With Tusk currently playing in cinemas and Horns coming out in the not-too-distant future, it’s probably time to check out some transformation scenes in cinema. Since Méliès and his contemporaries’ discovery of film’s ability to achieve the impossible, filmmakers have often used special effects to alter humans’ appearances. We took a look at 7 transformation sequences where man turns into monster, ranging from over 80 years ago to now, most of which are still convincing in today’s age of CGI. There’s a couple that involve lycanthropes and another one with sheep.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) dir. Rouben Mamoulian | Jekyll turns into Hyde
For years, people were fascinated by this scene and to this day, more than 80 years later, this transformation is still considered to be one of the best of all time. Unlike the rest of the transformations on the list, this change occurs in one uncut shot, which is an incredible feat for something filmed in the 30s. It was the use of coloured filters and matching coloured make up that created the effect, and being filmed on black and white film, the changes of colour had no impact on the special effect. Even in today’s age of CGI, this transformation is absolutely astonishing.
An American Werewolf in London (1981) dir. John Landis | David under the Blue Moon
The film begins with two Americans travelling across the English country under a full moon who get attacked by a werewolf. Fast forward one lunar month and several scenes, we witness the slow and gruelling transformation of the surviving victim, David (David Naughton) juxtaposed with Sam Cooke’s cover of ‘Blue Moon’, as he becomes a werewolf for the first time. Now considered to be the quintessential lycanthropic transformation scene in one of the greatest werewolf films, the scene has withstood the test of time, and has been referenced and recreated in other films, including Black Sheep (see below). Fun fact: both the special effects artist, Rick Baker, and director of An American Werewolf in London, John Landis, went on to create the Michael Jackson Thriller music video the following year.
The Fly (1986) dir. David Cronenberg | Seth Brundle becomes the Brundlefly
Known for his body horror, Cronenberg reimagined the 1958 sci-fi horror classic with Jeff Goldblum starring as Seth Brundle, a genius scientist whose fear of travel drives him to make a teleportation device, which he tests on himself. Thanks to the presence of a housefly within the teleportation chamber, his DNA is fused with the fly’s and he slowly turns into a human-insect hybrid. This transformation into the “Brundlefly” – a name Seth gives himself – is one of the slowest of the 7 in this list, with Seth going through seven stages of metamorphosis, spread throughout almost the entire film before forming a human-sized bipedal fly.
The Howling (1981) dir. Joe Dante | Eddie Quist
1981 seemed to be the year of the lycanthrope, with no less than three werewolf films released. The first one to be released in ’81 was The Howling, which starred a type of werewolf that did not require a full moon to shapeshift. During this scene, Eddie Quist, who had been stalking Dee Wallace at the start of the film, finally has her cornered, when he decides to reveal that he is a werewolf. Much like An American Werewolf In London (Rick Baker was replaced by Rob Bottin as effects artist), the film isn’t afraid to show the entire metamorphosis onscreen, and the whole transformation takes over 2 minutes. And also, the godawful sequel, starring Sybil Danning, Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch is so bad it’s good.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) dir. Peter Jackson | Gollum
Peter Jackson uses his experience and talent in horror storytelling to depict the slow and painful deterioration of Smeagol as he is consumed by the One Ring. Andy Serkis magnificently depicts the transformation, not only does he perfectly capture the physical change but also Gollum’s descent into insanity as Sauron’s ring slowly corrupts him. The special effects, both practical and computer generated, seamlessly enhance this process. Unfortunately, due to appearing at the start of an over 3 hour long film, this scene is often forgotten once credits begin to role.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) dir. Robert Rodriguez | Santanico Pandemonium
This strange Robert Rodriguez flick begins with George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as criminal brothers, heading towards the Mexican border. On the way, they stop off at a brothel by the name of “Titty Twister” in the middle of a Mexican desert, where they must wait until their contact arrives. They stay and check out the club’s main attraction – Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek), but things get really strange. Mirroring the sudden change from the crime genre to horror film, Santanico unexpectedly turns into a scaled vampire in a matter of seconds.
Black Sheep (2006) dir. Jonathan King | Were-sheep transformations
Jonathan King’s Black Sheep is probably the wackiest New Zealand horror/comedy yet. It’s about Henry, a man with a phobia of sheep, who decides to sell his family’s farm to Angus. Unfortunately, Angus is secretly working on a genetic experiment which, for some strange reason, turns sheep into carnivorous monsters whose bite slowly turns humans into sheep. There are so many were-sheep moments, it’s too hard to pick a favourite.