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‘Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini’ (review)

When I was eleven, I was at a drug store with my mom and while she shopped I perused the magazine rack.

I spied a cover with a monstrous face and an enticing title: Fangoria.  I bought it with my paper route money as my mom shook her head.

The face was the creature from The Funhouse and of course the magazine became a major fixture in my life from that point on.

The pages of Fango admirably interviewed not only the actors, writers and directors of horror, but the special effects and makeup artists as well.

I learned about Rick Baker, Tom Burman, Craig Reardon and the undisputed king of gore – and major fan favorite – Tom Savini.

While I loved Dawn of The Dead, I wasn’t so impressed by the red paint blood and goofy blue makeup.

However, upon seeing Creepshow in the theater, I became a huge fan.

In addition to reading nearly every article about him in Fango, my friends and I rented Scream Greats Vol. 1: Tom Savini and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I felt I knew a great deal about him.

Most fans of Savini’s – even casual ones – know that he spent time as a photojournalist in the Vietnam War. He has stated that photographing dead bodies and disembodied limbs were illuminating in his capturing realistic details in his gore effects.

I knew of many other aspects of his life and work, but I was surprised how much I didn’t know while watching the new doc, Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini.

The film covers his time in Vietnam, of course, but spends a lot of fascinating time detailing his childhood with his much older brothers and an older sister.

I hadn’t realized how much of a theater nerd Savini was, either. He acted in such plays as The Lion in Winter, Deathtrap, Camelot, and many others and adored his time on stage.

We learn how he hooked up with George Romero to forge a fortuitous relationship that lasted for years.

We hear from many fans and peers, some of whom didn’t care for the occasionally gruff Savini at first but soon became good, loyal friends with him.

I honestly had no idea what a tumultuous personal life Savini had throughout the years, but the film – and Savini – don’t hold back on the details and how they influenced him.

Smoke and Mirrors is fast-paced, informative and hugely entertaining. Even those not necessarily predisposed to gore and creature effects should find a great deal to enjoy here, as Savini refused to ever give up and reinvented himself more than a few times in his life.   At the end of the film, he seems truly happy.

One last note: there are many interesting anecdotes here, some moving, some funny, some quite surprising.  My favorite encompasses all three reactions: the reason Tom, to this day, refuses to eat duck.

A terrific and surprisingly inspirational film. Highly recommended.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Jason Baker, Andy Westfall
Directed by Jason Baker
Featuring Tom Savini, George A. Romero, Doug Bradley, Robert Rodriguez,
Alice Cooper, Corey Feldman, Sid Haig, Danny McBride, Bill Moseley,
Gregory Nicotero, Tony Todd, Debbie Rochon, Danny Trejo, Caroline Williams,
Fred Williamson, Tom Atkins, John Amplas, John A. Russo


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