Tom Savini, special makeup effect artist, actor, stuntman and director, is responsible for some of genre cinema’s most indelible images. The iconic machete-through-the-head gag from Dawn of the Dead (1978)? That’s one of his. Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) screaming “choke on ‘em, choke on ‘em!” as he’s torn apart by zombies in Day of the Dead (1985)? Tom’s work. How about Upson Pratt’s (EG Marshall’s) apartment and body becoming infested with cockroaches in Creepshow (1982)? You better believe that’s a Savini special.
Hell, even the man’s acting work is iconic. Cinema goers may not know the name “Savini” but they’ll damn sure recognise the bloke wielding the iconic “cock gun” from From Dusk till Dawn (1996).
Still, in terms of lasting impact one need look no further than the Friday the 13th slasher movie series. Although Tom was only directly involved with the special makeup effects on Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), his work impacts the series to this day. You see, with Friday the 13th, Tom essentially gave birth to Jason. Although Jase only became the actual killer in part 2 onwards (give or take an ill-advised Part 5 or so) in the first film he was merely a figure briefly glimpsed in a dream sequence, but what a dream sequence it was. The image of an undead Jason lurching from beneath the still waters of Crystal Lake and grabbing hold of Alice (Adrienne King), dragging her down in the dark depths, remains as iconic today as it did almost 40 years ago. Hell, there’s a case to be made that Jason’s effective cameo actually inspired his resurrection for the rest of the series. Well, that and Friday’s impressive box office.
Paramount Pictures may have enjoyed the money that Jason brought in with Fridays 2 and 3, but there was a feeling that the series was something of an embarrassment. Critics were savage, and various special interest groups were whinging about the violence, so with the fourth entry – the so-called “Final Chapter” – it was decided that Jason would be killed off. Since Tom did such a stellar job giving birth to the iconic villain, he was brought back to kill him. And what a death! Tom set up an elaborate sequence that would be impossible to reverse logically, having young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) repeatedly whack Jason in the face with his own machete, and then stick the weapon deep in his skull. Jason then bloodily slid down the enormous blade (!), face twitching and gurning, and finally Tommy would continue to hack at the killer over and over and over. It’s an amazing sequence, unmatched elsewhere in the series, and remains one of the best horror franchise endings. Of course, it was reversed in Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) but in terms of classic kills it remains a high benchmark.
Of course, now with Friday the 13th: The Game it’s possible to unleash your own inner-Savini as Jason, hacking and slashing campers with giddy, bloody abandon. What a time to be alive!