Headed to select drive-in theaters and on various digital platforms this weekend is The Wretched from the Pierce Brothers, Brett and Drew. A clever and thrilling take on various witch-centric folklore, The Wretched boasts some gnarly and awesome practical effects from beginning to end. To bring the film’s villain to life, as well as provide some other great effects moments to boot, Drew and Brett Pierce brought on Makeup Effects Supervisor Erik Porn (yes, that is his real name), who worked tirelessly with his team to tackle the ambitious workload for The Wretched.
Years ago, this writer actually had the opportunity to work with Erik at Almost Human, and was able to see his talented efforts up close, which is why I didn’t hesitate for a moment to celebrate the brilliant effects that he created for The Wretched, as his nearly two decades in the industry working on a variety of projects have definitely served him well.
Check out what Erik had to say about working on The Wretched and be sure to check out the film for yourself, beginning this weekend, courtesy of IFC Midnight.
Starting at the very beginning, was there a moment when you realized when you were younger that special effects were what you wanted to do with your life?
Erik Porn: Well, I knew when I was a teenager, so I went to school for it in Pittsburgh at the Art Institute. Then, what ended up happening is that I really wanted to come out to L.A. after I got out of school, but my mother got really sick with cancer again, so I ended up moving back to Michigan. After she passed, I ended up staying there helping my dad out and I ended up working at that video store for like seven years.
But during those seven years that I was working at the video store, I was also working on little independent films in Michigan and just had a shop in the basement that I was building stuff out of and doing as much as I could to keep going at it. Then finally after putting up with seven years at the video store, I had a friend who was living in L.A. at the time and working on films and he said I should try to move out here. I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose, so that was it.
The work that you guys did in The Wretched stands out as something very different and I thought it was great. Can you talk about the early creative process for this film, in terms of working with the Pierces and designing the witch?
Erik Porn: As far as the look goes, I’ve been giving as much credit to the Pierces as I can. Drew is a concept and a storyboard artist, so when they came to me with this whole thing, they had a whole bunch of ideas that they had already had in their minds. They pretty much had visualized the whole film. As for when the script was just being finished up, I think they knew exactly what they wanted even at that point.
So, they came to me and they had a bunch of different designs and things and they said, "We like this about this idea, we like this about this idea," so when we started actually sculpting the witch character, I started taking the things that they liked and then they’d go back and do a 2D drawing. Then, I’d do something to get it as close to that as we could. I wish I could say we had a lot more design credit into what the hag looks like, but they came in already knowing what it was going to be for them the very first time we met.
Does it make your job easier when you get to work with directors with such a clear line of vision for what they want?
Erik Porn: Oh, definitely. Especially because, if I am remembering this right, there really wasn’t a lot of time to develop things. It was one of these things where when they came to us, they were going to shoot the film very soon after we met. Something happened, where the financial backing didn’t quite go through, and then we didn’t hear from them for like a year, which was sad because it seemed like such a fun project and we wanted to be a part of it.
But then all of a sudden, it was like, “We’re shooting this summer,” and this was in March, so we basically had about two months to get everything done. So, having such little time to develop things, it was great to have them come in and be like, "This is what we want to see," and then we just built that. Even when they were on set, they had a pretty unified vision, even though they’re two different people. They knew exactly what the film was supposed to be.
This film has some ambitious set pieces that involve some heavy effects work. Did that ever make you nervous? Because I know that trying to get stuff done in-camera can be a huge headache.
Erik Porn: Oh yeah, I was terrified. When I saw how we were going to have to do the last sequence where someone is turning into the witch and having it erupt out of them in that old-school Freddy in Nightmare 2 fashion, that was nerve-wracking. That was something where we had built a fake floor out in the driveway of the barn of the house we were filming in and I remember we’d been shooting for like 17 hours at that point. Pretty much most of the end of the film was shot in one day, so there were a lot of effects going on that day.
My whole approach to the entire film was that we should go through the day and plan out what’s going to be shot, and once we get an effect done we immediately go over to the next effect and start prepping it for camera. Because a lot of these were fake body pieces and things like that, we’d go over and grab C stands from the grips and start setting up where the effect was going to be and then we would get a grip who would come in and start setting up the lights or whatever we needed.
We were just running and gunning and trying to get everything done. And with that scene with the witch erupting, it was a really stressful day, but nobody lost their head, nobody got angry, and nobody was yelling. It was very peaceful and fun, the way I felt like it should be. And that was my approach on the whole thing, where we just needed to be one step ahead of where they were at as far as shooting. It was great.
Were there any moments in this film in particular where you took a step back and thought, “Wow, that turned out to be really freaking cool?”
Erik Porn: When we were making the movie, I became buddies with the editor and I would go up and actually watch some of the sequences. He would cut the effects sequences as they were happening and the first time I saw that sequence where the creature’s busting out of the chest and everything, I was really satisfied. But I think the first one that actually thrilled me was the scene with the hag coming out of the deer. We actually used a taxidermy deer for that scene because they didn’t have a huge budget, so we couldn’t sculpt and build a deer from scratch. So we got a taxidermy deer that was like 30-something years old and we had to cut it apart and we had to mesh it all back together again. If you look at where the blood is on the deer, that’s where we cut the deer apart and smeared blood all over that spot just to hide where we had to piece it back together to pose it.
The stomach for the deer was literally just a piece of foam with some fur on it that we bought from the craft store, too. We had to airbrush the fur and made it look like deer fur, so we used hairspray to get it into the pattern of the deer fur and she just crawled out of that. They did a close-up on the deer, and the way it all cut together it worked out so incredibly well, so I was really happy with how that turned out, too.Next: Review: THE WRETCHED is Comfort Food Horror Cinema (Monte’s Take)