Imagine getting your makeup done to play a role in a movie and then later finding out you’ll have to rip your skin off to remove it, or imagine walking around in your makeup and it’s all green but no one will ever know because it’s in black and white. This is how things were done back in the day to achieve the looks desired to be in a horror film. Everything was so different back then compared to now. I’m going to take you through 100 years of SFX makeup to see what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same.
Where did SFX makeup even come from? There was this guy named Maksymillian Faktorowicz, more commonly known as “Max Factor,” that created the first line of makeup to be used for SFX/cinematic makeup. He hated using the dye grease paints used in previous years and said it made the actors/actresses look “horrific” in his opinion. But little did he know that is exactly what the future would hold, horrific actors/actresses. He then created waterproof makeup for the film ‘Mare Nostrum.’ Max Factor largely devolved the modern cosmetic industry, he founded his cosmetic brand in 1909.
In the 1920’s horror films were all the rage, and makeup had reached new levels in this decade. These films although they were silent, they still managed to get the fear factor on screen with makeup. Back almost 100 years ago they were still able to make the human face nearly unrecognizable. This was all thanks to a guy named Leonidas “Lon” Chaney. He was the one to create a pathway for makeup to this day. He was known as “The Man of A Thousand Faces” because he was so skilled as a makeup artist he could disguise himself into any character or creature he wanted with his makeup kit. He directed and starred in his own movies as well as doing the makeup on himself for his roles. He was Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923) and he was the Phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925). In his kit he used colored grease paints, false teeth, layers of wax, hairpieces, and harnesses. He used these tools to create looks way ahead of their time.
In the 1930’s facial prosthetics became very popular and a more efficient way of transforming the human face. These prosthetics were premade so you could easily apply them instead of building it onto the actors face. It cut down on time so you could have more than one character in your film looking a little less than human. The film “The Wizard of Oz” was the first to use facial prosthetics, The Wizard of Oz used facial prosthetics on the Tinman, The Lion, and The Scarecrow for each desired look. They also used a prosthetic on the Wicked Witch of the West for her nose and chin. Unfortunately the film also showed us some improper makeup techniques. The Actor who played Tinman, Jack Haley, died from mercury poisoning from the makeup they used on his face. Other famous films from the 30’s are Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), and The Mummy (1932). They all had the same guy behind the makeup chair, Jack Pierce. He created all these. To create the headpiece for Frankenstein Collodion and cotton were placed in layers. Pierce researched how to make this character anatomically correct. He read medical and surgical books to make sure the skull part was correct for his desired look. In total it took 6 hours to make Frankenstein and it took an hour and a half to take off each time they filmed. For Dracula they took a different route on how to make him look extra creepy. Since the films were in black and white the makeup had to be manipulated to get the right effect. For Dracula’s ghostly skin they couldn’t use white makeup because it didn’t look right, so Pierce figured it all out and decided green would be the way to go. They had to paint Dracula’s face solid green to get the right effect.
In the 1940’s they used similar techniques to achieve the right effects on screen. The man behind “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was Wally Westmore. He used the same techniques for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While the actor was in role for Dr. Jekyll he had red makeup on his face in order to appear dark. While in role for Mr. Hyde he had green makeup on his face to appear white and ghostly. At this point in makeup history latex was not used often or really even tested, but anyway the used it in this movie Dr. Jekyll had a mask attached to his face with liquid rubber (liquid latex). Unfortunately when it came time to take off his mask, his skin came off too. The actor Fredrick March (who played both roles) had to spend a few weeks in the hospital recovering.
In the 1950’s SciFi movies became the trend. This meant more complicated creatures and monsters were the way to go. This pushed makeup boundaries passed just face makeup, they used body suits and intricate facial prosthetics. In movies like “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” (1954), “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” (1958), and “Invasion of the Saucer Men” (1957) they used rubber body suits to achieve an all over creepy look to characters. Although in the same time period a makeup artist named Dick Smith made using small foam latex pieces more popular instead of using one piece mask prosthetics. This allowed the actors to have a wide range of facial movements and expressions.
The 1960’s was a boring decade, they didn’t evolve much, in fact they kind of forgot about facial makeup in general. In the movie “Psycho” the only part of that movie that had any “makeup” aspects of this film was the fake bloody used. But in another film called “Eyes Without a Face” they created a deformed human face to look like scars or a burn but it wasn’t anything revolutionary compared to previous years.
In the 1970’s movies were now becoming more explicit than ever and focused on supernatural events and murders. One of the most famous horror movies in the 1970’s and to this day was “The Exorcist” (1973). This film pushed blew all the makeup boundaries out of the water. These techniques are still used today by using the prosthetics and precise paint jobs to make the little girl Regan look near dead. In this movie the makeup artist made the priest in the movie look old. I didn’t even know this but the actor who played the old man priest was only 44 years old. But they made him appear to be much older by doing old age stipple and latex. In other movies in the same decade resorted to using masks instead of makeup to get the looks of these famous characters. In the movie “Halloween” Michael Myers’ mask was a captain Kirk mask painted white and they called it a day. The movie “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Leatherface’s character had three different masks for him to have facial expressions.
In the 1980’s more scary characters like Freddy Kruger, Hellraiser, and Jason came to life. In the making of Freddy’s face Mike Kerz said he was inspired by the legendary Jack Pierce. They made Freddy’s face out of a paper thin material and glued it to his face. Most techniques used in today’s makeup industry were used in the 80’s to create terrifying looks like Jason’s face behind all of his masks and like Hellraiser’s disturbing nail gun incident look.
The 1990’s was a new era of makeup, not many prosthetics were used to create the most terrifying monsters on screen. In the 1990 horror movie “It” they used little to no facial prosthetics. They used liquid latex builds to create his nose and to make his head appear larger and more bulbous but other than that they just did a fairly creepy paint job and threw in some fake teeth to get that creep factor up. In other famous films like “The Ring” they used fairly simple techniques using small prosthetics and cotton latex builds to create scars and cuts but then amplified them with an amazing paint job to make her appear that she’s been rotting in a well.
In the 2000’s makeup got a little less scary and gorier. In movies like “Saw” and “Final Destination” they took the creepy factor out and put in gore. Instead of painting someone’s face to look dead they instead took a different route and decided to brutally maul a person on camera with fake blood and fake guts. They started using CGI to make these effects look as real as possible. Of course they still used basic makeup techniques and tricks but to get the look desired the used CGI to achieve this.
In the 2010’s era of makeup they took a step backward and used the facial prosthetics used in previous years. But honestly in my opinion that’s a step in the right direction. Because there’s nothing scarier than a creature that looks almost human but is distorted beyond measures to look terrifying. But also in today’s time we are able to take simple looks and amplify them with CGI, like in the new “It” (2017) movie they made Bill Skarsgård look like the original clown in the First “It” (1990) movie but used CGI to make his mouth open wider than humanly possible.
Now that we’ve been through about 100 years of makeup, where are we going to be in the next few years of makeup? I think that makeup could go one of two ways. We could either take steps back to show the talent and skill of makeup artists again, or we could take a step forward and let the computer animation people have their time in the limelight. I personally think we should take steps back and let the makeup artists show their talent and let the computer people of the industry create their own genre of movie. They could take things to an entire new level of scary, creepy, gory, or even beautiful in movies. Or we could just stick to how it is for a while and have terrifying paint jobs and prosthetics and amplify it with CGI. I’m down for either.