Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stan Winston

The 1972 TV movie Gargoyles wasn't the first monster movie that I saw. At an early age I was already familiar with all the Universal classics - Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy. But it's likely that Gargoyles represents the first time that I'd ever seen monsters in a modern film, a color film. If it wasn't, then it was the first film of its kind to leave an impression on me strong enough that I'd continue to remember it. And Gargoyles' impact was entirely due to the work of special effects genius Stan Winston. I didn't know his name at the time, of course. At the age I saw Gargoyles, I'm sure I believed that the gargoyles were real (I'm certain I did because years later I refused to believe that Chewbacca was a man in a suit). But Winston's work was leaving a mark on me long before I knew his name as an artist or even before I was aware of what special effects were. In the wake of his passing at age 62, some Gen-Xers have referred to him as "our generation's Harryhausen" and it's fair to say that he was the preeminent monster maker and FX man of his time.

I won't try to enumerate his accomplishment here as they're too familiar to every fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. But when I heard the news of his death, I instantly flashed on the many moments in his unmatchable catalog that left me awestruck over the years. I'll never forget watching the first Terminator (1984) with my buddies in the now long-gone Ingleside Mall theater and feeling an euphoric rush during that film's climax at the sight of the Terminator trucking on, sans skin.

To see that sleek metallic skeleton continuing on with its mission to kill the future was a magical moment that obliterated any adolescent jadedness I might've brought into the theater with me that day. I was a newly-minted splatter kid back then, scouring video stores for the latest atrocities from Italy and elsewhere. But Winston's work in The Terminator - with images that looked as if they jumped straight out of pulp comic book illustrations - cut right through that and took my breath away. It proved to me that when it came to appreciating movies, that cynicism could never trump wide-eyed wonder. And Stan Winston delivered that message over and over again during the course of his career.

He didn't just make monsters - he made memories.

Thanks for all the great ones, Stan.

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