7 weird practical effects used in iconic horror scenes

Have you ever wondered how iconic horror scenes such as the Scanners’ exploding head, and the Alien chestburster scene, were created?

We have put together a list of our all-time favourite horror scenes created with the use of practical effects to tell you all the juicy, bloody secrets about how the scenes came to be.

Check out our list below.

7 weird practical effects used in iconic horror scenes

7. Poltergeist 1982: Face melt:

It is hard to forget the gruesome scene from Steven Spielberg‘s 1982 film Poltergeist. But how was it made?

Instead of putting layers of make-up on actor Martin Casella, the special effects crew decided to build a lifelike bust of the actor – the only problem was, the production only had one bust to rip apart.

Scared he would mess-up the take and ruin the crew’s only bust, Casella asked Steven Spielberg to step in and do the honours of ripping the flesh from the dummy’s face.

So those hands that you see pop up brutally ripping chunks of face-meat into the sink – they actually belong to Spielberg.

6. The Exorcist 1973: Pea soup

This iconic scene from The Exorcist will make you rethink your next bowl of pea soup.

The chunky green vomit that the possed Regan projects across the room, hurling at Father Damien Karras, is nothing more than thick Andersen’s brand pea soup. The crew tried to use other brands, namely Campbell’s pea soup, but only Andersen’s achieved the desired puke effect.

While most will probably find that this piece of trivia makes the film’s vomit scenes slightly less disgusting, actress Linda Blair thought differently. She hated vegetables so much at the time of shooting that the pea soup made her vomit for real.

5. The Fly 1986: Vomit Drop

The 1986 film The Fly broke boundaries for practical effects artists, winning an Oscar for Best Makeup. During the film, actor Jeff Goldblum often wore as much as 5lbs (2.2 kg) worth of prosthetic make-up to achieve his horrifying transformation into The Fly. This extensive makeup process took anywhere up to five hours to apply.

In addition to undergoing the heavy transformation, Goldblum was also required to vomit up a vile substance in order to make that disgusting ‘puking on a doughnut scene’. The slimy substance was made from a vomit-worthy mixture of honey, eggs (presumably raw) and milk.

4. Scanners 1981: Exploding head and burgers

In the most memorable scene from David Cronenberg‘s 1981 film Scanners, we see Louis Del Grande‘s head explode. But how was the gruesome practical effect achieved?

In order to make Grande‘s head explosion look realistic, the special effects team created a life-cast which was packed with various materials from around the set. “Latex scraps, some wax, and just bits and bobs and a lot of stringy stuff that we figured would fly through the air a little bit better,” recalled ‘Special Makeup’ crew member Chris WalasIn addition, the head was also filled with leftover burgers, corn-syrup blood and pieces of gelatin brain.

While the head was packed and ready to explode, figuring out how to blow it up proved a little more difficult. After several failed attempts, special effects supervisor Gary Zeller took matters into his own hands by laying down behind the dummy and shooting at it with a shotgun.

3. An American Werewolf in London 1981: Transformation

An American Werewolf in London was the first film to receive an Oscar award for best makeup.

The iconic werewolf transformation, that hailed from the brain of special effects makeup artist Rick Baker, was so complicated to produce it required a team of thirty special effects artists. 

The makeup process took so long that actor David Naughton was required to sit in a chair and do nothing for ten hours a day over six days while he was slowly transformed. Once filming for the day was done, which typically only took 30-min, the makeup removal process would begin taking another agonising three hours – before the boring task would be performed again the next day. 

When his transformation was almost complete, Naughton’s body was replaced with a cast and the actor’s head was propped through a hole in the floor.

“There is a point where the body stretches and it is no longer my body – my body is in the floor. They cut a hole in the floor, I was put into the floor and on a break, everyone would leave the set but I’d still be in the floor,” said Naughton.

2. Alien 1979: Chestburster Scene

If you thought you were shocked the first time you watched the iconic chestburster scene in Ridley Scott‘s 1979 classic Alien, imagine witnessing that terrifying moment in person without warning.

According to an article taken from Cinema Alchemist in Empire Magazine, the film’s art director Roger Christian admitted that Ridley didn’t tell his actors about the terrifying, bloody, moment because he wanted them to have a genuine reaction.

“Ridley did not want the actors to see the setup, just to experience the horror of the moment the baby alien actually breaks through,” Christian said.

In an effort to make the scene as shocking as possible, Ridley, Nick Allder and Christian decided to add bits of intestines, liver, stomachs and any offal they could find to put around the baby alien.

“I sent one of the team to the local abattoir to fetch a bag full of bloody animal innards. The buyer returned clutching a plastic bag full of liver, intestines, kidneys, and lungs – whatever organs they could find. This was washed so that it was sanitary, but still smelt. It was sanitised in formaldehyde, which in itself smelt bad, making the set smell like an operating theatre.”

When the scene was shot, an unexpected squirting of blood caught Veronica Cartwright in the face causing her to hit her legs on set and flip back – before getting right back up and continuing to act.

“She screamed in shock, recoiled back against the set, and dropped to the floor out of the shot. The others also got splattered in the fountain of blood, and they all recoiled. Ridley kept on instructing Nick to keep ramming the head through the T-shirt, searching for that perfect moment of creature and blood squirting. Veronica appeared again as she stood up, but looked white and shaken and she was crying as more blood kept flying around.”

1. The Thing 1982: Chest Chomping Scene:

There is nothing quite as iconic as the grotesque chest chomp scene from John Carpenter‘s 1982 film The Thing. The complicated process of creating the film’s movie monsters involved countless hours of work from special effects artist Rob Bottin and his crew, and some unusual materials including bubblegum, mayonnaise and jam.

To create the chest-chomp effect, actor Charles Hallahan spent ten days with the special effects crew as they moulded his head, legs, arms, and torso creating a hyper-realistic fibreglass dummy that looked so real it even shared the actor’s chest hair pattern. The dummy was then fitted with a hydraulic chest used to create the gruesome arm chomp scene.

To create the effect the scene cut from Actor Richard Dysart plunging his arms into the chest with a defibrillator, to a double amputee stunt man’s prosthetic arms being mangled by the open chomping chest cavity.

The stuntman wore a realistic mask so that he would take on the appearance of actor Dysart. His prosthetic arms were made from gelatine, wax bones and rubber veins, allowing them to become mushed, mangled and burst with blood, as the toothy torso devoured them.

In the same scene, we see the rubber man’s head, flop, melt, and drip onto the floor from the table. This stretchy head scene was made possible with the use of melted plastic and microwaved bubblegum which was placed inside the neck. When the scene was shot, the dangerous fumes mixed with the real-life flame set underneath the camera, which accidentally caused the prosthetic body to explode in a ball of fire.

What is your favourite horror movie practical effects scene?

*Correction made: Veronica Cartwright hit her legs on set and flipped back – she didn’t faint.

Like it? Share with your friends!

7 weird practical effects used in iconic horror scenes

log in

Become a part of our community!

reset password

Back to
log in
Choose A Format
Personality quiz
Series of questions that intends to reveal something about the personality
Trivia quiz
Series of questions with right and wrong answers that intends to check knowledge
Voting to make decisions or determine opinions
Formatted Text with Embeds and Visuals
The Classic Internet Listicles
Open List
Open List
Ranked List
Ranked List
Upload your own images to make custom memes
Youtube, Vimeo or Vine Embeds
Soundcloud or Mixcloud Embeds
Photo or GIF
GIF format