When horror and film fans think of special FX legends, they usually lean toward Rob Botttin and Rick Baker, just to name a few. But there is one man who not only worked alongside these men, but became a master himself with work on films like An American Werewolf In London, The Howling, Big Trouble In Little China, Ghostbusters, Species and The Abyss, among so many others.
He helped create the lovable Slimer, did the make-up of a wicked ancient who was in search of women with green eyes to resurrect himself, and gave us the the feral vampires we love in films like Fright Night and Innocent Blood, as well as Blade II. His is a true story of a young passionate kid from Texas making a name for himself. The man is honest about his career, his wilder days in the business, and the ups and downs of what he would still call a magical time, when people behind the scenes were just as much rock stars as the ones on the stage.
When he had left Hollywood after countless career heartbreaks for countless years, he began penning a memoir of his history entitled Rubberhead, an ode to the time he spent conceiving cherish creatures, designing concept art, and revolutionizing the way things are brought to life in front of the camera. Volume One was crowdfunded with a massively successful campaign, and now he’s giving another gift to both FX buffs and his fans in the form of Rubberhead Volume 2: Sex, Drugs, and Special FX.
Rubberhead is a no holds barred, truthful, and captivating glimpse into what the world of FX once was. It was a time when all of the men and women behind the scenes could have their own baseball cards, because they were all known, respected, and adored by fans. But it doesn’t only let you look inside the door, but he kicks it wide open, and the same goes for this chat. Steve Johnson is nothing but an open book, a former bad boy in the business who could truly be etched into the stone of the Mount Rushmore of FX. Even more importantly, though, he’s a blast to speak with.
I sat down with Steve recently and spoke about the need for intense honesty when talking about his life, the major productions that slipped away, and the future of special FX in a digital world. So, light up a smoke and start sculpting a piece of clay, here’s the Hunter S. Thompson of special FX, Steve Johnson.
Steve, always a pleasure to have the chance to chat with you. Before we start, congratulations again on the momentum the campaign has gained already.
Steve Johnson: Thank you so much. I was really nervous at first, but I am beginning to get excited now. It’s great. And I’m happy that people seem to want to continue the journey.
When I was doing research, I had discovered that you were inspired at a very young age by Hammer and Universal horror films, but what was the main movie that got your creative juices flowing and did you begin creating early on?
Steve Johnson: Of course I was, probably since I was twelve years old. There were no schools, no books, no Stan Winston online schools, so the majority I had to pick up by myself. But I think the challenge of that helped me with problem solving. The first thing I remember seeing that really blew me away, and remember, this is 1960’s Texas, was Little Big Man and the old man make-up Dick Smith did on the Jack Crabb character (played by Dustin Hoffman). Like I said, it blew me away, and I knew that was the job for me one hundred percent.
Do you remember anything you had built or created?
Steve Johnson: Oh yeah, I was making s**t up, doing things like stealing hair from my grandmother’s wig to glue them on my friend’s face to turn them into werewolves. I left apples out in the sun, and took the skin and glued it onto my friend to make a zombie. As I said, I was just making s**t up.(Laughs)
But, I did stumble across the Dick Smith Do It Yourself Make-Up Monster Handbook and it was pretty straightforward, since it was written for kids. I learned how to make teeth, do spiderwebs, scarring, all of that kind of stuff. But more importantly, it told you where you can get professional materials, so I started mowing lawns and everything I could to save my money to send off to the Alcone Company in New York City to get my materials. From that point I went crazy, I was doing pirates, werewolves, zombies, ghouls, I started getting into foam rubber and old age make-up, and even did an Albert Einstein likeness make-up on one of my friends.