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.
If you’re a regular reader of this column, then you have at least some idea of the blood, sweat, and tears put into the special makeup and creature effects that gave us enduring movie monsters. The insane hours put into engineering, molding, casting, and application while under the pressure of time and money constraints. Sometimes the effects that take the longest to create only end up on screen for mere seconds. For other effects, they don’t even make the film at all. Such is the case with the nightmare girl on a tricycle in the opening scene of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
After the opening credits that introduces us to new final girl Kristen (Patricia Arquette), who is falling asleep while crafting Freddy Krueger’s dilapidated house, her mom comes in and ushers her off to bed. Cue the dream sequence, which sees Kristen trying to save a little girl in a yellow dress from the enclosing claws of Krueger. Kristen runs through the house holding the girl in her arms until she reaches a room full of bodies, the girl whines, “Put me down! You’re hurting me!” Kristen looks down and finds this:
It’s startling enough, the transition from cute human child to charred skeleton, but it’s not so impressive. Especially compared to the effects that were to come in the film. It turns out, though, that the nightmare girl in the film wasn’t the original plan. The original plan was to have a mechanical puppet that would move and clutch at Kristen. So, what happened?
Special makeup effects artist Mark Shostrom (Evil Dead II, Phantasm II, From Beyond) explains, “I made this mechanical corpse of this little girl that could move and open its eyes and grab at her shirt and everything. [Director] Chuck Russell‘s instructions were ‘Think Auschwitz.’ I went to the Simon Wiesenthal museum and I got research and I made this corpse. The ribcage looked very emaciated and it was a little heart wrenching, this poor little girl puppet.”
The emaciated little girl looked so effective and authentic that it spooked Russell, who was already overwhelmed with shooting three units and under a time crunch to wrap up filming by Christmas. “He looked and said ‘Oh my God, everybody who’s Jewish in the audience is going to look at this and hate me. We can’t film this.’ I spent ten weeks making it, we need to film it. And Rachel Talalay, the production line producer, said ‘we need to film this.’” But Russell didn’t budge, and someone in props instead threw together the charred skeleton that we see in the final film within minutes.
It understandably baffled Shostrom, who spent 10 weeks creating what Russell asked for. “I’ve never in my life experienced anything like that because at the very least take an hour, put it on film and decide later when you’re not frazzled by shooting three units and the day before Christmas. But they didn’t even film it,” Shostrom says of his lost creation. And it is indeed lost. When asked if the puppet still exists in a warehouse or shop somewhere, he answers, “No, it eventually just rotted away.” All that’s left of the emaciated nightmare puppet are photos and memories.
Granted, Kristen’s nightmare girl only plays a small bit in her journey, and what was used on screen doesn’t hinder the final film. But it would’ve been really cool to see this far scarier, mechanical puppet terrorize Kristen. We often celebrate the effects that appear on screen, but sometimes the effects that don’t make it to screen deserve just as much praise and attention.