When I wrote a history of fake movie blood last fall, there was at least one effect I never got to the bottom of: The infamous exploding head scene in Scanners. Now, for the David Cronenberg movie’s new Criterion Collection DVD, the cinematographer, special effects supervisor, and makeup artists who worked on the scene have revealed how they pulled it off.
Some of it was done how you might expect, with a lot of corn syrup. But they also just packed the head—the outside of which was made with gelatin, with plaster for the “skull”—with just about whatever they could find: “latex scraps, some wax, and just bits and bobs and a lot of stringy stuff that we figured would fly through the air a little bit better.” They even used, as Academy Award-winning makeup artist Stephan Dupuis recalls, “leftover burgers.”
They planned to blow the head up with explosives, but, as the video details around 3 minutes in, the explosives didn’t work when they began filming. By then the crew was fed up with the various difficulties. Drawing on his technical expertise, special effects supervisor Gary Zeller told everyone to get into their cars, then he lay down behind the head and blew it up with a shotgun.
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