SMOKE & MIRRORS: The Story of Tom Savini - "A Look at The Godfather of Gore Himself"

If you’ve watched horror movies at all for the past few decades, it is very unlikely that you are not familiar with the works of special effects legend, ambitious director, prolific actor and renowned stuntman Tom Savini. From "Dawn of the Dead" to "Friday the 13th" to "Maniac" to "Creepshow", the man is this century’s Ray Harryhausen or a modern Jack Pierce, and possibly on the same level as Chaney.

Tom Savini, the King of Splatter himself, is a man who needs no introduction in the world of horror, but I found the documentary "Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini" to be just as entertaining as it is comprehensive, spanning his whole career up to the point in time this film was made, from "Deathdream" all the way to his appearances at conventions in later years, as well as his more recent endeavors. The documentary about the gore powerhouse tells the tale of Savini, from his humble beginnings as a young Halloween-loving boy growing up in Pittsburgh using whatever medium he could find to create strange creatures, to a combat photographer during the Vietnam War, all the way to becoming a protégé of Dick Smith and bringing such intense and incredible realism to cinema as a whole. Oh, and he absolutely loves cats and the city of Pittsburgh, and he runs his own special effects school. He’s just a normal dude with a passion, and this documentary makes me appreciate his art and work so much more.

Although Savini is not foreign to devout horror fans, his name is familiar to movie buffs, appearing in such films and TV shows as "Django Unchained", "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", "Machete", "Jack and Miri Make a Porno", "Planet Terror", and many others. "Smoke and Mirrors" features interviews and appearances from familiar faces such as Robert Rodriguez, Danny McBride, Greg Nicotero, Danny Trejo, Tom Atkins, Corey Feldman, Sid Haig, Doug Bradley, and Alice Cooper, as they describe how Savini made such an impact on their own careers as well as their friendships with him. The film also follows his roles as an actor and stuntman in classic films such as Blades from "Dawn of the Dead" and "Land of the Dead", Morgan the Black Knight in George A. Romero’s biker flick "Knightriders", Sex Machine in "From Dusk till Dawn", and providing stunts for "Friday the 13th", "Monkey Shines", "Dawn of the Dead", "Martin", and "Two Evil Eyes", among others.

One of the roles that has always interested me the most is "Maniac", where he not only acted in the infamous explosive car sex scene, he also created the explosion for the scene himself, making a plaster cast of his own head and filling it with fake blood and food scraps. Even more fascinating, the double-barreled shotgun that Joe Spinell uses in the film had live ammunition in it. Savini also has a few directing credits under his belt, including the segment “Wet Dreams” in "The Theatre Bizarre" and “House Call” in "Deadtime Stories: Volume 1", three episodes of "Tales from the Darkside", and the 1990 remake of "Night of the Living Dead".

It's always a trip to see how people with such widespread talent came to be the people we know them as today, especially someone with the portfolio of Tom Savini. I think it is a safe assumption to say that if you watch horror movies at all, you have encountered his amazing and unmatched work, and it made your love for the genre all the more stronger. The film is currently available to watch on Shudder.

For a another dose of classic Tom Savini/Summer School, check out what fellow Slaughter Film contributor had to say about "Horror Effects: Hosted by Tom Savini".


★ ★ ★

"A documentary about the life of Tom Savini. The film covers his early days in Pittsburgh, and his rise to stardom as Hollywood's most sought after special effects wizard. "