FX Master Steve Johnson on Creating Slimer With the Help of Cocaine and John Belushi’s Ghost [Exclusive]
Not only was the role of Peter Venkman originally written for John Belushi, who sadly passed away before filming began, but Slimer was designed with the help of… Belushi’s ghost?!
If you’re a practical makeup effects aficionado, you’re no doubt a fan of Steve Johnson, an Emmy-winning artist who has lent his incredible talents to countless horror films over the years. We’re talking films such as Fright Night, Poltergeist II, An American Werewolf in London, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and Night of the Demons.
And the list literally goes on and on.
Steve Johnson was also on the visual effects crew for 1984’s Ghostbusters, credited for designing/sculpting both the Library Ghost and the film’s most beloved specter, Slimer. Or, as the goofy green character was known at the time, “Onion Head Ghost.”
Johnson, who shared some of his crazy stories in the book Rubberhead, is currently crowd-funding sequel book Rubberhead Volume II: Sex, Drugs and Special FX, the second of a 5-book series chronicling more of his entirely unedited exploits throughout his career as a Hollywood special makeup effects master. Now in its final week on Kickstarter, Rubberhead Volume 2 continues to document the ups and downs of the golden age of practical special effects and regales readers with autobiographical ‘warts and all’ stories behind Johnson’s most notorious creature creations… which brings us back to the gelatinous green guy.
For decades, Slimer has held a firm place in the hearts of fans worldwide, appearing everywhere from cartoons and video games to toys and even on toothpaste and juice boxes (Hi-C’s Ecto Cooler, anyone?!). But despite Slimer’s iconic status and worldwide adoration, the story of his creation is far from endearing. Johnson’s book details the brutal 6 month design process which was rife with intense micromanagement, conflicting notes, and endless adjustments from executives who forced Johnson to agonize over the most tedious details.
Johnson explains to Bloody Disgusting, “That was the most annoying horrendous experience I’ve ever had working with art directors, producers, and directors, ever. In the beginning they asked for a ‘smile with arms’ but before I knew it, it was a goddamn bleeding nightmare… ’give him 13% more pathos, put ears on him, take his ears off, less pathos, more pathos, make his nose bigger, now his nose is too big, make his nose smaller…’ Are you kidding? ‘Make him more cartoony, make him less cartoony’. I almost fucking severed my own head during that process.”
After months of endless adjustments, Johnson came against an impending deadline and had to finalize Slimer for the approval of executives, as failure to do so could mean being fired off of the project. The night before the big meeting, Johnson toiled over the Slimer design at a breakneck pace until eventually, in a coke-infused delirium, he literally started seeing dead people.
Johnson recalls a specific encounter with the ghost of the then-recently deceased John Belushi, who was originally cast to play the role of Peter Venkman. Belushi passed away before shooting began and as a spiritual homage to their fallen friend, writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis decided to design Slimer in Belushi’s likeness. Sentimental as this was, Johnson didn’t get the note until less than 24 hours before the final version of Slimer was due.
“I didn’t know until the last fucking day,” Johnson told us. “I’d been working for six months sculpting hundreds of Slimer variations, and they finally said ‘make him look more like Belushi’ and I said what the fuck are you talking about?”
Armed with determination, sculpting tools, and an 8 ball, Johnson went furiously back to work, but shortly thereafter the paranormal activity began…
“So I pulled out a stack of headshots of John Belushi, poured a gram of cocaine on it and started chopping lines up,” Johnson recalls.
“I was three grams into the night and in a cocaine-induced delusional paranoia and I literally thought that John Belushi’s ghost came to me to help me out.”
Johnson claims the ghost of Belushi gave him words of encouragement and even modeled for him so he could get the likeness right for Slimer before dissolving into the ether with the parting words, “watch that shit Steve, it’ll kill you.”
By the skin of his teeth, pivotal help from a spectral friend, and lots and lots of cocaine, Johnson’s final design for Slimer was approved the next day.
“And that, kids, is what appears in the film!” Johnson finishes off the insane story.
For more of Steve’s infamous tales of Sex Drugs and Special Effects, including the failed Clive Barker S&M Mummy project, getting ecstasy from HR Giger, and the Tim Burton Superman project that never saw the light of day, ! Backers can get many awesome perks including early release copies of the book signed by Steve Johnson himself, original Slimer sculptures and invites to an intimate VIP dinner. For pledges of $400 or more, donors can get the ‘Smashed with Steve’ prize and ‘meet Steve Johnson in Los Angeles at a bar and get smashed, one-on-one!’