Stan Winston and the Slasher Film

In the otherwise excellent book The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio, aside from a brief mention of the Friday the 13th sequels Stan Winston’s early work in the slasher genre was strangely omitted. This dismissal was not only reserved for the slice ‘n’ dice cycle, however, as both the overlooked splatter classic Mansion of the Doomed and the atmospheric thriller Dead & Buried were also overlooked. There was a section set aside from many of his earlier projects, ranging from the made-for-TV movie Gargoyles to the Star Wars Holiday Special, yet the first genre picture to receive significant page space was James Cameron’s sci-fi slasher The Terminator.

James Glickenhaus’ gritty revenge thriller The Exterminator shared enough similarities with the genre to be classified on occasion as such. The movie saw Vietnam vet John Eastland (Robert Ginty) struggling to make ends meet whilst working menial jobs with his former army buddy Michael (Steve James), but then forced to exact brutal vengeance against the gang who left his friend in hospital. Dismissed by critic Roger Ebert as ‘a sick example of the almost unbelievable descent into gruesome savagery in American movies,’ The Exterminator became a minor success when it was released in 1980 and eventually led to a disappointing sequel, released four years later and directed by producer Mark Buntzman.

Winston’s contribution to the movie would be the prologue, which depicted the ruthless beheading of an American soldier by members of the Viet Cong and Eastland’s escape from captivity. Shot in five days in Indian Dunes, California, shortly after principal photography, Winston’s involvement would significantly up the budget but would become the film’s standout moment. To achieve the effect, Winston built a full-size body made from fibreglass that he then covered with foamed latex, make-up, dentures and artificial hair. Using a moto-tool, holes were drilled around the neck so that the head could be attached, whilst Winston had also created a rig that would allow the head to fall backwards as the soldier was beheaded.

During the production of Dead & Buried, Winston was approached by an old friend, Steve Miner, who was making his directorial debut with Friday the 13th Part 2. With the first film’s effects artist, Tom Savini, declining the chance to return in favour of working on another summer camp slasher, The Burning, Miner was determined to recruit Winston, who would be required to relocate to Kent, Connecticut, for the duration of the shoot. Unable to commit to the project due to his obligations to Dead & Buried (which would allow more creative effects), Winston would agree to help cast the head of actress Betsy Palmer, who would briefly reprise her role of deranged killer Mrs. Voorhees, who was beheaded at the end of the original movie.

Although Palmer’s head would be moulded for the opening sequence, the producers would refuse to pay for the actress to fly to the set and so special effects artist Carl Fullerton (who was eventually hired after Savini, Winston and Dick Smith turned down the project) was forced to create a severed head for the climax from photographs of Palmer. Thus, the only handiwork of Winston’s to be visible during the film was when Mrs. Voorhees’ head is found in the fridge during the prologue. Despite this, when Miner was brought back to direct the third movie of the franchise, he turned to Winston to help design a new look for the film’s antagonist, Jason Voorhees.

Bringing actor Richard Brooker to his workshop in Northridge, California, Winston would subject him to a minimum of six hours a day in the make-up chair as he applied latex to create the new Jason, following the disappointing look that the character had shown in Part 2. But by the time Miner was ready to commence shooting, the producers decided that they were unimpressed with Winston’s efforts and, with the artist no longer available, turned to Douglas White of Makeup and Effects Laboratories, Inc. to rework the designs. Perhaps it was that his work was replaced for both Friday the 13th movies that prompted Winston and author Jody Duncan to avoid covering his work in the slasher genre for The Winston Effect.

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3 Responses to “ Stan Winston and the Slasher Film ”

  1. I enjoyed Doug White’s look for Jason in part-3D – Winston’s design might have worked better for an older Jason.

    The throat/decap in THE EXTERMINATOR is among the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever watched.

  2. Stan Winston was great. Dead and Buried was one of the best of the early 80s gore movies. Being a big sucker for monsters, I love the shark man thing he designed for peter Benchley’s Creature and Pumpkinhead.

  3. Dead & Buried had some great effects, especially the recreation of the deformed face. His book was excellent, really informative with awesome pictures, just a shame it neglects his earlier horror work.

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