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Savini's a Scream

Checking in with the master of TerrorMania

Friday, October 11, 2002

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Tom Savini wants to creep you out.

Tom Savini in front of one of the monstrous creations at TerrorMania, this one painted by Aaron Schweikart, a student of Savini's. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette)

Best known for his gruesome makeup and special effects in horror classics like "Friday the 13th," "Dawn of the Dead" and "Creepshow," he's recently focusing his prodigious talents on Pittsburgh. At the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Savini heads a 16-month associate degree program in special-effects makeup technique. At the nearby Mon Valley Shopping Center, he's the twisted mind behind Tom Savini's TerrorMania.

If you're morbidly curious about the human fear factor, ask Savini.

Q: Why do people like to be scared?

A: Why do people go to Kennywood and have people strap them into machines that shoot them into the sky? It's the thrill. You do it to see things that you don't see every day. The adrenaline rush. It's like anything else, we go to movies to feel something -- to cry or scream or laugh -- and we pay people to do it to us.

Q: What really scares you?

A: Spiders and razor blades, when I was a kid and even today.

Q: Is there an image of gore that is so offensive that you wouldn't create it?

A: Anything that involves children or shows harm being done to a child. There's an innocence to childhood that should not be tampered with. I've turned down scripts because I thought they were too stupid, but I've never been asked to do something that I found to be too offensive. When I was in Vietnam I was a combat photographer. My job was to shoot images of damage to machines and to people. Through my lens, I saw some hideous [stuff]. To cope with it, I guess I tried to think of it as special effects. Now, as an artist, I just think of creating the effect within the limitations we have to deal with.

Q: Psychologically, what's the difference between movie fear and real fear?

A: It's an individual thing. I know some people who are just as scared at a movie as if it's really happening. Most people, on a subconscious level, know that [they're] safe sitting in a movie theater. If your house is on fire, that definitely affects you in a different way -- there's no safety net. At a movie, or even on a thrill ride at Kennywood, there's a safety net that allows you to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it.

Q: The real world is pretty scary now. Is faux fear a good escape mechanism?

A: Absolutely, it might even diffuse bad feelings of something that really affects you. Personally, I haven't flown since Sept. 11. Statistically, I know that it's the safest way to go. But when they start putting bombs in their shoes, you have to ask yourself, "Is there a better way to go."

John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Oct. 15, 2002) Contrary to the paint cans in Tom Savini's hands, the detail from the Terror Mania set on the cover and inside of Weekend in Friday's editions was painted by Aaron Schweikart, a student of Savini's.

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