In the early 1980s, Dick Smith horror make-up kits were a regular feature in the advertising pages of Fangoria, and like any self-respecting teenage gorehound, I had to have one. According to the box, you could transform yourself into a monster or apply gruesome wounds and scars that looked incredibly real – one kit even allowed you to become a gorilla! This was just the thing for the aspiring Tom Savini who wanted to make super 8 horror movies with ultra-realistic gore effects, and thanks to the way Fangoria eulogised make up artists, that was probably most of their readers.
There had been other horror make up kits available before, but most were pretty basic efforts that, at best, might have transformed you into a pasty-faced vampire. The Dick Smith set was different – after all, Smith was the master artist behind the gruesome visuals of The Exorcist and Scanners and The Godfather amongst others. he clearly knew his stuff, and now he was willing tp share this with us snotty-nosed horror fans. What could go wrong?
The substance used in Smith’s make up kit was a compound called ‘flex flesh’, which may have been suitably flexible if you did everything just right, mixing the powder with water and pouring it into the various moulds for exactly the right period of time. If you got it wrong, either in mixture quantity or timing – and that seemed to happen all the time – the the flesh had no flex to it at all, but came out of the assorted moulds in a rock hard piece that you couldn’t really glue to your face in any convincing or comfortable way and looked terrible. If you got it right, you could blend the prosthetic with the grease paint sticks included, though this too involved a rather steep learning curve. While the photos on the box suggested the creation of ultra-convincing scars, in truth you were more likely to be wearing a stiff bit of plastic that was surrounded with grease paint that in no way resembled either the scar or the wearer’s skin. It was, frankly, very disappointing, and I can only imagine how nightmarishly complex the gorilla kit was.
Also included in the kit were a pair of cheap joke shop vampire fangs, some fake blood and assorted spoons and spatulas that made everything look jolly professional, but which invariably were of no use whatsoever.
It would be harsh to call the kit a scam – it was, after all, theoretically possible to create the effects shown, and I’m sure some future make-up effects artists did cut their teeth on this set. But I suspect most people were like me and soon tired of what was a laborious, frustrating and ultimately boring experience that always looked terrible in the end. My kit was soon confined to a place under the bed until it was finally binned.