?Director Joe Dante once told that he’d only ever encountered three true geniuses in the film industry. He cited producer-director Roger Corman as one of them, composer Jerry Goldsmith as another and make-up special effects wizard Rob Bottin as the other.
After seeing Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster at age 7, Bottin decided then and there that he wanted to be a monster-maker when he grew up. At the age of 15 he managed to connect with up and coming master Rick Baker, who was so impressed with the young Bottin’s abilities he took him under his wing. Together they would work on films like Squirm, the Dino De Laurentis remake of King Kong, The Fury for Brian DePalma and even the cantina scene in Star Wars.
Bottin would go on to create some of the most memorable movie creatures of all time through out the ’80s and into the ’90s. Sadly, he has recently disappeared from the scene and no one really seems to know why — for a while, he had his sights set on directing, but nothing ever came to fruition. However, even if Bottin is gone, he is certainly not forgotten. Here are the 10 greatest special effects this genius ever created.
10) Humanoids From the Deep
This Corman-produced quickie has earned quite a reputation since its debut in the early ’80s. The story concerns itself with reptilian fish creatures that want to reproduce with human women. Bottin was not enamored with the picture; “It must be one of the worst films since the ’50s,” he said. “I had to put on a rubber fish suit and rape girls on the beach.” Nevertheless, despite Bottin’s misgivings about the project, his creature suits and the effects work he produced on a zero budget make the flick worth sitting through. The gratuitous nudity also helps.
This outlandish, comedic variation of Fantastic Voyage from Joe Dante centers on a miniaturized pod containing naval pilot Dennis Quaid getting accidentally injected into everyday schlub Martin Short. Of course, there are some industrial terrorist baddies led by Kevin McCarthy who want the microchip inside the pod and will stop at nothing to get it. At one point during this sci-fi romp, Short needs to disguise himself; inside the pod, Quaid is able to manipulate Short’s muscle structure, allowing him to take on the attributes of someone else. When Short gets nervous, the effect falters, making for a hilarious transformation scene (viewable here), and thanks entirely to Bottin.
8) John Carpenter’s The Fog
This film was Bottin’s first pairing with director Carpenter and it would lead to even bigger things down the road. And not only did Bottin handle all the spooky mayhem, including the soggy, undead grew of leper ghost pirates, he played the Captain of the crew himself! Why isn’t there a Captain Blake action figure? Why?
7) Twilight Zone: The Movie
This film was truly a mixed bag, but Joe Dante’s episode (“It’s a Good Life”) has been deemed one of the bright spots. For this story about a little boy with the ability to wish for anything — usually with monstrous results — Dante drafted Bottin to create a gaggle of surreal cartoon characters come to life. This included the infamous “rabbit out of the hat” trick, as performed by poor Kevin McCarthy. And then there’s that hauntingly brief shot of the little boy’s sister whose mouth was taken away for talking too much…
In Joe Dante’s underrated fantasy film, young Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix construct a spacecraft in their backyard and power it with an Apple II computer. They are eventually confronted with a pair of imaginative and outrageous aliens — Neek and Whack — who are obsessed with Earth’s TV, radio and movie pop culture. Turns out they’re just kids who’ve taken out dad’s space ship for a spin, and when their pop shows up, he’s understandably peeved. Bottin’s kooky aliens are a joy to behold as brought to loony life by to good ‘ol Robert Picardo… an actor that Bottin loves to bury alive under tons of rubber.
This classic Ridley Scott fairy tale, starring Tom Cruise, features some truly outstanding make-up creations from Bottin. Tim Curry’s demonic Lord Darkness has become a cult figure as has, to a somewhat lesser extent, the gnarly witch Meg Mucklebones. Old Mucky Meg was played by — yep — Robert Picardo, once again transformed into a monster by Bottin.
Director Paul Verhoeven exploded onto American movie screens with this outrageous celebration of over-the-top violence in which Detroit police officer Murphy (Peter Weller), after being gunned down in the line of duty, is transformed into the future of law enforcement. Bottin’s first challenge was coming up with the look of Robocop himself; it quickly evolved from something that resembled Judge Dredd into the sleek “new car” look we have all come to know and love. But Bottin also created the look of Robocop unmasked, too. Other highlights include the brutal crucifixion-like death of officer Murphy at the hands of ruthless thugs, and the spectacular transformation of a man doused in toxic waste into a melting monster. All in all, good fun for the entire family.
3) Total Recall
Rob Bottin’s second teaming with director Paul Verhoeven was even more over the top than Robocop. This time out Bottin designed an entire city of Mars mutants, the stand-out being the three-boobed hooker. Then there’s Kuato, the hidden leader of the mutant rebellion who emerges from within the stomach of another character. And who can forget the excruciating, eye-popping, face contorting pain experienced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin and Ronnie Cox when they are blown out into the airless surface of Mars? Of course, the biggest highlight might be the malfunction of the middle-aged lady disguise that Arnie wears while attempting to slip through security measures on Mars. The concept was completely devised by Bottin — the mechanics of the sectioned mask around Arnold’s face, followed by the tossing away of the head and the classic “get ready for a surprise!” explosion. And where’s Robert Picardo in all this? He provides the voice of — and was the model for — the robotic Johnny cab driver.
2) The Howling
Following their successful collaboration on Piranha, Bottin once again joined forces with Joe Dante. This time the concept was updating the werewolf mythos — and the transformation of man into beast — for modern audiences. The idea was to do it live on-camera with no old-fashioned lapse-dissolves or cut-aways. To say that Bottin succeeded would an understatement: sleazy serial killer/werewolf Eddie Quist’s bone-crunching, flesh-stretching transformation into a werewolf is a show-stopper. It should go without saying at this point that Quist was played by Picardo, who underwent his first Bottin-ization. Good times!
1) John Carpenter’s The Thing
“Okay, kid…go nuts!” That’s apparently what John Carpenter said to Rob Bottin when he gave him the job of creating the special make-up effects for his re-imaging of the classic alien tale. The thing can be anything. Anything. You, me or god-knows-what. And Bottin makes us believe it. Bottin’s work in the film instantly became the benchmark to which all prosthetic and mechanical make-up effects are judged. To this day, some 20 years on, they remain completely and utterly jaw-dropping and have yet to be surpassed. Each effect is a masterpiece in of itself: The dog transformation, the blood-test sequence, the Blair-monster… but the crowning achievement of the film has got to be the stunning, shocking defibrillator scene culminating with the amazing thing-spider-head. “You gotta be fucking kidding!” indeed.