Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini (Documentary Review)

When thinking of the imagery that had made Horror cinema so terrifying during the ’70s and ’80s, one of the first names that comes to mind is Mr. Tom Savini. Perhaps the most easily recognized special effects makeup artist names in the genre, Savini has sustained an amazing career that has included acting, stunt performing, and film directing. Known for eye-opening makeup works on films such as 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1980’s Friday the 13th, and 1982’s Creepshow, among others, some might say Savini has molded the bust of modern Horror. 

Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini still.

Forever celebrated by dedicated fans, the sometimes understated Pittsburghese Savini is an interesting artist that few really know much about beyond his lengthy résumé. That was until now with the release of the full-length Documentary film Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini. A film directed by Special Effects Artist Jason Baker, the concept began some 6 years earlier and the finished product saw the light of day at Spain’s Sitges Film Festival back in 2015. A relatively lengthy gap of time in between, the ever growing Horror streaming service Shudder picked up the film and premiered it to a wider audience on Tuesday, December 17th, 2019. 

Now, the question is, what sets this Documentary apart from other biographic studies out there? For starters it is one of the few which actually features the individual it is showcasing, and it honors them while they are still alive, which is a major plus. In fact, roughly 75% of film is interviews with Savini speaking honestly, openly, and eloquently about himself as well as his work. Additionally, there is an impressive list of those who know and have worked with Savini ranging from Rock icon Alice Cooper, the late great Bill Cardille aka “Chilly Billy,” to well known actors such as Corey Feldman, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, plus a whole lot more. Not to be excluded, and arguably the most important video clips, much of the interview footage also includes long time Savini collaborators such as the legendary George Romero and talented Greg Nicotero. 

Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini still.

With a cast of who’s who in the Horror business assembled to reflect on Savini, the other aspect that sets this film apart from others is the direction. Many of these biographical Documentary films concentrate primarily on the work of the individual, and that is fine, but Smoke and Mirrors digs deeper down into the man behind it all. From the beginning you get a pretty solid understanding of where Savini is from – a poor Italian family where hard work and a do-it-yourself attitude went a long way. Why is this important to know? Well, it shows how his attitude and ethic was shaped by his surrounding, eventually pouring over into his creativity where he made do with what he had for realistic on-screen effects. 

Beyond this you learn about Savini’s time in the service during the Vietnam war where the carnage left him a shell of a man, thus resulting in him returning home with a lot less than when he left. Fortunately, Savini’s creative impulses saved his life in many ways and soon he would be on his way to stardom in the movie business. All outlined quite well in Smoke and Mirrors, you also see how Savini has managed to attain fame and success, but still maintain a sense of artistic independence and integrity along the way. 

Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini still.

All very fascinating bits of information carefully put together, undeniably the biggest take away from Smoke and Mirrors is the very human side of Savini; a side where his family always has and always will come first. Perhaps this is where the smoke and mirrors aspect come in – as viewers we sometimes have a illusion of what we think someone is based on the monsters they create, but really do not know the person. Beautifully executed and a film that makes the highly talented, intriguing Tom Savini even more endearing, Cryptic Rock gives Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini 5 out of 5 stars.


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