Old Blood in New Bottles
Makeup FX artist Bill Terezakis has reconceived Freddy, Jason and the ever-popular flesheating ghouls…
By Dayna Van Buskirk
Published in Fangoria #227.
Vacationing on Vancouver Island, not surrounded by corpses, creatures and limbs for a change, special makeup FX artist Bill Terezakis knows that each time the phone rings, the trip could be cut short. A booming film industry has kept the Vancouver-based Terezakis and his company, WCT Productions, busy supplying carnage for a number of major film and TV projects. Having recently worked on House of the Dead, Final Destination 2 and Willard, with over a decade of experience and a true passion for FX, his hectic schedule is likely to be an ongoing challenge.
But Terezakis isn’t one to turn down an opportunity to do what he loves, even if it means cutting his vacation with wife Maureen short. Such was the case when the phone rang with an offer to come aboard the most anticipated horror film Hollywood has had incubating in some time: Freddy vs. Jason.
“We were on holiday and I received a call from production,” he remembers. “They said, ‘You’ve got to come back to town now, we want to interview you for Freddy vs. Jason.’ So I left my vacation three weeks early to return to Vancouver. A woman by the name of Kathy Gilroy-Sereda, the production manager—I’ve worked with her on [TV’s] Wolf Lake and Lone Gunmen—highly recommended us for the job.”
It was a gig he didn’t have to think twice about, but it left him with the challenge of taking on modern horror’s two biggest icons, a task that would make any FX artist either nervous or excited. “I would say definitely a mix of both,” he admits. “It’s funny, because you’re always really excited at first, and then you don’t realize what you’re actually getting into until it happens. When I first got involved, I was surprised that nobody on the production had ever seen or heard of a Freddy or Jason film. All the people who were hired, like director Ronny Yu and Kathy Gilroy—none of the production was familiar with the characters. So Ronny said he’d like to take a fresh approach on both of them and bring his own interpretation of the characters—which is a dangerous thing to do with Freddy, who’s a recognizable personality.”
In the end, it was a combination of the creative latitude given to Terezakis and Yu’s objective approach that created the fiend’s appearance. “Mind you,” he notes, “they took a lot of liberties with designing the character throughout the [Nightmare on Elm Street] series. Freddy Krueger would always change in some way. It all started with David Miller’s look, which is more the burned, raw appearance, and then Kevin Yagher added the hook nose in the second one, and the third and fourth. Then David Miller came back into the picture. Ronny knew, after I presented him with still photographs of what Freddy went through in all the movies, that he wanted to take a fresh approach. So we presented him with a look of Freddy burned alive; he kept that fresh-boiled, bubbled, melted-skin look throughout the movie, and progressively got worse.
“At first Ronny liked the concept, but I don’t know what happened—he started to shy away from it, fearing that the audience wouldn’t recognize Freddy as Freddy. So we went back to more of the look of 2, 3 and 4 for Freddy’s final [visage].”
When it came to Jason Voorhees, a character Terezakis was familiar with from his work years ago on Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, a bit of a makeover was in order. “Luckily, FANGORIA had run an article on what changes Jason had gone through throughout the films, so we tried to keep a continuity in the look,” Terezakis says. “But that would have reduced Jason down to a pile of goo. So basically, Ronny once again wanted a reborn Jason. Something without the scars, without the ax wound in the head; he wanted to keep the head fairly low-key with an emphasis on the hockey mask. So he settled for a pooled-blood look, basically leaving the head very black. It still has the deformations that Jason had following the original Tom Savini cranial shape, and from there we advanced it to see what it would be in an adult stage.”
Of course, it’s not his mug that fans most associate Jason with, but the hockey mask he wore beginning in the third film. The recreation of this prop for Freddy vs. Jason is an interesting story: “We had a fellow working with us researching the hockey mask, and he came across a website where this prison warden in the States, his hobby was making Jason masks. So we contacted him and asked him for one. We got it, looked at it and though, ‘OK, it doesn’t conform to the actor’s face,’ so we basically resculpted it based on his look and created a new version to fit [Jason actor] Ken Kirzinger. But I thought it was quite interesting that this warden is such a huge fan. It was his dream to have Jason or Freddy locked up.”
But certainly, as creepy as they appear on screen, it’s people like Terezakis who make Freddy and Jason frightening. The actors behind the makeup are anything but. “Robert [Englund] was fantastic,” he says. “When you get Robert in the makeup chair, you’re instantly setting yourself up for a history lesson, a lot of talk of the old stars from yesteryear. He’s very intelligent, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, just a wealth of information—and once in a while, you have to tell him to shut up so you can apply the pieces to his lips. But it’s a pleasure working with him. After I applied the makeup four or five times, I handed it over to Patricia Murray and Margaret Yaworski, and it was the first time Freddy had ever had his makeup applied by two women. He enjoyed the experience quite a bit.”
Then, of course, there was the new kid on the set—the very big new kid, Kirzinger, who had been a stuntman on Friday VIII. “I don’t remember Ken at all on that,” Terezakis admits. “It was mostly Kane [Hodder] who stood out at that time, but it’s funny how things turn out. Ken’s a very, very gentle man. We designed his makeup so that it was a quick application. It was basically a one-piece over-the-head slip-on prosthetic that would end about two inches into the hockey mask. Ken was nervous, and when he came to the shop for casting, he asked me, ‘ What’s this guy supposed to be like? What do we do?’ Of course, he had such a big thing to fill.”
But the greatest hurdle on Freddy vs. Jason was not the design of either of the title heroes (or villains). “The biggest challenge was the carnage,” Terezakis explains. “We had to produce a lot of likeness bodies. They’re always the most difficult to pass off. Once the actor is sent to your shop, from there you determine what the pose is going to be, the last look he or she has on his or her face just prior to the death. Keeping that look and being able to sculpt it and bring it alive through silicon and acrylic is a huge challenge. Then you have to put the piece through some kind of death, and that’s a gag that will involve maybe four or five people at one time, being able to pull the strings at the same time, to make sure nothing screws up on the day.”
One advantage for Terezakis during production was that there were no restrictions on the gore. “Ronny wanted more and more,” he says. “And 2nd-unit director Poon [Hang-Sang], he wanted even more blood than Ronny. There’s this one scene where Jason’s walking through a cornfield rave, all the kids are partying and having a good time, and Poon wanted Jason to just walk through the crowd as if he was a very heavy wind going through without a problem; he wanted everybody to get sliced and diced. We used so much blood it was sickening.”
By the very nature of his occupation, when Terezakis is on set, the scene is probably at the very least something slightly disturbing, and on one of his most recent projects, just about every day was a strange sight. For House of the Dead, based on the hit video game and coming from Artisan October 10, the order was for zombies—as many as 80 at a time. When it came to the design, he got to create a selection of looks for the walking undead.
“The director, Uwe Boll, and the executive producer, Mark Altman, wanted a ghoul with a classic appearance,” Terezakis says. “But they wanted many different stages. We produced five different stages of zombies. One was the fresh corpses, which would be somebody who looks like you and I with a big chunk out of their cheek, or an ear ripped off, with a fogged-over eye look using contact lenses; all the way to what we called number fives, the catacomb zombies, which were folks in full body suits with articulated skulls. There was quite a variety, and it gave us a great opportunity to play around with every material we use in a makeup effect.”
Not only were the resources and talents of his shop (he had 32 employees helping out) put to the test on House of the Dead, but so too was the physical integrity of his creations. “Because there were five different stages we were working with, some of them were far-out, fantasy-type characters,” Terezakis recalls. “I wasn’t sure how the director was going to shoot things until the first day we were on set, and he said, ‘Yeah, I want all you zombies to run around and do martial arts.’ As soon as I heard that, I was just, ‘That’s not what they’re supposed to do, they’re freaking zombies.’ I was a little bit uneasy about seeing zombies doing back flips. It’s like they were Cirque de Soleil creatures, but I’m hearing some reviews say that it came off really well.”
One of the most recent films to feature his work, Final Destination 2, jolted audiences with its hardcore gore, and Terezakis admits to being very pleased with the end result of his contributions. “My favorite effect was Rory [Jonathan Cherry] getting cut into three pieces,” he says. “We just supplied bodies to the accident scene in the beginning, but that whole sequence is phenomenal. I really enjoyed that.”
With the sequel displaying even more graphic mayhem than seen in the first film, gore fans were pleasantly surprised at the amount of carnage that made it to the screen, but Terezakis is accustomed to going for the gusto, never quite sure what the final cut will be. “Our goal is always to go way out right from the very beginning. It’s funny to be in a production meeting, talking about things. I’d say the majority of directors and producers look at me like, ‘What the hell is this guy thinking?’ But after a while, they understand my sense of humor and they’ll calmly say, ‘No, Bill, we can’t show that much gore.’ But, I’m never surprised when they let me go ahead and do full-bore craziness. Usually we shoot it extreme, and when it comes to editing they’ll take out whatever they feel is too nasty.”
As is often the case, WCT Productions was working multiple projects when the company was offered Willard. Terezakis explains the jobs some 25 of his people did for the shoot: “We created Mrs. Stiles in the coffin—that was a silicone body. We made another body of her when she’s dead on the staircase. We created all the attack dummies—anyone who gets attacked by rats, we made those bodies. We built what we call attack rats, which were basically head, shoulders and a little bit of the torso on a stick with a trigger mechanism, so we could quickly move the jaw for biting. We made the jaws on the attack rats out of steel, so when they were chewing through the silicon or the gelatin, it would actually tear. I was really excited about the cast. It was a great, great lineup.”
Excited or exhausted, Terezakis is constantly busy. Hailing from Winnipeg and trained at the Academy of Professional Makeup in Hollywood, his decision to establish his company in Vancouver ensures a steady stream of assignments. “It just seems to be that every film requires some sort of prosthetic or dead animal—every movie, no matter what genre, requires something that deals with what we’re making.” And indeed, Terezakis has worked on projects of all shapes and sizes, including TV shows and movies such as The X Files, Taken, Cabin by the Lake and one of his toughest assignments, the James Cameron-produced Dark Angel.
“We did the series’ second season, and it was quite grueling,” he remembers. “We basically had eight days to create whatever was necessary for the next episode, and there were huge challenges, especially when James Cameron was involved. James, at the time, was on this submarine filming [Ghosts of the Abyss]. He would send over sketches of a creature concept, and for me to try and get ahold of him while he was in this submarine was difficult. The biggest challenge was getting designs approved by him.”
Whether it’s working with Cameron, Yu or the countless other big names in genre filmmaking who have hired Terezakis, it’s an extraordinary career accomplishment for the man whose debut assignment came on a less than glamorous title. “The first movie I ever worked on was Friday the 13th Part VIII,” he says, “and I was basically what we call a lab rat. I sort of kept in the background and, ‘Here, Bill, make a mold out of this…’ I remember when I got word that I’d be working on [Friday Part VIII], it was like the happiest day of my life.”
But his fascination with makeup and prosthetics goes way back. “When I was a kid, my brother and I used to share a bedroom,” he recalls. “His goal was always to put the fear of the devil into me. I think for five years of my life, I had the worst sleep ever. It was always based on monsters, something I didn’t know much about, but I knew there were these movies on television that had these creatures in them. I was very frightened about that.
“Then in 1978, when I was 9 years old,” he continues, “we went to Florida, and right next to the motel or hotel where we were staying was a museum that had on display the original Planet of the Apes appliances and Star Trek costumes. There as this old dude who had all this memorabilia, and I was just fascinated. I was scared at first, but I saw him put on one of the prosthetic pieces and I understood that it wasn’t something that was born evil, it was something that was created and then applied.” From that point on, Terezakis was hooked. “So I researched it myself and I learned how to make monsters in my parents’ basement,” he says. “I was always sculpting or making creatures of some sort, and a fear led to a passion and a passion became a hobby and a hobby became a successful business today.”
It takes only a few minutes of talking movies and FX with Terezakis to understand why he has so much on his plate. Talented, passionate and a hell of a nice guy who just happens to have a knack for creating monstrous magic, he’s the kind of professional you want working on your movie. It’s no wonder that he’s got five projects on the go as this article is being written, toiling on the TV gigs Dead Like Me and the Battlestar Galactica remake, providing creatures for Scooby-Doo 2, prepping for Alone in the Dark (again based on a video game and directed by Boll) and even creating Will Smith’s robotic arm for the Alex Proyas-directed I, Robot. With a seemingly endless parade of genre films shooting on location in Vancouver, audiences are sure to see more and more of his accomplishments. The word is out on Terezakis’ talent, and the proof is all over the screen—often in pieces.