One of makeup artist Howard Berger's earliest jobs was on George A. Romero's 1985 zombie movie, Day of the Dead. It was an auspicious start indicative of the sort of work that would come to define his career, going on to do special effects makeup on such films as Drag Me to Hell, Grindhouse, and Jennifer's Body, and becoming a frequent collaborator of Sam Raimi and Quentin Tarantino.
"From the time I was old enough to sit in a theater and watch the flicker of those magical imagines on the big screen, I was hooked as a lifelong cinephile," says Berger. "My father worked in the industry as a post-production sound editor. He loved movies with all his heart, which then bled into my veins. I think he wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but he made the mistake of showing me the classic Universal Monster films and that was it."
"For the next several years I was convinced I were those monsters," he recalls. "I knocked out my front teeth by accident at 6 years old, so I donned a big black cape and ran through the neighborhood with just my canines terrorizing all the other kids. I knew that someone made these monsters and my father explained makeup artists did and at that point I knew that would be my destiny."
In 2006, Berger won the Oscar for Best Makeup for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, sharing the award with Tami Lane. He was nominated again in 2013 for Hitchcock, with Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel.
Berger is also the author of Masters of Make-Up Effects: A Century of Practical Magic, which he wrote with Marshall Julius and which features a foreword from Guillermo del Toro. The book is a deep dive into the art form, full of untold stories and never-before-seen photos of some of the most iconic makeup effects of all time. (If you want to meet Berger in person, head to the Academy Museum on Sept. 25 for a special book signing of Masters of Make-Up Effects. Click here for more information.)
"Though I am still monster obsessed, I am in love with the movies, and so many genres inspire me," Berger says. Below, he shares with A.frame the five films that continue to influence him.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
I had anticipated seeing this film when it opened in 1975. I could hardly wait to see The Shark! Against my mother's wishes, my uncle took me to see the film at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood opening weekend. I had never been so terrified and thrilled at the same time. From the first notes of John Williams' score to Bill Butler's innovative cinematography to the shock of Ben Gardner's dead head popping out of the hole in his boat, I was a Jaws fan for the rest of my life. Even today I can't go into the ocean of fears of that Great White Shark coming at me. Steven Spielberg crafted the most perfect film in every way, and it had me in its film jaws forever.
Directed by: Richard Benjamin | Written by: Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo
I really love this film for many reasons. I think the script is superb. Every line iconic, and Peter O'Toole is so wonderful as Errol Flynn-like Alan Swan, an actor passed his prime and still trying to maintain the stardom that is long gone. I find myself watching this film at least once a year as it always puts a smile on my face. It has a lot of heart along with those laughs. It's just a beautiful moment in time.
Directed and written by: George Lucas
What can I say? This is the film that blasted me into outer space and out of my mind. The day I sat in the theater to see the film for the first time, I had only heard about it, and could not imagine the images a friend explained to me. Spaceships fly over your head? What??? That was until the film began and that first shot after the crawl the Rebel Blockade Runner blasts over head from the top of the screen followed by the massive Imperial Star Destroyer, I was speechless! Even today when I see that shot, I am jettisoned back to being 12 years old sitting at the Chinese Theater with my brain spinning. I knew I wanted to work on films like that when I grew up. Films that changed the face of film making. Films that changed the look of everything. My world changed forever that day.
Directed by: Charles Laughton | Written by: James Agee
This is the only film Charles Laughton ever directed and it is brilliant. There is a theater-like style of this film. So many great film tricks used like the murdered body of Shelly Winters at the bottom of the lake, her hair waving with the current of the water, but this was all shot dry for wet, and it is still the best I have ever seen. Robert Mitchum has never been scarier. His tattooed knuckles with "HATE" and "LOVE," one on each hand, an iconic image.
Directed by: Ridley Scott | Written by: William Hjortsberg
I know most people do not like this film, but I do, as it has some of my most favorite makeups ever designed and created by Uber Makeup Genius Rob Bottin. Tim Curry as Darkness is a sight to behold. Nothing like that had ever been done prior, and it is breath taking when you see him for the first time with those giant glossy black horns, red skin, cloven hooves and of course Tim's performance. Ridley Scott delivered on every level visually as the film is beautifully photographed, cool Tangerine Dream score, a of course Oscar Nominated Makeup by Rob Bottin and Peter Robb-King.