After its World Premiere at 2019’s Fantasia Film Festival, The Wretched quickly became a film to watch…literally and figuratively. Following each subsequent festival appearance, dozens of glowing reviews poured forth. While the wait has been torturous for those of us who missed its festival run, the time has finally come. IFC Midnight is bringing The Pierce Brother’s latest offering to VOD May 1st. And if you’re really lucky, maybe even a drive-in near you! Seriously! For a full list of participating drive-ins, check out the film’s official website.

One of the many great standout features of The Wretched are the film’s frequent and awesome practical special effects. After growing up with a father who helped create visual effects for Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, it’s really no surprise that The Pierce Brothers would take the art seriously in their own work. This is where hiring makeup and special effects artist Erik Porn comes into play.

A longtime professional in the field, Erik is now one of the owners and operators of the makeup and special effects house, Bitemares Incorporated. He has helped create for projects like the Oscar winning Vice, American Horror Story, The Crazies, John Dies at the End and Paranormal Activity 2. Erik was also one of the main lead artists for the entire run of MTV’s Teen Wolf. (That’s a lot of episodes and a lot of werewolves). I recently had the privilege of speaking with Erik and we talked all about his work on The Wretched, creating its unique creature and just how damn cool those Pierce Brothers are.

 

“[…] they wanted it to be a Spielberg-ian, Goonies type of a thing, but then there’s this evil…”

 

Rachel Reeves for Nightmare on Film Street: The Wretched has a lot of really cool connections to your home state of Michigan. How did you first get involved with the production? Did you happen to know The Pierce Brothers (also from Michigan) beforehand?

Erik Porn: I did not know The Pierce Brothers beforehand. What happened was Chang Tseng, the producer on the film, he is an old buddy of mine. I worked with him on the Laid to Rest movies and a couple of other projects. So, Chang came to me and my business partner Chris Gallaher and said, ‘Hey! You guys are from Michigan. I know these two brothers from Michigan who are directing this feature. Their father was one of the key elements on Evil Dead. Would you be interested in meeting with them?’

 

So, we went to sushi in Burbank for like 3 hours and I think we talked about the movie for like, 10 or 15 minutes. The rest of it was just us getting to know them. Afterward, me and my business partner were like, ‘God. We want those guys to be our new best friends!’ We talked for hours about just stupid shit that didn’t pertain to the movie. But then, when we did get down to business we were fascinated with what they were telling us. How they wanted it to be a Spielberg-ian, Goonies type of a thing, but then there’s this evil…

We were poised to do the movie the summer before we actually shot it, but then they called us and said for some reason or another the movie didn’t get the financing they were hoping to get at that point. Another half-year, or year went by and then it was ‘Ok! We’re ready to shoot the film!’ We had never met the brothers before, but afterward it was, ‘Man. I hope we get to work on everything they do.’ They’re just so awesome.

 

 

 

NOFS: Once you realized The Pierce Brothers had that intimate family connection to the world of visual and makeup effects, did you find that intimidating? Or was it rather refreshing and helpful knowing they had an appreciation and base knowledge of the field?

EP: It was really helpful. Bart, who’s their dad, is very welcoming and a very sweet, nice guy. On set during downtime he would come into to our makeshift shop and he would tell us Evil Dead stories and I’d sort of sit there and listen like, ‘Wow, the sage is offering advice and telling us how he did it!’ It was just so great to sit and hear that. And then the brothers had old film clips that they had digitized of him at their age working on the Evil Dead stuff. Actually, he was like 20 years old or whatever it was. But it was like, ‘Wow! Look at Bart! He’s working on this scene, and he’s helping film that scene that I grew up watching!’ It was just really cool. I nerded out quite a bit. 

NOFS: The film features a very creepy, very different interpretation of a witch. Talk a bit about the process of developing a creature like this. What were some of the early conversations like regarding her look?

EP: The nice thing about this was Drew is actually a storyboard and concept artist. So we didn’t have to guess too much at it because they had already pretty much figured out what they wanted the look of her to be. They had brought me several references and creatures from other films where they had done close-ups. They would circle things that they liked in each of them to start with.

Then, we started sculpting and maybe a couple [of] weeks into working on it they came to us and said, ‘Here’s a sketch we did and we really want it to go in this direction.’ So we made the sculpts towards that two-dimensional design that they did to make it as close to what they wanted as possible. And also to keep it in the budget that they had to work with.

 

“…we had 5 people working in the shop at one point. And for the application, it was usually two of us and it took about 4 hours to get her into it.”

 

We had a couple [of] economic factors; the budget and the time factor. We didn’t want to do it as a suit because we felt like she was going to be doing so much stuff in the water and so much physical work. If we built a suit, we only had one suit and it would get ripped up constantly. It wasn’t going to be very feasible for us to work with. Also, with the amount of budget that they had, we felt like doing a suit, we would spend a lot of money on the suit and we wouldn’t be able to do it quite as crisp and clean as we wanted to do it. And, [we] weren’t able to get [Madelynn Stuenkel] for a body cast because she was in Michigan.

That’s another reason we didn’t want to do a suit, because if we tried it would be a disaster. It wouldn’t fit her and that would definitely show. It would have been a headache for the entire production.  So we said, let’s do a full-body prosthetic makeup on her. Then, she was going to be able to do as much of the stretching and contorting as she wants.  We had someone in Chicago take a life cast of her head and then we did a chest cast from an actress here in L.A. to make the pieces.

 

the-wretched-2019-review

 

NOFS: That sounds like…a lot to me. How many people did you have on your team and how many hours did it take to apply all that?

 

EP: I think we had 5 people working in the shop at one point. And for the application, it was usually two of us and it took about 4 hours to get her into it. Some days we were lucky and Bianca Appice who headed up the straight makeup department (she’s also a really incredible effects artist herself), she was able to jump in and help. Or Melissa Jiminez-Ramirez who was her key, was also able to jump in and help us put the witch makeup on to Madelynn if we were under the gun or if the time just wasn’t there.

One of the things too was, for Madelynn, this was her first time doing creature work. She was fantastic. And because she’s a woman, we decided that for the first bit of application I would have Annie Tagge and one of the ladies from the straight makeup department help. I would actually be out of the room for that part. So they would get her glued into it and cover any sort of sensitive areas and when that was all done I would come and help finish off the glue job. Then, I would continue from there. It was very essential to have Bianca and Melissa from the regular makeup department jump in too. It was a really great team collaboration I felt, on the whole thing.

NOFS: Supporting the witch’s mythos we get a lot of beautiful masks, iconography and contributing visual elements. Did you help develop those?

EP: Yes. I sculpted the mask that the witch wears. That was completely sculpted from the ground up. I did have quite a bit to do with that and I actually had to sculpt it twice. The first time, the brothers kind of drew over the sculpture in Photoshop and said ‘Well, we think it should do this or this.’ And then the second time, that was it. We had got the mask down. I definitely got to play a part in that. Now, the altar was done by Mars Feehery, the Production Designer. She also did the cool cavern that the witch had. She did a lot of really great stuff on that film. 

 

“…The Brothers wanted to do it practically, and they gave us the time to build it practically…”

 

NOFS: Along with the witch herself, the film features some truly spectacular visual effect scenes. Did you have a hand in these and is there a particular scene or effect you are the most proud of?

EP: Yes, the whole sequence where the hag comes out of Sara (Azie Tesfai). When you asked if I had a hand in it…literally, yeah. If I remember right, it was either me or Annie my assistant that had our hand up under the silicone skin of the fake head to do the whole neck thing. It was a fake head we built of Azie with a very stretchy silicone skin. I think it was Annie because I was puppeteering the head with a little devise underneath that I could move the head about with. I could twist her head and her neck and make her do a few things.

So, everything in that sequence, from what I’ve seen in the movie, I don’t think they touched it digitally. If they did, kudos to the CG guys cause I didn’t notice it. But that whole sequence was kind of the big thing we were all really looking forward to doing. We did a fake body of her where Azie was inside of a fake floor and we had the girl playing the witch also in the floor with her. And then there was the silicone body that she could kind of push her hand up through. At one point, she completely crawled up through the body. It literally stretched her wide open and she crawled up through.

 

 

NOFS: There seems to be a rekindled love and appreciation for practical effects with filmmakers these days. And it would appear that no amount of technology can elicit quite the same feelings. As someone in this industry, why do you think that is?

EP: I think it’s very hard, unless you spend a whole ton of money, to get liquid blood and everything looking the right way. It’s really tricky. I’ve done a little bit of visual effects stuff myself and if you’re trying to make everything from the ground up, if you’re trying to actually have an algorithm figure out where the blood is gonna go, it’s never going to look as natural as it does when you just shoot it. Even on some of the shows where they use a lot of fake CG blood, I still think they actually shoot practical blood elements and just composite them in. Most of the liquid simulations I think are done by programs and they always have that very computer-animated look to it.

Sometimes it works out. I’ve seen some amazing visual effects where my jaw hits the floor. And then you find out, maybe the director was a visual effects guy or someone was just really passionate about what they were doing and had the time to do it the right way. I feel like if it’s done right, it looks really good. But especially on a film with this kind of scale, I don’t know if any visual effects people could have pulled it off for the amount of money that they may have had to work with. It just felt like with their time and their schedule, they really had to do this practically. I know that The Brothers wanted to do it practically, and they gave us the time to build it practically so that was nice.

I noticed there was few times when Jamison was fighting with Azie’s character, especially when we did that thing with the hand coming through the arm to grab his face…there were a lot of times that I could see him getting a little squeamish. There’s definitely a real reaction when you have something on set as opposed to, ‘Ok. Now a hand grabs you by the mouth!’ Instead of just playing it off the actors actually have something to work from.

 

There’s definitely a real reaction when you have something on set  […] the actors actually have something to work from.”

 

NOFS: You have quite the list of horror credits under your belt. It made me wonder…if you could pick any film or property to work on, past or present, what would it be?

EP: It’s gonna be a tie between Halloween and Friday the 13th. Or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Any of those would be a dream project to be involved with. My business partner Chris helped apply the Jason makeup on the remake with Derek Mears and I was very jealous when I found out about that. I was like, ‘You just got the Rolls-Royce of makeup jobs for the horror industry!’ And then Chris Nelson is working on the new Halloween films and he’s killing it on those. I talked to him and was just like, ‘Man, I’m so jealous of you.’ (laughs) That’s such a cool project to be involved with. But who knows, maybe when this film comes out people will get inspired and think this is a great horror film to be involved with! I had a lot of fun doing it.

The Wretched hits VOD and select drive-ins across the country May 1st. Have you seen The Wretched? Do you worship at the altar of practical effects or are you more of a CGI supporter? Share your your thoughts with us over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!