Tom Savini is a horror legend. While he may not be a household name to the average person, one would be hard-pressed to find a horror fan that is not familiar with his name and his work - particularly when gore effects come up in conversation. But he’s so much more than the master of what he calls his “Grande Illusions” or “magic tricks” with horror effects.
I became a Savini fan early as I started my life as a horror fan with the introduction of George A. Romero films in my childhood. Romero, often called a “blue collar” filmmaker, was impressed with Tom very early on and wanted him to do effects for his upcoming film Night of the Living Dead. Tom instead found himself doing a tour in Vietnam as an army photographer and this actually made him into the effects wizard we know and love. Seeing such a copious amount of abhorrent violence and visceral death right before his very eyes had an incredibly profound effect on him and actually gave him the knowledge to give his future effects a realism no one else could convey. But as for Romero, he never forgot about Savini and would involve him in countless projects and forge a friendship throughout Romero’s life. That “blue collar” filmmaker Romero treated everyone as family and Tom was a part of it. Their many projects together include Martin (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1979), Knightriders (1981), Creepshow (1982), Day of the Dead (1985 and truly Savini’s gore masterpiece), Creepshow 2 (1987), and Night of the Living Dead 1990 (Savini’s directorial debut with a screenplay written by Romero). Romero even wrote the introduction to Savini’s Grande Illusions effects book in 1983.
Savini is best-known in the horror community for effects, but he has a background in acting and is most recognizable as the character “Sex Machine” in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn (1996). It is such an iconic role and Savini frequently autographs photos of that character at horror conventions.
I would be remiss if I did not jump from that note to a personal one. A lifelong horror fan, I frequent horror conventions - most notably Horrorhound Weekend in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana - and Savini is there nearly every year for the MaskFest portion of the convention and I always have to drop by for pictures and autographs. Through my podcast and general word on the Internet, I’ve found that most fans are disappointed with encounters with Savini. Out of all the times I’ve met him, I’ve not had one bad encounter with the man and he’s my mainstay at Horrorhound Weekend. You can never meet a hero too many times!
I strongly recommend the documentary Smoke and Mirrors about Savini that is currently on the horror streaming app Shudder (do a month trial and thank me later!). Smoke and Mirrors is the full package about Savini and very riveting and insightful into Savini the horror legend and also Savini the man himself. For further consideration, I highly suggest any of Savini’s books: Grande Illusions I & II, Night of the Living Dead ‘90: The Version You’ve Never Seen, and Savini: The Biography. Most are aware of this, but Savini has his own special effects makeup school called Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program operated from Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania. For his students and graduates, he often offers effects requested of him to those students he has instructed.
In closing, I would like to say that those of us at The House That Screams (the horror podcast I host) are very big admirers of Tom Savini’s work and we find ways to bring him into nearly every episode - even if the episode has no connection to his work. That being said, our most popular episode by far is our episode about Night of the Living Dead 1990 and I’ll be damned if I’m not proud of that.
Candy “The Final Girl” Allison