Acknowledging the blood, sweat & tears that went into making a head explode on film, among other things.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top 10 greatest pre-CGI transformation scenes

Yes, I love to dwell in the past. I miss the days of air bladders, latex, hoses and hydraulics. I miss those effects of long ago that made a big mess on the set. Most of all, I miss the “ugh!” “Ahhh!” “Ewww!” and “Ha ha!!!” reaction people had to those scenes. Incredibly over the top, or just ridiculously messy, these scenes are by far better than anything CGI can come up with.

I present to you a top ten list of some of the most innovative pre-CGI transformation scenes in cinema history. Feel free to disagree or comment on your favorite, and if I left any out that you feel absolutely need to be on this list, too bad.

#10: Demons (1985)
The Italians love their gore loud and messy. Maybe it goes back to the theater, where makeup and gestures had to carry to the whole amphitheater. They love to exaggerate and we love to watch.

#9: Demons 2 (1986)
Trying to one up the scene from the first film, and doing a hell of a job at it.

#8: Clash of the Titans (1981)
It’s not much. Hell, you don’t even get to see him, just his animated shadow. But that’s all it took to stay burned into my 8 year old impressionable mind.

#7: From Beyond (1986)
You know when you mix Stuart Gordon with H.P. Lovecraft you are going to get some awesome goopy scenes. Kudos to Barbara Crampton for putting up with it.

#6: The Fly (1986)
Absolutely gory, but somehow gut wrenchingly sad thanks to a great performance by Geena Davis.

#5: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The only film on the list that’s not from the 80’s. It is a masterwork of editing and composition. A transformation so subtle and so surreal, my mind can barely comprehend it… and no, LSD won’t help me to comprehend it either.

#4: The Beast Within (1982)
I’m mentioned this one before. Tom Burman’s best. Actor Paul Clemens puts everything he has into this performance.

#3: The Howling (1981)
Some may argue that Rick Baker’s “American Werewolf in London” scene is the king of all werewolf transformation scenes. While it is amazing and innovative especially for it being shot in stark light, it just doesn’t hold up terror wise to Bottin’s scene. I mean, just look at those air bladders go! Also note werewolf Picardo’s mid transformation creepy “smile”. This is the stuff of nightmare folks.

#2: The Peacock King (1989)
I have yet to see this film, but this scene has convinced me that this could very well be the second greatest transformation scene ever filmed. What the hell is that?! I must buy this film now.

#1: The Thing (1982)
The pinnacle of all transformation films. I’ve touched on the Dog scene before, but I would have to say that the Palmer scene wins out of sheer “WTF?” appeal. It is so frantic and chaotic. You feel like MacReady does just watching it. Absolute head-munching madness.


  1. Very nice list, T! I agree with you about THE HOWLING. AMERICAN WEREWOLF's transformation was awesome (and still is), but as you said, Bottin's sequence is damn frightening and I noticed that evil grin as well.

  2. This is a well rounded list and kudos to you on your accuracy, especially " The Fly"

  3. I'm with you and venoms5 in preferring The Howling: its terror holds up, while American Werewolf etc. annoys me now with it camp overtones.

    Just discovered your site: it's awesome; thanks! (I'm a monstro fan of Albert J. Whitlock, whom I consider a god.)

  4. Thanks guys! Im glad I hit it on the head with The Howling.

    Ivan, I love Whitlock as well. I did a post a while back on traditional matte paintings. I miss that look.

  5. Yes, that post was good: you're obviously a fan. Have you seen The Hindenburg? Whitlock's magnum opus, I think. I also have a big spot in my heart for expert wire and miniature dudes, like Derek Meddings and L.B. Abbott, both giants.

  6. Nightmare on Elm St. 4 when that chick turns into the giant roach and no way American Werewolf in London will always be the #1 transformation. The howling is great and yes scary but also looks like a cartoon at the same time.