Men in Suits (2012) d. Woodward, Frank H. (USA)
As any discerning horror fan knows, practical effects will always rule the day over those plinked out on a keyboard. There’s something about the physical impact of a space-occupying element that cannot be denied, and one of the best examples comes in the form of a genuine monster on set. Be it a Predator, the xenomorphs from Alien, or even Robot Monster’s awesome diving-helmeted lovelorn extraterrestrial, there is nothing quite like a guy-in-a-suit flick. Now, at long last, filmmaker Woodward, who cut his documentary teeth on Anchor Bay’s Masters of Horror behind-the-scenes featurettes, has created a fascinating and compelling 90-minute lovefest for the unsung heroes beneath the fur, flippers, fangs and zippers of some of the genre’s most memorable creations.
Superfan/Gorilla Man Bob Burns is on hand to talk about the various ape movies of the 30s and 40s, but it was 1954’s one-two punch of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Gojira that really launched the 50-60s heyday of bipedal beasties menacing the masses, an era highlighted by Paul Blaisdell’s memorable monsters for It Conquered the World and The She Creature, a wealth of Japanese kaiju, Forbidden Planet’s Robby the Robot and many others.
These in turn gave birth to George Lucas’ awesome Star Wars creations, the aforementioned Predators and Aliens, and on to Guillermo del Toro’s ongoing employment of the venerable Doug Jones under pounds of latex and servos.
As the title indicates, the attention is deservedly lavished upon the men and women (both short and tall) who bring these creations to life and the hardships endured in so doing. Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla a dozen times over) talks about the exhausting weight of the original Toho rubber suits while Tom Woodruff, Jr. (Monster Squad, Pumpkinhead) discusses how suit performers’ incredible efforts are often overlooked since studio execs think of them as little more than stunt men.
Brian Steele (Hellboy, Doom) brings a rock n’ roll sensibility in depicting the dedication required to endure the grueling 12-18 hour days while the soft-spoken Jones exudes ineffable charm and wit voicing the frustrations of relative anonymity despite years of industry service.
Woodward even takes us behind the scenes of Joe Lynch’s long-delayed Knights of Badassdom to witness upcoming monster man Douglas Tait’s first fittings all the way through to his first night on set, complete with inside intel on cooling vests, walking techniques, specific training, and aligning his performance with the animatronics stick jockeys and puppeteers standing just outside the lens.
Not to diminish Andy Serkis’ achievements, but it’s always surprised me that the Brit actor’s motion capture performances (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) received such acclaim while his practical contemporaries labored in obscurity (and continue to do so).
Hats off to Woodward for finally lifting the masks to show the artistry, stamina and heart within those uncomfortable and unwieldy bags of cloth, hair, silicone and what-not.
A long overdue and fascinating tribute, Men in Suits is available for purchase at Amazon.com. For more info, visit www.wyrdstuff.com
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine