Kevin Van Hook's 2008 documentary, Fantastic Flesh, is an interesting look at the special effects/make up industry as it pertains to horror and science fiction movies. While the focus tends to be on work from Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, Rob Bottin and Tom Savini, make up legend Dick Smith also gets a fair amount of screen time and input from a nice selection of directors does a good job of fleshing out the content (if you'll pardon the pun).
The film begins very appropriately by talking about the work that Lon Chaney did in his day and how it went on to influence all manner of effects technicians, an influence that still holds power to this day. From there we hear from the effects gurus mentioned above about how they got into the industry and why before moving on to some back and forth with directors like George Romero, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, John Landis, Simon Pegg, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Frank Darrabont, Mick Garris. Also along for the ride are actors Josh Brolin, Joe Pilato, Dee Wallace and Jordan Ladd who talk about what it's like working with effects creatures and with make up appliances on.
As the documentary goes about letting its participants tell their stories we learn about the pros and cons of CGI versus in camera effects and get some interesting input from Tarantino who talks in a fair bit of detail about how he and the effects team went about setting up the fantastic car crash scene in Death Proof. This scene, one of the best things the director has ever filmed, was done in camera, which stands in contrast to its Grindhouse sibling, Planet Terror, in which Robert Rodriguez opted to use a lot of computer generated effects.
Tom Savini talks about Rob Bottin's effects work on Carpenter's The Thing, referring to it as the masterpiece of splatter, while Dante and Landis discuss how they basically played tug of war over Bottin while making The Howling and An American Werewolf In London respectively. Nicotero talks about what a joy it was, and what a challenge it was, to work on Chronicles Of Narnia (a rare film he was involved in that his kids could actually watch!) while Savini talks about how he used condoms and clear fishing line to create gunshot and splatter effects in George A. Romero's seminal Dawn Of The Dead. Simon Pegg talks about how he paid tribute to Joe Pilato's Day Of The Dead death scene in his Shaun Of The Dead and expresses his preference for in camera effects, while Frank Darrabont talks about how he had to blend CGI and practical effects in his adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist due to budget and time constraints.
The end result is basically a bunch of seasoned genre vets sitting around telling stories about their work, but it does make for interesting viewing, particularly if you appreciate special effects work. The creativity possessed by many of the people interviewed here is amazing and the dedication that they show to their craft incredibly admirable. The movie, at only an hour or so long, doesn't overstay its welcome at all and its well paced, nicely edited, and should appease most horror buffs. It isn't deep, but if you want to hear the men who make the movie magic happen tell their stories, this is a great way to make that happen.
The documentary arrives on DVD in a nice 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Some of the archival footage, which has been taken from old VHS tapes, looks a bit worse for wear but the newly shot interview clips all look nice and clean. Color reproduction is fine as are black levels and there are no problems with edge enhancement or mpeg compression artifacts to report. This documentary was shot on DV and it generally looks quite good.
Fantastic Flesh is presented in an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with optional closed captioning provided in English only. No other alternate language dubs or subtitles are provided. Seeing as this feature it almost entirely dialogue based, don't expect much in the way of channel separation. That said, all of the interviews are clean and clear and there are no problems to report with hiss or distortion. The levels are all properly balanced and overall the audio is fine, if unremarkable.
Wow - a static menu and chapter selection is all we get. This puppy is completely barebones.
There's some great behind the scenes footage in here as well as some interesting interviews - enough so that Fantastic Flesh is well worth a watch for effects junkies. That said, the barebones presentation doesn't help things and while this is a decent documentary, it's probably not something you're going to watch over and over again. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.