With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Adapted from Peter Straub’s novel of the same name just two years after the book’s release, Ghost Story opened to mixed reviews. In the decades that followed, it’s mostly fallen into obscurity. It’s easy to understand why; its horror unfolds slowly in a murder mystery, set in a quaint New England town in the middle of snowy winter. With four elderly friends at the heart of the mystery, Ghost Story often feels more like a Victorian mood piece than a modern horror film (at the time). For the novel purists, there’s a lot that’s cut out in favor of brevity and peripheral characters never quite get explained. But the vengeful ghost at the core of the film is captivating, both thanks to actress Alice Krige’s performance and the fantastic special makeup effects by Academy Award-winning artist Dick Smith and his protégé Rick Baker.
Nicknamed the Godfather of Makeup, Smith was the first makeup artist to receive an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement, in 2011. He was 89 at the time. He also won an Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work on Amadeus in 1985. All of this to say that the makeup effects alone for Ghost Story makes it worth the watch. Though Smith might have earned accolades (rightfully so) for his stellar work in aging makeup outside of the horror genre, his work in horror was equally masterful.
Alice Krige plays Eva and Alma, two women that haunt the two generations of men in the story in different ways. For the elder generation, Eva is seeking revenge for a wrong they caused her in their youth. In the present, Eva’s jarring, ghastly appearances usually result in the death of those that see her in her decayed state. Smith and his team created multiple head and shoulder, life-sized puppets of Eva, each with a vastly different stage of decay reflective of her death. There’s one apparition of Eva they created that wasn’t used in the film, however, and it’s the scariest one of them all, with its gaping mouth and eyeless visage.
The unused apparition of Eva was so effective, though, that it did eventually make its way into a horror film decades later with Smith’s permission; 1999’s House on Haunted Hill. During the surreal underwater sequence, while Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush) is locked in the saturation chamber, he encounters a ghostly woman that turns into a terrifying faceless apparition. Credited as the “eyeless apparition” designed by Dick Smith, the monster was based on his unused design from 1981. Seeing it in the context of House on Haunted Hill makes it easy to see why it didn’t make the cut for Ghost Story.
Smith passed away in 2014, leaving an impressive legacy in horror and cinema. His horror credits include The Exorcist, Burnt Offerings, The Sentinel, Altered States, Scanners, and The Hunger, but it is Ghost Story that often gets most overlooked. Krige’s chilling performance and the makeup effects compensate for the more glaring plot and pacing issues, but even if you don’t want to seek this one out then at least rewatch House on Haunted Hill for Smith’s gruesome, faceless specter.