The make-up guru from horror movie Drag Me To Hell, Greg Nicotero, talks blood, guts and vomiting worms
A film industry legend, make-up maestro Greg Nicotero has worked on more than 150 movies, from horror classics, such as Evil Dead II and Scream to Oscar-winning dramas like Pulp Fiction and Milk. Sam Raimi’s slapstick splatfest, Drag Me To Hell, is his latest assignment. Here, he takes us through his favourite moviemaking experiences.
1 Day Of The Dead (1985) ‘That was my first movie. The challenge was coming up with new and inventive ways to make zombies look different. You make up 40 or 50 people a night, then you have 50 or 100 background masks to get big crowd scenes. Then on top of that you have to prep all the gags that happen, the people that get eaten, the people that get torn in half – so it’s really non-stop. For the scene where the guy is split in half, we built a fake floor and put the actor Joe Pilato’s feet through it, then attached an entire fake body, with a cavity filled with real pig entrails.’
2 Evil Dead II (1987) ‘I had seen the original Evil Dead and thought it was a genuinely scary, innovative movie, and when I read the script for the sequel I thought it was pretty frightening. There’s a scene where Linda’s headless corpse kicks in the door to the workshed and lunges at Ash with a chainsaw. I remember reading that and thinking: What a great visual. And then, when we got to shooting the sequence in the movie, it was done with much more tongue in cheek than I had originally read. I thought we were going for a balls-out horror movie. I didn’t realise that Sam (Raimi) had such a unique sense of humour.’
3 Pulp Fiction (1994) ‘In Pulp Fiction, the major gag was shooting Marvin. We made a fake head of the actor Phil LaMarr and we placed an air tank in it. We filled the entire head with oatmeal and fake blood and bits of latex to simulate the blood and the brain matter. We would pull a trigger and it would blow the back of the head off and spray blood onto the rear windshield of the car. In the original script, when John Travolta shoots Marvin, he shoots him in the chest, he doesn’t shoot him in the head. It’s an accident when he pulls the trigger the first time, then he and Sam Jackson get into an argument while Marvin’s in the back bleeding, then Travolta shoots him again to put him out of his misery. But, on the day we shot the scene, Quentin said, “I can’t have him shot twice. As despicable as these characters are, you still have to identify with them.”’
4 Hostel (2005) ‘I think [director] Eli Roth showed so much growth from Cabin Fever to Hostel. Is it a hard movie to watch? Yeah. Is it difficult for people to watch that level of gore? For some people, yes; for some people, no. It’s really just a matter of taste. For us, it’s always clinical. We’ve got to do the gag where this girl gets her head chopped off, or this guy’s Achilles tendons are sliced. For us, it’s silicone and rubber and fake blood. It’s up to the movie to lend it power. I think Eli’s certainly pushed the envelope in a way that opened a whole new door, very much like [George A.] Romero did in the ’60s. They redefined the genre. It’s certainly not for everyone, but the reality is, there’s a market for it.’
5 Public Enemies (2009) ‘Michael Mann’s a tremendously specific guy, and with him it’s all about realism. So we spent a lot of time talking about, “Well, a bullet would go in here, go out a guy’s chest and it would fragment, so the chest would blow into several pieces.” It was very analytical. I was doing research in terms of what gangster Pretty Boy Floyd looked like when he was killed, what these guys looked like on the slab.’
6 Drag Me To Hell (2009) ‘I sat with Sam and designed all the prosthetics, the animatronics, the execution of every single make-up effect in the film. Sam always had an affection for B-movies. This is a really well made comic book, very much like Evil Dead II and of course the Spider-Man movies. When I showed Sam the first test of the effect where Mrs Ganush vomits worms into Christine’s mouth, he said, “You should be arrested for that, it’s just so ridiculous.” But he has a genuine love for those kinds of movies. It’s sheer entertainment, it’s not offensive, it’s not grotesque, there’s no nudity, it’s really just harmless entertainment.’ Interview by Tom Huddleston. Drag Me To Hell is on general release from August 13.