Thursday 5 May 2016

Holy Fuck!

It's difficult - scrap that, it's SHOCKING - to think that The Exorcist is almost 45 years old now. William Friedkin's legendary horror flick broke new ground (at the time) in many areas, including innovative makeup effects by Dick Smith (anyone who loves horror movies and special makeup effects will know this name). As a life-long fan of this film, I still think it has the power to shock thanks to its efforts at destroying innocence in a harshly vérité manner. The Exorcist has spawned a plethora of duplicate flicks over the years, almost all of which fall short of the milestone achieved by the original, and few (if any) demonic possession films confront the audience with such punishing scenes of taboo-busting horror in quite the same way. It's not easy putting the raw power of The Exorcist into context these days as we've seen so many films depicting possessed demonic girls puking their guts over people, bleeding from their self-inflicted wounds, swearing all kinds of filthy words and challenging religious concepts in almost pornographic ways. The ripples of The Exorcist have spread across the genre for decades and diluted the shock-value to some degree. But these images were new once, and they terrified the living hell out of a whole generation, and quite often they still do. If any film truly deserves its "classic" status, then The Exorcist is certainly the gold standard in this respect.

I've done two previous Exorcist shoots, both of which were just about the possession of the girl rather than the ritual exorcism. Both were shot in bedrooms. This, my third and most recent attempt, was the first time I did the shoot in my studio using a fake bed. My model, Shana, was familiar with the film and she was willing to face some potential controversy in order to re-enact the infamous scene where Regan inflicts sexual harm to herself with a crucifix. Obviously, the shots are totally implied and conducted much the same as they were in the film, but the symbolism in the image is so powerful that you don't need to see graphic depictions of female anatomy in order to feel uncomfortable. Our post-9/11 world is a world in which religion has come under great scrutiny, the faithful are particularly sensitive and zealous about their beliefs, and atheism is on the rise (particularly in the USA where many atheists are "in the closet" about their lack of beliefs). Creating an image like this in the modern age is highly controversial and morally risky because it is weighted down with the emotional baggage of the modern era. People take such high offence at any perceived attacks on their moral philosophy and there is a degree of "entitlement" in the general population that they should be able to go through life without ever being offended. So, the audacity for some guy in Kent to ask a young lady to perform lewd acts with a religious icon is bound to cause some flak outside of the horror fan-base, even though the motivation for creating the images was very much to pay homage to a classic horror film that I have loved and admired for my entire life.

I must mention the vomit. Thick, green, slightly smelly pea soup with a few added ingredients had to be poured into Shana's mouth so that she could launch the projectile glop for the camera. Demonic puke has become a fun feature of the shoots I do these days (I've had quite a few models throwing up all over my floor, ranging from thick green Satanic sick to bright red lumpy stomach blood). It always creates a hell of a clean-up job for me at the end. But it's worth it!

Tuesday 29 March 2016

The Mummy

The Mummy. Simple, right? Just get a model, wrap 'em in bandages, job done. Right? Wrong! I wanted my Mummy to look ancient and scary, which meant using filthy old white rags torn to strips, after they had been made as disgusting as possible. It meant attaching a fake rib cage, and performing an extensive makeup on the model's face to show rot and decay. It was fun, it was creative, it was pretty awesome. But it wasn't simple.

The model, Jo, was great. She tolerated what was an uncomfortable "costume" (if you can call it that) and performed some great poses. It wasn't the easiest thing to wear and around the back, out of sight, there was a lot of clips, staples, and sticky tape holding various parts together.

The Angry Princess

13 Ghosts. I can't honestly say I'm a huge fan of the film, even though it is an enjoyable little flick, but the thirteen supernatural characters are fascinating. Of them all, the Angry Princess seems to be one of the most iconic and striking characters. I have no doubt that this is because she is fully nude, wearing nothing but hideous scars on her breasts and face. Notably, she even has a nasty slash right through one of her nipples, a design feature that is guaranteed to send a chill.

The "blood bath" shoot seems to be a popular theme among people who create horror photos, and before this shoot, I'd never done one. For one thing, my bathroom is too small, but I had to include a blood bath to match a scene from 13 Ghosts. So I got hold of a bath tub and set up a scene in the studio, complete with a tiled wall. With no plumbing, water had to be put in and taken out with a bucket!

The model, Phoenix, was an incredibly professional art nude. We applied prosthetic scars and a silicone nipple facade which could be sliced through. The effect was pretty disturbing.

The story of the Angry Princess is tragic and contemporary. With a history full of abusive boyfriends, low self esteem, plastic surgery, and eventually extreme self harm and suicide, the character seems to embody a complex modern female anxiety. Although she isn't in the film much (after all, the ghosts are really just an assortment of supernatural villains, each with a backstory to justify their bizarre designs), there is something particularly upsetting about the Angry Princess.

We attempted to capture some of the sadness of the character and showed a scene of her self harm, something not seen in the film. But despite how grim the photos might be, shooting it was actually great fun and we kept our usual lighthearted mood in the studio.

Behind the scenes video:

Monday 29 February 2016

Bride of Frankenstein

The classic Universal monsters are still much-loved icons of vintage horror cinema, I'm pleased to say. Although there may be a few cringe-inducing moments of excessive theatrical melodrama, the early horror flicks depicting Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and of course the Bride of Frankenstein are still great to watch. I recently re-watched The Bride of Frankenstein as preparation for this photo shoot and was amazed by just how beautifully lit the scenes were, mesmerisingly so in some places. The Bride herself, played by Elsa Lanchester, remains something of a fascination. Her startled, expressive eyes and those quick bird-like head movements gives the Bride a peculiarity of character. But her most obvious asset is of course that hair! A wild shock of electrified locks that stand upright, embellished by the white streak of hair that resembles an electric bolt rising from her temple.

This shoot had been lingering around somewhere in the back of my mind for some time. The hair had always put me off so I just didn't bother. I'm pretty fussy about my shoots, and if the hair wasn't right then I wouldn't be happy, so I just figured I'd never do this, or "maybe one day"…

Then I met Georgia, a young model who answered a casting call for a vampire shoot. At the shoot, she set her hair into a large, strange bun which rose from her head, and I did the vampire shoot with her, which was great. As I was shooting, I kept thinking about her hair, and it struck me that I was looking right at my Bride. But not only was her hair suitable, so was she herself, with a face that suited this role perfectly, and even a demeanour that seemed to fit (and I mean that in a nice way). So naturally, we booked a second shoot and the Bride was brought to life.

My wife Claire assisted with the hair, which wasn't easy. Trust me, if you are planning to do a Bride shoot then brace yourself for a long, complex hair job! But between them, Georgia and Claire did a truly wonderful job. I was busy applying body paint and bandages. As I was getting ready I stumbled across some lightweight plastic bolts which I glued to the sides of her neck. They were white so I had to quickly make them silver. I had not planned to use neck-bolts but when I found them, quite by accident, I just had to use them!

It was important to use flattering lighting on this shoot, which was set up to mimic vintage Hollywood beauty. However I didn't want a full-on beauty shoot (after all, I'm a horror photographer) so I used no fill light and let harsh shadows cause interesting contrasts. The results were quite pleasing.

But this is Horrify Me and so a bucket of blood and gore wasn't too far away. The final scenes of the shoot involved pulling the Bride's chest open to reveal ribs and guts, with a few silver surgical tools laying around. I made no reference to whether the Bride was being assembled, repaired or destroyed. I just wanted a few cool gory shots in there. After all, a similar scene would have actually happened somewhere in the narrative of the classic film, even though we never got to see it. It was fun to imagine this scene and bring it to life.

The final stage was to edit these for a great black and white finish. I've shown them on the Horrify Me gallery in both colour and black and white, which really involved different editing processes. I'm happy with the colour ones, but those black and white shots? Woah!

Thursday 11 February 2016

This Lady will Tear Your Soul Apart

When I was contacted by a model named Liz who adores Hellraiser (particularly Pinhead) and asked if I could transform her into a female version of the classic character, what else could I say? Of course! It's what I do. Liz has been in many varied photo shoots throughout her model career but the one shoot she has always wanted to do above all others was Pinhead. She even said it was her ultimate "dream shoot". Hmmm. No pressure then.
Liz had a cool assortment of strange leather and latex costume items suitable for the shoot. She wanted to introduce an erotic element to the theme, so she selected a latex piece that allowed her breasts to be exposed. Demons are renowned for their techniques of seduction and temptation so it made sense in the context of the character, even if it was a bit of a departure from the film. It certainly made the images more erotic and slightly confrontational.

As you can imagine, the make up process was huge. It took me around six hours to transform Liz's head of fine long hair into a pale bald freak divided into grids and embellished with over 200 pins. She sat with incredible patience!

The original Hellraiser is a pretty old film now, around 30 years or so, and yet the popularity of the Cenobites hasn't faded one bit. There is definitely something about them. Perhaps it's their weird S&M festishwear, or the creative forms of self-harm and mutilation that compels us to fear them. As figures of hellish torture who seek the ultimate pleasure via the route of ultimate suffering and pain, they remain provocative and fascinating.

Behind the scenes footage:


Tuesday 2 February 2016


Richard Carter is an impressive man. His physique is ripped with the sculptured forms of a dedicated body builder, and his acting ability means he can turn on a mean, scary expression at will. But despite the big, looming, angry mass of a man that he is, working with him was actually great fun. He was actually a very cool guy, easy to get along with, and not in the least bit scary. But those combined physical and performance talents made him the ideal candidate for Horrify Me's HULK project.

"But HULK isn't horror!" I can hear those very words ringing though your mind right now. Well I disagree. HULK has many qualifications to make him not only a figure of horror, but one of the more terrifying horror icons in the world. Let's look at the facts that make HULK horrific:

1. HULK is a genetic mutation brought about by man's interfering with things that should be left alone. A scientist playing god. A very clear and obvious reference to Frankenstein, or Jekyll and Hyde.

2. HULK is a transformation, a physical change from human to monster. This transformation is extreme, brutal, and violent. The transformation from man to beast is a staple of the horror diet, seen in the Wolf Man, The Fly, and many other horror classics.

3. HULK is a character driven by rage, anger, fear, aggression and hostility. He is a negative reaction to a negative situation. The creature is often out of control, very brutal, causing untold damage as he goes about expressing his wrath. In HULK stories, he usually has to be given equally powerful villains to compete with, because if he attacked a human, the result would be utterly devastating.

4. The design of HULK is designed to frighten us. His skin is green, a completely unnatural colour for anything human. Green is the colour of nature, suggesting he is an unstoppable force of nature like a tornado or an earthquake. His bulk is so massive that it can do nothing but intimidate men. And the fact that he is virtually indestructible makes him utterly terrifying.

Of course, Marvel tone down these design features by implanting just enough humanity that HULK doesn't cross the border into horror territory. He's a super hero, a very primal and unconventional good guy, there to entertain kids and deliver some sort of weird message of empowerment. But this friendly HULK is of no interest to me.

I'm interested in the scary, primal rage that beats through the heart of this unnatural beast. In my mind, HULK is a supreme being of horror in terms of what he could be capable of, if his authors only allowed it. With all that rage, all that strength, and all that out-of-control power, this monster could be a force of destruction so terrible that the likes of Dracula, the Wolfman, Jason Voorhees, and any other horror icon you care to name, would be rendered insignificant alongside him. I'd wager that even the Alien xenomorphs would find the HULK hard to face-hug, and their acid blood would just run off him like water. How much more scary does he need to be for me to prove my point?

But HULK is a Marvel hero, and he has a moral compass somewhere among all that rage and power. I get that. But I still wanted to take a look at MY version of the HULK and show him as a scary being, not to be fucked with. I wanted to show him in the dark, a mountain of muscle and dread that could rip a man apart in seconds. I wanted to show him with the blood of a victim on him but leave the actual violence to your imagination.

After conducting a head-to-toe body paint on Richard, the shoot commenced. Richard is a huge guy but was not big enough to portray the classic image we now have of the HULK. This is because the HULK is too big for any human to achieve and stay healthy. HULK is more a caricature of a muscle man with impossible size to his limbs. So a lot of Photoshop work was needed to morph Richard from a big guy to a super-huge HULK. To be fair, Richard made a damn fine HULK and even if I didn't pump up the limbs in digital editing, he would have still been an impressive rendering of the character. But the extra bulk possible with Photoshop transformed Richard away from the man and into the monster.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, the TV series of the HULK was an exciting weekly show. I have an enduring memory of a promo shot of Lou Ferrigno from magazines at the time, with a red backlight and a green filter. The result was a weird, otherworldly image of the HULK as a green muscle man with a red glow. I decided to apply the same red back light to my HULK to pay tribute to that old TV show. It was TV rather than comics that introduced me to the HULK after all. I did buy HULK comics as a kid, and this older, less complex mutant has stayed with me over the years.

HULK would be a tremendous character of fear and horror if Marvel let him. But they won't; he's a family entertainment figure, plain and simple. So folks, if YOU have ever thought the HULK is a scary dude then make the most of this photo shoot in which I attempt to see him through a filter of fear….

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