THE MONSTER is a recent feature written and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers ) that I, among many others, am most impressed with (See my review here). Along with a taut story, great direction, and brilliant acting, the film featured a titular monster that is the stuff of childhood night terrors.
The creators of that nightmare-made-real, FX maestros Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Amalgamated Dynamics (Alien 3, The Thing, Harbinger Down, to name just a small sampling), took a few moments from their schedules to answer some questions about their work on The Monster.
LEGLESSCORPSE: Tell us what got you started in the FX business — who were your inspirations?
ALEC GILLIS & TOM WOODRUFF: We had many of the same inspirations, mostly from watching movies rerun on TV in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Stop motion of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, the makeups in the original Planet Of The Apes. We had the pleasure of working with greats such as Dick Smith and Stan Winston.
LC: The titular creature for The Monster is something out of every kid’s nightmare — how did you come up with the design?
AG/TW: Director Bryan Bertino had an illustration he really liked. Beyond that we had philosophical discussions with him — he wanted it to be like a Rorschach ink blot that the viewer could project their fears into. We also had to make sure the monster had a focal point of sharp, bloody teeth and reflective eyes.
LC: It was certainly an impressive beast, and it looked great on screen –Tell us about the elements you used to bring it to life; puppetry, actor applications, animatronics?
AG/TW: It was a classic old-school man in a suit approach: sculpted rubber body, arm and leg extensions, as well as an articulated servo-operated animatronic head. Proof that these traditional techniques still look great!
LC: The kind of practical effects you guys pulled off is really the kind of thing horror fans love to see, and your work here was amazing, doubly so considering the creature’s movement, the savagery of its attacks, and outdoor shooting — tell us about the challenges these elements presented.
AG/TW: We lucked out when we got suit performer Chris Webb — normally, Tom has been in our creature suits. Chris is a stunt man, but it was clear from the first rehearsals he was thinking more like an actor. Of course, Bryan directed him very well too. The performer inside the suit is critically important.
LC: From my own experience, I know that some pretty comical moments can occur when working with practical effects — are there any such times from The Monster that stand out for you guys as particularly funny or memorable?
AG/TW: THE MONSTER is one of the few, if not only, times we designed, built the suit, then shipped it off to an entirely different crew. We were not on set at all! We aren’t used to that, but we brought in some of our top Canadian on set wranglers/puppeteers. It worked out well.
LC: How was the relationship that you had with your director, Bryan Bertino? What were some of those early pre-production discussions like?
AG/TW: Bryan is a very intelligent writer and communicator. He had a strong vision for the creature, which to us is like gold. He made decisions quickly and stuck to them. The experience was a model for efficient, smart creature film making.
LC: So, from your lips to our ears: what the hell was that thing? Did you guys have a backstory for it, or did you just approach it from the perspective that it simply “was”?
AG/TW: We’re fans of Bryan’s THE STRANGERS, which plunks the viewer down into a situation that has no explanation. It unfolds real time so the audience only knows what the characters knows. THE MONSTER feels real because there is no explanation for the creature. And as a metaphor for the dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship, it’s how a child perceives the failings of the parents. It simply is. We found the lack of burdensome backstory refreshing.
LC: What projects are you working on now that you can discuss?
AG/TW: Shane Black’s THE PREDATOR and David Ayer’s BRIGHT. Oh no. We’ve said too much already…
Cryptic words, gentlemen! We’ll leave that there, and extend a lot of gratitude to these awesome artists for taking the time out to talk their craft with us. Best of luck with those future projects, and all the others I’m certain you’ll haunt our nightmares with!
And check out THE MONSTER — you won’t be sorry!
THE MONSTER Is Now Available In Theaters & On Demand