With Halloween just around the corner, horror movies will be on every television screen across the world. People around the planet will be getting their popcorn ready and sitting down to enjoy a good scare at some classics as well as some newer ventures. The appeal to the horror genre has been an interesting one over the decades. People shy away from them initially, but horror has always remained a guilty pleasure. While hiding hands in faces there is always the proverbial finger spread to see what is happening on screen.
A huge reason why horror has maintained this cult following is the special effects involved. Many tune in to horror movies to see the incredible gore and creature effects that the production team has come up with. These effects are a huge selling point of horror movies. If they are done correctly they can elicit a tremendous response from the viewer. The influence of these effects can be far-reaching. Some, in the industry, have become legends based on their special effects work, and none more than Stan Winston.
Since the 1970s, Winston has been the measuring stick for special effects. His works over the years have been in some of the best horror movies in the industry. Below we will take a look at the influential works of Stan Winston.
The Thing (1982)
By 1982, Winston had been working in the effects industry for years. He had been working on various television and movie projects but it wasn’t until he was brought in on John Carpenters The Thing that he made his mark on Hollywood.
Working with special effects supervisor Rob Bottin Winston did some amazing work on the movie. Specifically, Winston lent his expertise to the dog transformation scene halfway through the movie. The practical effects used during the scene were incredible and added a sense of horror to the movie that CGI wouldn’t have been able to accomplish.
Outside of the dog scene, Winston worked on various other practical effects within the movie. It was a coming-out moment for Winston and he was a hotly sought-after effects man ever since.
While yes this is not technically a horror movie it is horror adjacent so let’s not split hairs.
Introduced by James Cameron, The Terminator was a highly influential movie. It explored an interesting concept and has spawned 5 sequels and various appearances in television and comics.
The only way for this movie to work the way that it did was because of the incredible work done by Stan Winston.
Winston’s practical effects work on the Terminator was fantastic. To create a believable working T-800 took an insight that many did not have. Winston created an icon with his work on the T-800. It helped to take The Terminator from a cult classic to a worldwide phenomenon.
There isn’t a classic movie from the 80s and 90s that Winston hasn’t had his hands in. Coming out 8 years after the original, Aliens was a more action-packed version of the slasher in space movie that we had come to know and love.
Winston had a huge task ahead of him in this movie. Having multiple Xenomorphs in the film meant that Winston would need to create specific features to separate the aliens. He did a fantastic job of keeping the aliens uniform while adding enough to each one that we could differentiate between each Xenomorph.
This was also the first time we were introduced to the alien queen. Building off the established creature design from Alien, Winston did a great job with the queen. He created a much larger alien with incredible horns attached to her head. He also widened the mouth a bit so that he could fit in a much larger set of teeth.
All of these new additions to the Xenomorph character were brilliant. It helped to keep the horror aspect of the movie while the tone switched to a more action-oriented film.
This was also the first, but not only, time that Winston snagged the Academy Award for Special Effects.
Following his great work on Aliens, Winston was brought in to work on yet another creature that would become an icon of the movie industry. Predator was a movie that subverted the expectations of the viewers. What started as your generic 80s action movie slowly turned into a tense slasher flick. It was a great way to present a new monster into the world of movies.
Speaking of the presentation of a new creature, Stan Winston did a phenomenal job creating the Predator. Winston put together a truly unique character. The way otherworldly beings had been shown to us in the past had grown stale and this was a breath of fresh air.
The creature’s design was unlike anything that we had seen before. There was a human-like quality to the creature that was unnerving. It helped to create a sense of terror in the viewer.
The disgusting face of the Predator is also something that needs to be mentioned. It was the defining feature of the Predator and one that sends chills down anyone’s spine. It was a genius move by Stan Winston and one that set his creature apart from those of the day.
Jurassic Park (1993)
One of the biggest movies of all time required the services of one of the best special effects men in the business.
Bringing dinosaurs back from extinction was a tall task. CGI was not the groundbreaking medium it is today so it was up to Stan Winston and his effects team to create these animals.
With his experience in practical effects, Winston was able to use some incredibly realistic animatronics. These brought a sense of realism to the movie that couldn’t have been achieved with CGI. It allowed for more genuine interactions between the actors and the dinosaurs.
Winstons brilliant use of animatronics also helped to create a higher sense of terror throughout the film. The lifelike nature of the dinosaurs created a more visceral reaction from the audience. We knew that they weren’t real but they looked so close that we imagined the actors in real danger.
The works highlighted above are just a drop in the bucket in the career of Stan Winston. Outside of the movies mentioned above Winston has had an incredibly successful career in film and television. He truly is one of the most iconic names in the special effects/horror industry.