Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How The Hell Did They Do That?! Hatchet's Jaw Rip


Adam Green's Hatchet is quite literally a highlight reel of gruesome practical effects, which is probably why we love it so damn much.  But for me personally, there's one death scene in there which stands disembodied head and shoulders above all the rest; the one where Victor Crowley places his hands inside the mouth of an old woman, one on top, one on bottom, and rips her head clean in half, leaving her wagging tongue dancing around in the gory mess, 'searching for the rest of her head' (as the script describes it).  In fact, it's one of my favorite kill scenes in the last decade of the genre, a totally over the top sequence which is brought to life by incredible practical effects.

Tonight, we find out how the hell they did that.

But first, let's all gather round our computer screens and watch the scene in question.  Enjoy!

I actually first saw this kill scene a long time before I ever got the chance to see the whole movie.  I remember sitting in a packed crowd at Monster Mania several years back, when they showed us this very scene as a way to promote the film and get people talking about it. The crowd reaction was so positive that they ended up showing the clip several times in a row, with the audience getting more riled up each time and demanding encore after encore.  It was while sitting in that crowd that I initially fell in love with Hatchet, before I had even seen the movie itself.  Such is the awesomeness of the kill!

Now the thing here that's incredibly impressive about this effect, which helps to sell it so well, is the fact that not only is no CGI used for any part of it, but also that the camera never cuts away from the action.  As Adam Green himself wondered when it came time to bring his script to life, "how could you possibly run after a real actress, grab her by the mouth, rip her head in half, and not cut away?".  Let's find out, shall we?!
Storyboard drawing of the sequence

First off, the special effects on the film were handled by John Carl Buechler and his crew.  Buechler is not only the dude who did the effects for films such as Halloween 4, Elm Street 4 and From Beyond, but he in fact also was the director of Friday The 13th Part 7 : The New Blood.  On Hatchet he actually pulled double duty, not only bringing the kills to life but also playing the piss drinking fisherman Jack Cracker, who would be himself brutally killed off by Crowley in Hatchet 2.

As you may have guessed, the secret here lies within the way the camera does a 360 degree circle around the action.  Though a highly stylized and unique way of having the scene play out, that little trick was not just about style.  Though you'd never know watching the scene that there was a camera cut involved, the shot actually did split into two parts (just like Mrs. Permatteo's head!) at the moment the camera that circled the two of them reached Crowley's back.  So what we have here is a seamless blend of two totally different shots.
Patrika and her 'death double'

The first shot featured the real actors, with Kane Hodder really sticking his dirt and fake blood covered hands into the mouth of actress Patrika Darbo, which was stuffed not only with his massive hands but also a mouthful of fake blood.  Once he began 'pulling her head apart' the camera circled around the two and then cut.

For the second shot, Kane Hodder stood behind a half body dummy which was cast from Darbo's head and torso, the head of which was outfitted with an inner skull mechanism that could be popped open when pulled.  Off camera Kane placed his hands into the dummy's mouth the same way he had them positioned in Darbo's real mouth, and on "Action!" ripped the dummy head in half, realistically ripping apart all the fake skin that was laid over the faux skull.  Of course, the head was also outfitted with all kinds of blood spraying capabilities as well as a tongue, the former of which sprayed all over the place and the latter which became exposed when the head was popped open.
How do I get this job?

In post production, the two shots were seamlessly blended together to create one continuous and gruesome sequence of Victor Crowley chasing after a woman and then literally ripping her head apart, right in front of our very eyes.  Ah, the magic of horror movies!
We end this feature as we always do; with a couple little fun facts about the scene!
-  As the Steadicam operator on the film, BJ McDonnell is the one who took the camera 360 degrees around Crowley and his victim.  McDonnell is the man Green hand chose to direct Hatchet 3, which begins filming soon.

- The crew referred to this scene as the 'pop top' kill.

- Two years after Hatchet, Alexandre Aja's Mirrors attempted to pull off a very similar scene, only with actress Amy Smart ripping her own head in two at the jaw.  Unfortunately they relied way too much on CGI, which showed how lame the kill from Hatchet would've looked had CGI been used instead of good old fashioned practical effects.

- Thanks to scenes like this one, Hatchet took home the 'Best Effects' award at the 2006 Fantastic Fest.

*Big thanks to Frank Browning for the kickass graphic at the top of this post!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We`re in a very awkward period of horror film-making history, directors and technichians literally cant decide whether to use practical effects or CGI. I know CGI represents the future (for all film making not just genre movies) but i still pine for the 1980`s i think that was my favorite decade for horror movies, the sheer number of low-budget classics that went straight to video, it was pure magic.