The horror genre is unique among groups of fandoms. This perhaps stems from how long the genre of horror has been mistakenly looked down upon as a lesser form of storytelling. Tom Savini’s “Splatter Decade” being low brow entertainment. This community of horror devotees has proven generation over generation to have a staying power unmatched and an ability to percolate directly into the flow of the pop cultural zeitgeist. Horror in this way is also unique in that the monster becomes a crowd cheering hero. And in the world of monster creation special effects makeup Tom Savini would become a household name.
Traditionally the names who reach the general public are the people who are seen and out front of a project. Iconic names like Directors Romero, Carpenter, Craven, and Lucio Fulci, actors like Robert Englund and Jamie Lee Curtis, and producer Debra Hill. In the case of Savini it was his creatures who audiences went crazy for both in theaters and in VHS sleepover parties. Savini’s personality managed to break the mold and rise above his peers in that those other artists never made it onto the David Letterman Show. Savini for countless people represents the creative execution of the fun experience of being horrified by a monster.
Smoke and Mirrors explores the filmography of Tom Savini as a craftsman like other recent horror documentaries. The film moves from project to project featuring talking head interviews spotlighting Savini’s filmography. All the projects are here from the Dead films, Friday the 13th, Creepshow and later works From Dusk till Dawn and Grindhouse. However, what the film does surprisingly differently is move away from that traditional spotlight style to instead focus on Savini’s relationships between him and his family. This approach quickly becomes the film’s pathos beyond the awesomeness of the kills and creatures. Smoke and Mirrors addresses where the passion of filmmaking derives from, the desire to use makeup to breakthrough into acting, and the role of family along the journey.
Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini showcases the monsters and kills we all love but also manages to lift the veil slightly on the man behind those effects. The film showcases new insights of the man but be aware that the film’s intention is not to drag anybody through the mud falling short on some of the darker aspects brought up. This documentary is intended as a celebration of a man whose work has brought immense joy to a group of people across multiple decades. And for the only household named make-up artist, the film does a fantastic job of accomplishing that goal from the deep dive horror lover to the young middle schooler just beginning their own journey amongst the monsters.