything you wanted to know about Tom Savini (up until 1986 of course. He still continues to do fantastic work both behind and in front of the camera). George Romero shares some great comments on working with Savini, and former Fangoria editors "Uncle" Bob Martin and David Everett discuss how horror fans reacted to his amazing special effects.
Savini certainly did not invent gore, or fantastic makeup effects. H.G. Lewis made incredibly gory films in the 1960s, and Dick Smith created amazing effects in The Exorcist
(Savini cites Smith as a major influence). But Savini lent an aura of realism to the world of special effects makeup. Many 60s and 70s attempts at gore were more comical than anything, and the people like Dick Smith were attempting to turn fantasies into realities. But Savini went for the real thing. His work was meant to show violence and death as realistic as possible. Even in films with non-realistic elements (like Romero's zombie films), the focus is not on the zombie makeup, but on the victims as their insides are ripped and devoured. The victims in the slasher flicks are not dummies or fake heads, instead their demises are captured in a fashion that almost makes the viewer think he's just witnessed a real murder on screen. All thanks to Tom Savini.
This entire feature plays like a DVD supplement. What I would like to see someday is this documentary added as a supplemental feature on a DVD of a film that showcases Savini's work. Unfortunately, I don't think that's likely to ever happen, due to rights issues. This laserdisc was produced by Paramount, yet several of the films shown are now properties of other studios. But if those issues were ever cleared up, this would be a fantastic addition to the upcoming re-releases of say, Dawn or Day of the Dead
. Image Quality
A little history on the laserdisc: Laserdiscs were introduced in the early 1980s as an alternative to VHS and Beta. They employed the same audio/video quality and features as the videotape formats. It was the Criterion/Voyager company that advanced the technology in the 90s, with high quality widescreen transfers, multiple digital surround sound audio tracks, and bonus features. Laserdisc then became a format that appealed to serious film connoisseurs, and the stage was set for DVD to follow in laser's footsteps.
Why did I just go on with all that seemingly useless information? Well, this Scream Greats
disc is one of those LDs that was of the same quality as a videotape. In fact, the only difference between this disc and a tape is that the disc won't degrade over time. That's it. The Savini and friends interviews are OK, but the film clips are dark and murky, reminding us of what life was like before remastered LDs and DVDs. One nice thing however is that this disc is in the CAV (Constant Angular Velocity) format, which means even entry-level LD players will provide perfect freeze frames and slow motion. Just bear in mind that the sharp detail and vibrant colors we've come to expect on videodisc formats will not be here.
Needless to say, the sound is not spectacular either. Luckily since it's a documentary, the sound presentation almost solely consists of interviews. While you can hear those on-screen quite clearly, there is definitely a level of hiss and distortion. Again, the results of using a typical VHS-quality transfer. The only use of surrounds is on the opening music theme.
Well, since this disc is a supplemental feature in itself, there are no extras to be found. And again, early laserdiscs did not even take advantage of the potential for extra features. Perhaps one day we'll be revisiting this documentary if it's ever added on as a supplement on some future DVD.
Without a doubt, the work of Tom Savini revolutionized the look of the horror film, and this documentary is a fabulous look at his early career. The downside is that this laserdisc is not easy to find. While you can check pawn shops and used dealers (that's where I found mine), if you want this disc you'll probably need to pay the high E-Bay prices. But since it's likely that the content on this disc may never appear on DVD, it may be a price worth paying.
Documentary - A+
Image Quality - C
Sound - C
Supplements - N/A
- Running Time - 52 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- 18 Chapter Stops
- Dolby Stereo Surround