Arriving in theaters and on Digital today is Patrick Lussier’s Trick, which is a super fun Halloween-themed slasher that features a ton of impressively gnarly kills and several badass masks to boot (you can read my review HERE). The madman behind all the mayhem and carnage is legendary special effects artist Gary Tunnicliffe, who has worked on an array of genre projects including Candyman, Scream 4, the Hellraiser franchise, both the Feast and The Collector series, and previously collaborated with Lussier and Todd Farmer on My Bloody Valentine (2009) and Drive Angry.
With Trick’s release today, this writer thought it was only fitting to take some time to celebrate Tunnicliffe’s work on the film and discuss his creative process on Trick, his experiences working with Lussier, the design process behind the masks and the titular killer’s weapon of choice, and more.
Can you walk me through the creative process when you’re taking on something like Trick? How much of what we see in the film was already dictated in the script and/or were you able to put any of your own flourishes into Trick, in terms of the kills or the masks?
Gary Tunnicliffe: Working on a project with Patrick is pretty much unlike any other, as we've been working together now for almost 20 years, so there is a phenomenal shorthand and an incredible freedom for suggestion (from both sides), which is never dictated by ego. It's always just a genuine search for what is best for the film, so that tends to result in a tremendous (often hilarious and to the outside world quite dark) back and forth of thoughts and suggestions.
Obviously, it all begins with the script. But once I have read it, I usually have questions, and oftentimes thoughts or suggestions about certain things. For example, with My Bloody Valentine 3D, I thought a pickaxe made a pretty limited movie. So, I wrote a “mission statement” about pickaxe kills. And from that came the “pickaxe eyeball gag” and the “shovel in the mouth gag.” With Trick, I was more concerned about the masks and the knife. I wanted to design and create the masks, the various makeup looks, and a special knife for him, as I wanted to help lay the identity for this character.
How involved was Patrick in the process of designing the look of Trick’s masks, or did he give you freedom to just do your own thing with them?
Gary Tunnicliffe: Patrick was vitally involved with the design of the masks, as he is with every element of the film, but there was incredible freedom. Early on, my mantra was that I wanted to create masks that looked familiar, but were still also original. It started with digital concept art bounced back and forth until Patrick locked on the ideas, then when we went into production and then I just blazed away on the sculpts with Mike Regan. Then, I sent the final sculpt pictures to Patrick and Todd [Farmer] for notes and approval. We also made a very conscious effort to make the masks real, in terms of the sculpt and the paint; they aren't over-designed/over-sculpted masks, because they shouldn't look like they were made in a Hollywood FX shop. So, they were meant to look as if they could have just been purchased; we even left the seams on the masks.
What was also important is that the designs were bold and not too busy. Because I wasn't sure how much screen time they would get, I wanted the image to instantly deliver. I also knew they would probably be seen in low light situations, too, so we kept the paint jobs clean and bold, mainly one color and black shadowing to stand out in the dark.
The key element for the pumpkin mask was something that came from another idea and became linked with Trick's knife. The script was very non-specific in that regard. I think it may have said “hunting knife,” so I begged Patrick early on to create something for the knife, and he welcomed it. Again, I tried to make something that looked real and homemade, not some elaborate Hollywood prop, that was also visually iconic and identifiable. I went with a straight-bladed tanto knife, and then gave it this whittled handle. I thought it would be fun to have “Trick” on one side and “Treat” on the other, with the smiley pumpkin face and the sad pumpkin face. Patrick embraced this and when I sent the images of the Pumpkin mask, Patrick said, “We should sculpt the sad face on the other side of the pumpkin mask and I'll have him spin it around,” and that’s how the double-sided pumpkin mask was born.
Another fun element about the knife that wasn't even discussed was the first scene we shot was the opening when Trick "spins" the knife. I walk on set with the knife and Patrick says, “We haven't really discussed this, but I think SPFX have made a little rig to spin the knife.” I just smiled and held up the knife, as I had designed it with a metal rivet in the handle and weighted one of the blades so that it would spin perfectly. Patrick just beamed, and that's why I do this job.
With the other masks, I was concerned that the pig mask and clown masks would end up being bought off the shelf, so even though they weren't budgeted for, myself and Mike Regan created a clown each and then I bashed out a crazy, evil pig sculpture in half a day. With the clowns, they were fast sculpts and molds and I certainly never expected to see my "smiley face" clown all over the trailer.
Regarding the gore, Patrick lets me run free with it. It's very similar to the brief working relationship I had with Wes Craven on Scream 4, and they are very similar in this regard, where they both have/had a mischievous glee in regards to bloodletting. It's a lot of fun to have the trust of your director, where you turn up on set, and then see and hear them yell out and giggle in delight. It makes all the pain and strife just evaporate.
How much fun did you have getting to play the principal in the film? And do you have a favorite sequence in Trick?
Gary Tunnicliffe: Getting to play the principal was just great fun, and any opportunity I get to have an onscreen moment in a horror film is always a blast. This was extra fun because of my relationship with the stunt performer, who doubled Trick, Suo Liu. He is an unbelievably talented acrobatic stunt performer and we became fast friends and the scene we share onscreen, which I can’t talk about without spoiling, was really a case of me in a lighthearted way challenging him to do his worst and giving him no quarter—I had a lot of bruises after.
In terms of a favorite sequence, I haven't seen the completed film, so my perspective is really based on the shoot. I would hope that the opening scene is pretty fun since it got pretty messy. On that note, I have to give a serious shout-out and props to Kya Brickhouse, who played Nicki. In a 30-year career in horror effects, I have sprayed a lot of actors with blood and had them moan and whine and squirm, but with Kya, I rained down a Las Vegas Bellagio fountain worth of blood on her and when Patrick called cut, she just sat there grinning and said, 'Was that okay?' without a murmur or a grumble. She was great.
Also, stunt doubling my great friend and hero Tom Atkins was also a high point for me and I have to thank stunt coordinator Corey Pierno and Patrick for that opportunity.
Truthfully, the whole film was memorable, but it was a difficult shoot with a lot of compromises in terms of the things you take for granted on a regular shoot. But those compromises led to us being bonded together, and our genuine desire to overcome them for Patrick’s sake. Make no mistake, this was a low-budget film, but I would much rather work on a low-budget film where everyone is connected and made to feel integral than on a mega-budget juggernaut where you simply feel like a small piece of a giant machine. I got to create some cool masks and makeups, work with some amazing actors and crew, meet some amazing folks in Newburgh, New York, create a cool weapon, kill a few people, spray some blood, act, do some stunt work, and it doesn't really get any better than that.
I hope people ignore the budgetary shortcomings and see the film for what it is: a love letter to Halloween horror movies.