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.
One of the most influential horror writers of all time is H.P. Lovecraft, and his expansive catalog of stories full of unknowable creatures and monsters. In the golden age of special effects, Lovecraft’s bestiary and the unbridled practical effect-driven creativity of the ‘80s made for a perfect marriage in horror. In the case of Lovecraft’s short story “The Unnamable,” the creature that haunts the dilapidated house on Meadow Hill in Arkham, Massachusetts is indescribable, save for its monstrous size and piercing shriek. The characters never fully see it; it attacks them in a flash and the story ends with their waking in the hospital. The vague description of the creature and the brief story itself meant a wide berth for interpretation when it came to the feature-length adaptation.
First-time feature director Jean-Paul Ouellette wrote the screenplay adapted from Lovecraft’s story, expanding the plot and setting it mostly in the present day. Right off the bat, the film gives far more backstory on the monster than Lovecraft’s original story. This iteration gives the Unnamable a name; Alyda Winthrop, demonic daughter of 18th-century warlock Joshua Winthrop. Cut to centuries later, where Miskatonic University pals spook each other with stories of Alyda. They do what any reasonable horror character does; decide to stay in her house and use it as a means of wooing the ladies. It doesn’t go well, clearly.
Makeup effects artist R. Christopher Biggs (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2), fresh off his role as special makeup effects supervisor on Critters 2, combined Ouellette’s expansion of the story with the descriptors of the creature from the source short story. The cloven-hooves, the horns, and the piercing shrieks with a not so titanic sized female demon. Though it takes much of the running time to get an actual full glimpse of the creature.
The creature, Alyda, was played by Katrin Alexandre in her only film credit to date. A demonic beast with hooved feet, clawed hands, horns, sharp-toothed maw, and bat-like wings, this creature is clearly female. Despite appearances, though, Alexandre isn’t nude on screen. She was lifecasted from head to toe, and endured a 9-hour makeup application as the rubber prosthetic pieces were glued to every part of her from the waist up. The hairy legs and hooved feet were custom made by Biggs, as a separate piece. There was no easy suite for Alexandre to slip into.
Also integral to the makeup effects team was Biggs’ assistant Camille Calvet, who he’d previously worked with on Critters 2 and Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. Calvet has since gone on to work on films like Kill Bill: Vol 2, Minority Report, and Drag Me to Hell, and won two Emmy Awards for her makeup work on The Stand and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but credits Biggs as a large reason for her success for hiring her in an age where few women were hired for makeup effects. Considering how up close and personal the makeup team needed to get with Alexandre in the creation of the demonic Alyda, hiring Calvet proved doubly invaluable.
While the seams on this creature design do occasionally show, what Biggs and team created is especially impressive considering the budgetary constraints they had to work with. The teams’ shop was literally Biggs’ apartment, and a three-car garage he talked his landlord into letting him use. The small space correlated with the small team Biggs had to work with, too. He even employed his mom in the creation of Alyda’s prosthetics, particularly in the punching of all that horse hair.
The Unnamable was released directly on VHS in June of 1988, and while it did well enough to earn a sequel, this is an ‘80s monster that’s not quite as well known. It’s also a monster that hides in the shadows until the very end, not revealed in full until the climax. Alyda isn’t just an underseen Lovecraftian beast of the ‘80s, but a rare instance where the monster is female. The Unnamable isn’t perfect, but it is obvious in its reverence for Lovecraft’s works.