Making "Return of the Living Dead" 1984
In 35 years of doing makeup and prosthetic effects for movies, TV and such, with perhaps
a hundred or more specific jobs, I got fired from one of them, midway through filming. This is it. So apparently, my career is only
about 99% successful, and I can live with that. But every time I think the problems of this silly movie are forgotten, somebody brings
it up again, most recently by some skeptics in the PG Film debate who thought they'd embarrass me. And they quoted a internet rant
by a guy named Brian Peck who seems to have a part time job insulting me and my abilities, based on this silly film.
Cinefantastique did a lengthy feature article about the making of the movie in late 1984 or early 1985, and when I was interviewed
for it, I was asked about the problems and my conflicts with the director. I responded that the director had not gone public with
any criticisms of me that I was aware of, and I would extend the same courtesy to him. But after my interview, when they interviewed
the director, he verbally ripped into me with a vengence, and so his criticisms of me were published while my responses to the criticisms
Over the years, I thought this silly movie would just be fogotten, and so I chose to just let go whenever someone asked
me about the problems. But the talk, like the zombies in the film, just apparently won't die, so I finally decided I did need to speak
out and describe what really happened.
Bidding The Job
When I was invited to bid on the job, I was told all the teen actors would be real punk kids, having their own
mohawks, colored hair, tatoos, etc. and I would not be doing any makeup at all on them, so I was not expected to put anything in my
proposed budget for their makeup needs.
And in discussing the zombie characters, the director was very adamant that he did not
want anything that looked like what George Romero did on previous "Living dead" movies. The production designer, Bill Stout, had some
postcards he had acquired from a recent trip to Mexico, and there is a small town somewhere in Mexico quite famous for mummifying
it's residents instead of burying them, and the mummies are actually on display in the town church. The postcards he had obtained
were tourist cards of these "Mummies of Guanajuato" (town name spelling may not be correct).
So the director instantly took those
mummified faces as what he wanted his zombies to look like, and the only way to do them on a large scale with a small budget was simple
slip rubber face masks. That's all they had the money for, so that's what I agreed to make and furnish.
When the film finally
got it's money issues resolved and we officially started, the first change was that all the teenagers cast were NOT punker kids, just
normal looking kids, who needed to be made to look like punkers. I had no budget allowed for this, but agreed to make Linnea Quigley's
red wig, as well as a wig for Jewel Shepard, but any other "punk" appearances I'd have to charge more for. So they decided to just
have the kids go to a punker hairdresser, and do it for real on the guys.
Brian Peck's Claim
So this Brian Peck, who claims I was going to do a bald cap and wig on him, he's mistaken (or simply lying).
I never proposed to do it, I was already adding extra work with no extra money (the girls' wigs), and had absolutely no interest in
complicating things with a bald cap, which essentially ties up a makeup artist for about an hour and a half every day, and I was short
on crew already just for the zombie stuff. So that statement of his is simply and emphatically false.
Making Zombies Again and
On the first night of filming with the zombies, I used the masks which were delivered as specified and made using the textures
and color schemes of the mummy images in the postcards, basically yellowish and brownish tones and weathered surface textures. But
some of the extras had somewhat odd faces, and the director insisted he liked their faces enough that he didn't want them wearing
masks (an insult to these poor people, but the director was not exactly a person with good people skills). So I had to put something
other than yellows and browns on these people's faces, because on a real face, the colors don't look that bad or unnatural. So I tried
a color scheme of purples and greys, on these real faces of the two extras. The director saw them, said he loved them, and wanted
all the zombie faces like that. So he completely changed the specifications, and made more work for me trying to revise everything
to his new specs.
Then on the third day, he brought in a stuntman for the "grey and purpleish" makeup routine, but the man had
such handsome and healthy features, even the purples and greys painted on wouldn't make him look enough like a zombie. I took
an extra hour to do a latex/tissue buildup on him, to make the skin more weathered and wrinkled, and then applied the purples and
greys. The director said he loved it and wanted all the zombies tha tway. Problem was, the other zombie makeups were about a 15-20
minute a person job for one artist, and the latex/tissue buildup was 4-5 times longer to apply, so I couldn't do all the zombie people
that way without at least a dozen more people on my crew. The producers refused to give me any more crew budget, so the director didn't
get what he wanted.
A Final Perspective
I also built the full body suit of the Tarman character, which nobody has criticized as being amateurish,
and the skeleton who climbs out of his grave and says "Let's Party" (a 7 function cable controlled animatronic, which nobody has criticized).
the supposedly "amateurish" zombie masks were exactly what was bid, budgeted and ordered by the director and producer in the beginning.
And the constant changing of specifications and piling on extra work was never adjusted with increased budget or larger makeup crew.
I did it as a favor to Graham Henderson, the executive in charge of production, a friend I had worked well with on a prior film.
I was relieved of my job, and Kenny Meyers took over, he immediately showed the director a zombie makeup with some small generic facial
appliances, where you could mix up the pieces to get different full faces, kind of a "Mr. Potatohead" version of appliance pieces.
It cost more, but the producers were now desperate to just finish the movie at all cost, and passifying the director's whims to finish
the film became a priority. So while they couldn't find money for my extra work, they somehow found it to allow Kenny to appease the
director's ever-changing whims, and finish the film.
If you really want to know the truth about that project, I suggest you look
for an old issue of the magazine "Cinefantastique" which did a lengthy article on the filming and the problems between the director
and I. It is a far more detailed and truthful account of the film than Mr. Peck's rant.
You may want to consider that Mr. Peck
also describes himself as a close friend of Kenny Meyers, the makeup artist who took over from me on the film, and did subsequent
sequels on that series. Mr. Peck even mentions he and Kenny tried to get some film plan approved. So he has a self-serving agenda
to make his friend Kenny Meyers look as good as possible, and of course, one classic way to make a friend look better is to insult
or belittle a person who was doing the job before the friend takes over. Trash the old, praise the new. A common behavior, sadly.
said, I will simply say that this movie was certainly not the best I can do, just the best I could do in a cinematic "war zone" where
everything changed on a daily basis, the man trusted to "lead" the cast and crew was truly deranged and so lacking in people skills
that the producers forced him to actually apologize to the entire cast and crew on the last day of filming, to admit his uncontrolable
temper and gross insensitivity to other people had made the film a truly miserable experience for just about everybody. He thought
of himself as a genius, but he proved himself to be a mere petty tyrant.
This film is not the true measure of my ability and
artistiry. Other work in this gallery is a far more truthful representation of my ability, artistry, and success