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Thomas Vincent Savini (born November 3, 1946) is an American actor, stunt man, director and award-winning special effects and makeup artist. He is known for his work on the Living Dead films directed by George A. Romero, as well as Friday the 13th, Creepshow, The Burning, The Prowler, and Maniac. He directed the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. Though officially retired from special effects, he has continued to direct, produce and star in several movies. Savini has been known to refer movie make-up effects projects to graduates of his school. He is a frequent and willing star and icon of typical "bad movies" and has built-up a cult fanbase based on this turn in his career, appearing in parody films such as From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse.
Savini was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended Carnegie-Mellon University and was raised in the Catholic religion. Savini served in Vietnam as a combat photographer. A popular misconception holds that Savini's wartime experiences spurred his move into makeup effects, but this is untrue; he was actually inspired during his childhood by the James Cagney film Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), the cinematic biography of Lon Chaney, Sr. Savini continued to practice makeup in Vietnam, often frightening the Vietnamese natives by appearing to suddenly transform into a "monster".
In 1970 while Savini was on guard duty, a flare was triggered in the jungle area he was watching. Against military protocol, Savini fired into the bush without informing his superiors. Other soldiers likewise started firing until a duck wandered from the bush completely unharmed. Due to his failure to follow orders, Savini was taken off guard duty from his bunker the following evening. The bunker was attacked that very night and several soldiers were killed. Savini earned the nickname "Duck Slayer" and to this day will not eat duck.
Savini is primarily known for his groundbreaking work in the field of special makeup effects. He got his breakthrough working with Pittsburgh filmmaker George A. Romero, providing a typical if rudimentary wrist slashing effect in the opening scenes of Martin (1977). The following year, working with an expanded budget on Dawn of the Dead, Savini created his signature palate of severed limbs and bite-marks. Some say the gore effects in Dawn have been widely imitated but never bettered for sheer visceral impact, with the only exception of Savini's own work in Day of the Dead (1985). Savini is the only actor to reprise a role in Romero's Living Dead series, credited as "Blades" in Dawn of the Dead and as "Machete Zombie" (Zombie "Blades") in its second sequel Land of the Dead.
Savini has also worked on films by Dario Argento (Trauma) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). His signature realism livens otherwise plodding genre films such as Maniac (1980), which incidentally contains the infamous "shotgun" scene. Perhaps Savini's most noteworthy special effects occurred in the zombie epic Day of the Dead.
Savini has noted that most of the characters he has played are bikers. He played a relatively straight, innocuous character in Martin (1977), but played a menacing biker called 'Blades' in Dawn of the Dead (1978), a role he reprised with a brief cameo appearance in the 2005 continuation of the series, Land of the Dead. He also had a cameo as a sheriff in the 2004 remake of Dawn.
Savini did have a much more prominent role as biker/Renaissance fair participant Morgan in George Romero's Knightriders (1981), and had a small role as a biker in The Boy Who Loved Trolls in (1984). In 1985, he made a small participation in Twisted Sister's official video for the song Be Cruel To Your School. He also played the whip-wielding, vampire-fighting biker 'Sex Machine' in the 1996 Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez film From Dusk Till Dawn. (This character was a re-birth of the "Blades" character Savini created for Dawn of the Dead replete with the same costume.)
As a director, Savini helmed episodes of the syndicated television series Tales from the Darkside, the aforementioned 1990 color remake of Night of the Living Dead and, House Call, the pilot of the proposed series The Chill Factor, which starred Pittsburgh actor Bingo O'Malley.
In 2006, Savini essayed the role of Prester John, the mythical villain in the dreamlike Sea of Dust. 2006 also saw the release of Johannes Roberts' Demonic (a.k.a. Forest of the Damned), in which Savini played a mad hermit surrounded by angels cast from heaven. In 2007, Savini took on a role in Planet Terror, one of two stories in the film Grind House. "Planet Terror" was directed by Robert Rodriguez; the other story, Death Proof was directed by Quentin Tarantino. He plays Deputy Tolo, who tries to save his town from an infestation of zombies. Currently Savini is filming a role in which he plays a vampire in the movie Lost Boys: The Tribe and has just completed the film The Dead Matter, also featuring Andrew Divoff and Jim O'Rear.
He also voiced himself on the Worst Episode Ever episode of The Simpsons. He was making an appearance at Android's Dungeon where he performed his "Gutbuster" gag in which he covered the crowd in "blood and guts".
Savini runs the Special Effects Make-Up and Digital Film Programs at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania and is the author of several books on special effects including Grande Illusions I and II (1983, 1994) and Bizarro! (1984), detailing the production and mechanical workings of many of his famous film effects. He is also associated with other books in the horror genre including Book of the Dead for which he wrote the foreword. Savini is an associate of Dick Smith, who incorporates an advanced professional make-up seminar into the last semester of the program. Among other projects, Smith is known for his groundbreaking work in The Exorcist. Until 2006, every Halloween season, Savini hosted TerrorMania, a haunted house-type attraction. First located in Monessen, TerrorMania was relocated to the Century III Mall in 2005.
Grande Illusions: A Learn-By-Example Guide to the Art and Technique of Special Make-Up Effects from the Films of Tom Savini ISBN 0911137009
Grande Illusions II ISBN 0911137076
Bizarro! ISBN 0517553198
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