The gorehounds of Vancouver make horror special (FX)

gore-hounds

Here’s my piece that ran as the cover story in the Georgia Straight‘s Halloween 1999 issue.

By Steve Newton

The first time I meet TOBY LINDALA, he’s indulging in one of his favourite pastimes, but we’re not talking a round of golf or model-building here: he’s gently dabbing blood on the exposed brain of a young woman whose skull has been neatly sawed open. It’s not a real woman, or even real blood, but a prop for the locally shot horror flick Disturbing Behavior.

“Uh, I’m just workin’ on a brain surgery,” Lindala comments matter-of-factly, as if dabbing at authentic-looking brain matter were an everyday occurrence for him. Actually, it can be in the wacky world of the special-makeup-effects artist. “We do a lotta projects where you have to hold back on the gore,” notes Lindala. “No holdin’ back on this one, though.”

Disturbing Behavior—a $14-million film about a small town where rebellious high-school students are kept in check by experimental brain implants—is directed by David Nutter, who also helmed several X-Files episodes in Vancouver before that series headed for the sunnier climes of L.A. And Lindala was the local special-makeup-effects ace in charge of the creatures and gore effects that helped make that show such a hit during its five years in production here.

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Fortunately for the 29-year-old Lindala, he’s been able to turn a childhood pastime—nurtured by early viewings of Hammer films and Abbott and Costello horror-comedies—into his adult profession. Or, as he puts it: “I guess I don’t really have the healthiest perspective.”

Lindala caught the makeup bug when he was 12 and came across a copy of pioneering gore guru Tom (Dawn of the Dead) Savini’s how-to book, Grande Illusions. “I grew up in small towns in Northern Ontario,” says Lindala, “so supplies and resources weren’t really easy to come by. We religiously collected Fangoria, though, and we used to be into a lotta the sick stuff at that time—you know, the H.G.[Herschell Gordon] Lewis films.

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“We came across the Tom Savini book at a big flea market just down in Michigan,” he adds, “and it was wonderful. When we started to get into it, all we really found in terms of local supplies was liquid latex, so I went through most of my early teens without much skin on my face at all. It was like, ‘Latex! Okay, pull it off. Latex it again!’ It was not so much character work at that point, more shock value.”

Lindala got his first paying gig doing makeup when he was 14, mixing fake blood for a stage play in Sault Ste. Marie, and he found that his burgeoning skills with latex and red goo also proved lucrative around the last days of October.

“That was what I used to love about Halloween,” he reveals with a chuckle. “It was the one day a year I could actually make some money doing what I do. I’d run as hard as I could to try to cover rent for the month.”

Lindala moved to Vancouver when he was 17, and a year later he started pursuing the makeup angle seriously. He enrolled in a course that makeup artist Todd MacIntosh led over at the Blanche MacDonald Institute, then took an “invaluable” correspondence course developed by legendary makeup artist Dick Smith. Since then, Lindala has contributed to such feature films as Xtro 2, Wounded, The 13th Warrior, Lake Placid, and the yet-to-be-released Jackie Chan movie Shanghai Noon.

Besides his work on The X-Files—which resulted in two Emmy nominations—his résumé runs the gamut of made-in-Vancouver genre series: Millennium, The Outer Limits, Sliders, Strange World, Sleepwalkers, Mantis, and Poltergeist: The Legacy. He’s been a busy guy of late, and he’ll stay that way with his next project, “a parasitic-cockroach thing” for New Zealand director Elory Elkyam called They Nest. Lindala says there’s plenty of work available for makeup-effects artists in Vancouver, but that it wasn’t always that way.

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“When I was studying with Todd, there wasn’t a lot going on,” he relates, “and not enough to support a real full-time shop. Tibor [seminal local makeup-effects artist Tibor Farkas, who succumbed to cancer earlier this year] had a shop going, but, unfortunately, he was struggling a little bit in between things. Todd managed to keep himself really busy, but he had straight makeup as well, so we kinda took cues from that.

“It’s funny, I’d delved into my mom’s makeup kit when I was a kid—just to find those lipstick colours that you could make bruises with—but I’d never really tried anything with the straight makeup. So I was really nervous going into Blanche MacDonald at first, but I found I really liked it. You get to work with all those gorgeous girls, so what the hell.”

Lindala wound up doing fashion makeup for a year to make ends meet, and he did bits and pieces for community TV shows on Rogers Cable. He also studied hair, so he could cover the fashion beat with more expertise. “I managed to pull together quite a career doing fashion makeup,” he says, “but then, thank God, the industry continued to grow here and we started gaining more and more credibility.”

Lindala is now president and artistic director of Lindala Makeup Effects Incorporated, the Burnaby-based firm he established in 1993, which currently employs a dozen people. Although his crew has also paid the bills doing commercial spots for everything from Visa to Cinnamon Toast Crunch, his heart lies in the genre work that has dominated the city for the past decade. Surprisingly, he wasn’t totally bummed when his previous bread-and-butter project, The X-Files, moved away two years ago.

“It was kind of a welcome transition,” he declares. “I was driving myself into the ground; it was a lot of work on that scheduling. The company managed to grow comfortably with it, but it definitely kept us moving.”

It must be a huge kick for a kid from the sticks of Ontario to sit back with a beer and watch his creations come to life on a show like The X-Files, knowing millions of others are tuning in at the same time. “Yeah,” Lindala agrees, “and, more importantly, I love the show. I particularly loved the first couple of seasons; I thought it was really in the government’s face. I’ve always been into the covert-operations sort of studies, so it was really exciting just to get involved with this show.”

Right up there with the magnetic looks of its two human stars, the gruesome attributes of The X-Files’ monsters have a lot to do with the show’s attraction. And special makeup effects will no doubt play a substantial role in X-Files creator Chris Carter’s new Vancouver-shot series, Harsh Realm, for which Lindala’s company did some work on the pilot. Carter’s shows have been notable for their intriguing story lines as much as their outrageous visuals, which leaves Lindala gratified. He doesn’t feel that strong makeup effects alone can salvage a show that isn’t very good in the first place.

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“I actually feel the other way,” Lindala discloses. “Personally, I’d rather go see a good film with really bad makeup effects. That’s one thing I’m reasonably frustrated with, in terms of the way the trend in media is these days. I think a lot of films have suffered for the focus being pulled off the plot and put on the technicals.”

When asked to pinpoint his fave all-time makeup job from the movies, Lindala points to Dick Smith’s aging makeup on F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus, as well as Rick Baker’s creature work on Harry & the Hendersons and Gremlins. And although he admits that he’d rather do creature effects than gore effects—“There’s a certain Frankenstein complex with creating life, you know”—he doesn’t have a problem with detailing over-the-top violence.

“I come from the Herschell Gordon Lewis school,” he says, referring to the notorious director of campy ’70s gore flicks such as Blood Feast and 2,000 Maniacs. “We’ve been designing these really graphic gunshots effects for a picture right now, and I don’t have any problem with hitting home and then hitting a little further. I think it’s probably a worse idea to water it down and put it in a fantasy context where it’s all so approachable. I’d rather people see something really disgusting, so they have to turn their head away.”

RYAN NICHOLSON is one makeup-effects artist who agrees with Lindala’s full-on approach to cinematic carnage. As the president and founder of Flesh & Fantasy, he’s worked on such unflinching epics as Hemoglobin and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. One look at the VHS collection in his company’s Burnaby office reveals such video nasties as Day of the Dead, the uncut edition of Street Trash, and necrophilia-obsessed German director Jorg Buttgereit’s Corpse-Fucking Art. Flesh & Fantasy is putting the finishing touches on the Wayans brothers’ outrageous slasher parody, Scream, If You Know What I Did Last Halloween. [Newt note: the title of Scream, If You Know What I Did Last Halloween was changed to Scary Movie.]

“We’ve created everything from prosthetic penises to women with eight breasts,” Nicholson boasts before inviting yours truly to take a seat beside a freaky-looking fish-monster head to watch some of their work on cassette.

The first little bit of video shows an attractive young woman—Flesh & Fantasy administrator Vanessa Allado—lying on the ground and clutching her throat while gouts of arterial blood spew from a throat wound. If it weren’t for Allado’s occasional giggling, you could easily imagine she’s in serious trouble. Then Nicholson plays some real-looking bullet-to-the-face footage, in which chunks of gore explode outward from the cheek and forehead of a moulded dummy head. This test footage was done for the John Frankenheimer film Reindeer Games but didn’t end up in the film.

Still, Nicholson revels in the authenticity of his shock tactics; he’s a true gore hound who got into scary movies while still in elementary school. When he was living in Edmonton, his horror-loving dad tried to take him to see John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing, which is noted for makeup genius Rob Bottin’s gruesomely mind-bending effects. The underage Nicholson wasn’t allowed in, even with his father there, but he’d already witnessed the carnage of Carpenter’s 1980 zombie epic, The Fog, and was hooked on cinematic blood ’n’ guts.

After he moved to Victoria in ’87, Nicholson’s high-school years saw him handling makeup for all manner of student films and theatre productions. Like Lindala, Nicholson took tips from Savini’s Grand Illusion, but other than that, he is self-taught. His first paying gig was for the Vancouver Island–located Abducted II: The Reunion, a low-budget exploitation flick starring Dan (Grizzly Adams) Haggerty and Jan-Michael Vincent.

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“That was my first sort of professional gig,” notes Nicholson, “and I got 250 bucks. I did a prosthetic arm for the killer who drowns or something. It never made it to the final cut, though.”

While he was in Victoria, Nicholson’s passion for both horror and music led him to form the horror-rap group Disturbed Company, a truly twisted outfit that—with tunes like “Drilla Killa” and “Aberrant Cadaver”—makes current demento-rap hotshot Eminem seem tame. The Victoria Times-Colonist printed a full-colour depiction of two Disturbed Company members in surgeon’s smocks standing around a guy who’d been thoroughly disembowelled.

On its 1994 Cabin Fever CD, the group spliced in a conversation from a Victoria radio talk show in which an “absolutely shocked and horrified” female caller complained about the gory depiction, worried that children might try to re-create it. Shortly thereafter, the paper’s entertainment editor had to make a printed apology to “everyone whose breakfast was spoiled” by the grisly pic.

Although Nicholson wears the gore-hound label proudly, he prefers creature effects to gore effects, but not because he’s afraid of getting fake blood on his hands. “The less actors we have to deal with the better,” he points out. That statement may have something to do with the fact that Flesh & Fantasy had to deal with a barrage of actors for Flight 180, a $23-million horror flick that wrapped production here three months ago. [Newt note: the title of Flight 180 was changed to Final Destination.]

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Helmed by long-time X-Files producer-director James Wong, and starring Vancouver’s Devon Sawa, it concerns seven high-schoolers who cheat death by avoiding a plane crash, then are gruesomely picked off, one by one, by a ticked-off Grim Reaper. Close-up 8-by-10 colour photos depicting the deaths of various victims from the ensemble cast adorn Nicholson’s office walls.

“A guy gets his head chopped off above the teeth,” he enthuses, “so it’s not the normal decapitation. And there’s a good strangulation—actually, that guy there,” he says, motioning to a full-body dummy dangling in a corner. “There’s a good hanging sequence where we did various stages of vessels bursting. His head actually decomposes in 72 frames, so we’ve done up five heads in different stages of decomposition, and they’ll have maggots all over them.”

With gore-heavy flicks like Flight 180 and Scream, If You Know What I Did Last Halloween filming in town, there would seem to be no shortage of work for Vancouver’s budding masters of the macabre. But Nicholson—who plans to make himself up as JFK after the bullet this Halloween—says there is and there isn’t. “There’s a lot of people who want to do it,” he says, “but they don’t have the proper training, and that’s where we run into the problem of having to fly in artists from out of town. That’s basically what Flesh & Fantasy has been doing since its origin, flying in artists from Montreal and Toronto to work on the feature films.”

BILL TEREZAKIS, owner of WCT Productions, is another one of Vancouver’s busiest makeup-effects artists. With so many genre shows being shot here, he’s had to recruit help from Alberta and Ontario, and he expects to be bringing in L.A. artists as well. His major time-consuming project right now is Harsh Realm, for which his company is contracted to do all the special makeup effects. The night before our meeting, the 32-year-old artist only had time for two hours’ sleep, but his exhaustion turns to enthusiasm when he’s asked what effects he’s working on.

“Right now, we’re doin’ mechanical scarabs,” he says, “little Egyptian-type beetles—but I took it further. They were goin’ with the traditional-looking beetle, and I thought, ‘Well, if they’re a traditional beetle, they wouldn’t be able to crawl around in someone’s head.’ So I took in a prototype and put a little drill bit on the end of it, and they went nuts over that. It has the body of a beetle and the head of a screw!”

Terezakis shows his designs directly to Harsh Realm honcho Carter, with whom he was involved in previous work on The X-Files. Formerly based in Richmond, Terezakis opened up an FX shop in Yaletown six months ago and has been going nuts ever since, employing up to 22 workers at a time. And he can thank his older brother Anthony, a business manager in Abbotsford, for getting him started in the field.

“I first got turned on to makeup when my brother used to scare the hell out of me,” he says. “He was always pretending he was some kind of a monster, and I was only eight years old, but I thought, ‘I have to conquer this. I have to find out why monsters scare me.’ So I got into playin’ around with latex rubber and gelatin, and just started makin’ my own monsters, and it wasn’t so scary anymore. And here I am, still working off of a fear.”

Terezakis’s formal training included one year at Hollywood’s Academy of Professional Makeup, and since then he has worked with such Oscar-winning makeup artists as Bottin (Total Recall) and Stefan (The Fly) Dupuis, both of whom he shared the FX studio with on Stephen (The Mummy) Sommers’s 1997 sea-beast saga, Deep Rising. As well as citing Bottin’s work on The Thing as the best he’s seen, Terezakis agrees with Lindala that Dick Smith’s makeup on the Salieri character in Amadeus is hard to touch.

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“That was a huge thrill when I saw that,” says Terezakis, who recently got his first chance to do his own aging makeups for a locally shot movie-of-the-week called The Spring. “Four actors had to go through three stages of aging,” he notes, “so it was quite an initiation into the world of subtle old ages. It was fantastic. I loved it.”

Whether subtly detailing the ravages of passing years, designing giant mosquitoes for Jumanji, or depicting the grisly results of a visit to vampire hookers for Bordello of Blood, Terezakis says that it helps to keep up with the latest breakthroughs in makeup technology.

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“We still have a ways to go before we discover and start working with the ultimate synthetic flesh,” he points out, “but there’s been many, many advances, especially in the past seven years. People are still trying to figure out the dilemma of how flesh moves—not so much how it looks, but how it moves—and once that is worked out a bit more, we’ll hopefully have makeup effects around for another 20 years—before the computers [take over]. The computers will always need the designer, though, and, fortunately, I’m a designer.”

Terezakis may have visions of the day when computers do the lion’s share of monster-making for movies, but he still hasn’t forgotten his first primitive attempt at the trade. “The first makeup I remember doing was when my brother—again, my brother—told me how he thought the Planet of the Apes masks were made. He said, ‘They melt cork and they put it on their faces,’ so the best that I could do that Halloween was a hobo with this burnt cork all over my face.”

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It was while producing casualty makeups for disaster drills in L.A. that Terezakis first made a buck doing what he loves, but his first actual film job was on the Vancouver-shot stinker Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan. So what does a guy who’s helped cinema’s most prolific slasher to do his dirty work think about the idea that gory films lead to violence in real life?

“Umm, that’s a good question,” ponders Terezakis. “I think to answer that question I’m gonna say that when I watch the news and I see footage of a hidden camera on a babysitter hitting a child—I can’t watch somethin’ like that. And if I see war footage on the screen, and it’s someone really getting shot, then I’m offended by that as well. As far as [gore effects] influencing anybody, it all depends on the individual, where their mind stability is. Parents are very important.”

The father of a 10-year-old girl—whom he’s planning to turn into the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland this Halloween—Terezakis finds himself in the position of having to decide whether or not to contribute to objectionable films like the Friday the 13ths of the world. Considering his status in the field, would he agree to do the makeup effects for a movie even if he knew the end result would be exploitative crap?

“If I was to question a film that I was asked to work on,” he says, “I would always talk to my crew, because they’re a large part of my success. And I have all different types of people workin’ here. I have a religious guy, and I would say to him, for example, ‘We have a show comin’ up where we have to make a baby explode,’ and he’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but my church won’t allow that.’ So he would take a week off.

“And once in a while I have to be sneaky. Like, he’ll wonder why he’s making a pair of horns, and I’ll say, ‘They’re not horns, they’re weird branches from a tree!’ I can’t just come out and tell him they’re demon horns.”

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