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Make-up from Hell

We go behind the scenes of
From Hell, the new film about the infamous crimes of Jack the Ripper, courtesy of make-up FX shop Gorton & Painter

Creating Gorton & Painter's Elephant Man for From Hell

A Shivers interview by Joe Nazzaro

Selected from Shivers #94

The story of Jack the Ripper has provided grist for the cinematic mill for many a decade. The latest attempt to retrace his footprints through Victorian Whitechapel is From Hell, a gritty and stylish new film from directors Albert and Allen Hughes (Dead Presidents, Menace II Society). Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell stars Johnny Depp as Aberline, the inspector assigned to the murders and Heather Graham as prostitute Mary Kelly.

From Hell; pull-out poster from Shivers #94Veteran make-up FX shop Gorton & Painter handled the grisly prosthetics work, which included painfully accurate recreations of the Ripper's prostitute victims. As Neill Gorton recalls, "The brothers were trying to be as historically accurate as possible. They didn't want to cheat on anything, so everything was based on every scrap of information we could find about the killings. There were descriptions of all the wounds and occasionally photographs, so we'd take those photographs, and every wound was copied. I don't think anything was made up for the sake of horror; everything was what the Ripper did."

Blood and Gore

While the Hughes Brothers didn't shy away from their film's graphic content, there actually isn't as much blood and gore on screen as one would think. "They shot it in certain ways," explains Steve Painter, "especially in the dream sequences, with different lighting and different speed shutters and hopefully you will almost get a subconscious glimpse at it and finish it off yourself. It's like Saving Private Ryan: a lot of the blood is there, but if you actually analyse what's on the screen, you can't see a lot of it. That's how Spielberg got away with it, and the brothers followed suit."

The biggest make-up challenge turned out to be a scene from Moore's original story in which Joseph Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man, is presented to the Royal College of Surgeons. The character's elaborate head-to-toe prosthetic make-up (worn by Gorton & Painter's own Anthony Parker) took a team of four artists over six hours to apply.

"We were in the National Museum in Prague," recalls Gorton, "and we wanted a room as close to the set as possible. The make-up buses were quite narrow, so it was difficult to do a full body make-up – we ended up in the taxidermy room!"

"We were sharing the room with a hippo's head, cheetahs, fish; you name it," adds Painter, "so it was apt that the Elephant Man was made up there. We should have lopped Anthony's head off and stuffed it!"

Shiver #94, Halloween coverSee Shivers #94 for the full version of this interview.
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Photo: © Gorton & Painter, 20th Century Fox. Grateful thanks to Gorton & Painter for supplying this issue's behind-the-scenes shots.
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction