Makeup Artist and Makeup Effects Designer.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 3 November 1946.
Married Nancy Hare, 1984.
: Journalism major at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh.
Actor in North Carolina; 1976—first association with the director
George A. Romero who cast him in
; television work includes episodes of
Tales from the Dark Side.
Deathdream ( Dead of Night ) (Clark)
Martin (Romero) (+ role as Arthur)
Effects (Nelson) (+ role as Nicky); Dawn of the Dead (Romero) (+ role as Motorcycle Rider)
Maniac (Lustig) (+ role as Disco Boy); The Awakening (Russo); Friday the Thirteenth (Cunningham); The Burning (Maylam)
Eyes of a Stranger (Wiederhorn); Prowler (Zito); Friday the Thirteenth, Part II (Miner); Midnight (Russo); Nightmare (Scavolini)
Creepshow (Romero) (+ role as Garbage Man #2); Alone in the Dark (Sholder)
Maria's Lovers (Konchalovsky); Friday the Thirteenth: The Final Chapter (Zito)
Day of the Dead (Romero); Invasion USA (Zito)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (Hooper)
Creepshow II (Gormick) (+ role as The Creep)
Monkey Shines (Romero)
Red Scorpion (Zito)
Due occhi diabolici ( Two Evil Eyes ; The Facts in the Case of M ; Valdemar ; The Black Cat ; Edgar Allan Poe ) (Romero, Argento)
Bloodsucking Pharoahs in Pittsburgh (Smithee/Tschetter)
Trauma (Argento); Heartstopper (Russo)
Killing Zoe (Avary); Necronomicon (Gans/Kaneko)
The Stitch (Avary—for TV)
The Assassination File (Harrison—for TV) (+ role as Chemical Weapons Engineer)
Cutting Moments (Buck); Claustrophobia (+ d, role)
Cold Hearts (Masciantonio)
Knightriders (Romero) (role as Morgan)
Night of the Living Dead (d)
Innocent Blood (Landis) (role as News Photographer)
The Demolitionist (Kurtzman) (role as Roland)
From Dusk Till Dawn (Rodriguez) (role as Sex Machine)
Eyes Are Upon You (Goldberg) (role as Eddie Rao); Wishmaster (Kurtzman) (role as Pharmacist Helper)
Bizarro , New York, 1983.
Grand Illusions: A Learn-by Example Guide to the Art and Technique of Special Make-up Effects from the Films of Tom Savini , Pittsburgh, 1993.
Segnocinema (Vicenza), March 1982.
Écran fantastique (Paris), no. 33, April 1983.
Time Out (London), 22 September 1993.
McCarty, John, in Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen , New York, 1984.
Russo, John A., Making Movies , New York, 1989.
Wiater, Stanley, Dark Visions: Conversations with the Masters of the Horror Film , New York, 1992.
Brown, Paul, and Nigel Burrell, Tom Savini: The Wizard of Gore , Mark V. Zeising Publisher, n.d.
Film Comment (New York), vol. 17, no. 4, July-August 1981.
Starburst (London), no. 47, 1982.
Écran fantastique (Paris), no. 24, May 1982.
Cinéfantastique (New York), vol. 21, no. 3, December 1990.
* * *
Tom Savini, a makeup artist who specializes in special effects scenes of bodily disfigurement and mutilation, has (for better or worse) played a major role in the development of the modern horror film. It was his innovative work in prosthetics and latex, alongside that of other makeup effects designers such as Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, which at the end of the 1970s assisted at the unholy birth of what has come to be known in critical circles and the fan press as the "splatter movie." This is a form of horror film which brushes aside the Manichean struggles between Good and Evil which had characterized earlier horror films, offering instead a fascination with the impact of violence on the human body. In splatter movies, objects of violence which were usually hidden from view—most notably, the internal organs—are displayed to the film audience in graphic and unforgiving detail.
Savini worked for three years as a combat photographer in Vietnam, and it was there that he first encountered the scenes of violent death which he would later recreate on film. "[In Vietnam], I almost stepped on an arm once," he says. "A Viet Cong was shot by a buddy of mine and when he fell, a grenade he'd had primed under his armpit went off and just blew him to smithereens. I saw a lot of grisly stuff all right, and my stuff in films has been pretty grisly. If I've got anything of a reputation at all, I'm probably notorious for how real my stuff looks . . . well, most of the time. I would say in that respect, the realism of my stuff, the grisliness, the anatomical correctness of it probably does come from that experience. But I don't want to give the impression that I do this work because of my Vietnam experience. Not at all. It's all in the script. Somebody writes this stuff."
Returning to America, he pursued journalism then an acting career for a short while before following in the footsteps of his idol, the silent screen star and makeup master Lon Chaney, and moved into the area of effects makeup for the stage, then the screen. He quickly made a name for himself through his involvement with a number of major (and quite a few minor) horror films, including Friday the 13th and, perhaps most significantly, a series of films for director George Romero— Martin , Dawn of the Dead , Creepshow , Day of the Dead , Monkey Shines .
It can be argued that Savini, through his effects work, offers us a distinctly modern view of an alienated human existence. The assaulted bodies he creates are all flesh, and no spirit. They function as mere containers of organs and liquid substances, as sites upon which various makeup skills and techniques can be unleashed. Like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, Savini has acquired a substantial cult following, most notably in the pages of Fangoria magazine, but also through books and videotapes detailing his work.
Savini's signature effect is the exploding head: shotgun-to-the-cranium gimmicks feature in Maniac , The Prowler , and Day of the Dead. But the importance of Romero's input to Savini's oeuvre can be gauged by comparing the uninspired decapitations and stabbings of such glumly misanthropic items as Maniac or Friday the 13th with the outrageous, transgressive "splatstick" of Romero's zombie movies—which offer a ghoul losing the top of his head to a helicopter blade like a breakfast egg, a severed head used as a bowling ball with eye-socket fingerholes, or a villain snarling "'choke on 'em" to the zombies gobbling his entrails. Recently, his collaboration with Romero has been eclipsed by work for the Italian visionary Dario Argento, who produced Dawn of the Dead , directed (with Romero) the two-part Two Evil Eyes (for which Savini recreated Poe horrors like the naked woman bisected by a pendulum and the exhumed corpse with all its teeth plucked) and the drab decapitation-saga Trauma (featuring a handy noose gadget that automatically guillotines with as much resonance as an electric can-opener). His fame can be seen as part of the shift in the nature of horror to which he himself has contributed. Within this the increasing foregrounding of and fascination with special effects techniques, both in films and in horror fanzines, has made him as much a star of the genre as any actor or director. "Yes, I think the effects people are becoming the stars of the films," he says. "What the critics say about films like Friday the 13th —that they don't have much plot or characterization and are an exercise in one death after another—is absolutely true. The special effects are the stars of those movies. I can't say that [this] bothers me. But I will say that there was a magic alive in a lot of the older movies—the horror films, the swashbucklers, whatever—that we don't see today. I personally feel that it's a lot smarter to leave things to a person's imagination, let him fill things in for himself. When your mind completes something, it's much more valuable to you, I think."
Part of Savini's familiarity with audiences may also boil down to the fact that he has indeed worked as an actor—taking major supporting roles for Romero in Martin and Knightriders , enjoying himself as a monster-fighting biker dude in Dawn of the Dead and Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn , and playing Jack the Ripper in the made-for-video The Ripper —and branched into direction, with a few installments of Tales from the Darkside on TV and a Romero-scripted remake of Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead , which surprisingly holds back on the gory make-up effects as it plays clever variations on the original film.
—Peter Hutchings, updated by Kim Newman and John McCarty