Savini, who was a combat photographer in Vietnam, an experience which informed the gruesome verisimilitude of his work, started out his career on George A. Romero’s Martin, an off-kilter vampire story which took a realistic approach to the folklore of the immortal bloodsucker. Over the course of the two men’s career, Romero and Savini would frequently collaborate, including Romero’s follow-up to Martin, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. For that film, which included heads being destroyed by shotgun blasts, skin ripped off by hands and the pulling of intestines out of bodies, the gore effects were ramped up to heretofore unseen levels. His work on the highly successful Friday the 13th in 1980 brought gore to the mainstream. A pretty standard (though decently made) slasher film that heavily borrowed elements from the Italian giallo genre and John Carpenter’s Halloween, Friday the 13th’s multiple memorable kill scenes: spear through the neck, decapitation, etc, lead the movie to become a word of mouth success. Eventually, and as we will see through many of 1981’s film, the MPAA took umbrage to the fact that many underage kids were catching the Paramount Pictures distributed horror film, and became less lenient in what it let major studios get away with in their horror productions.
Still, 1981 was a great year for practical effects, and you had such talents as Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, even an up-and-comer named Jim Cameron, plying their trade. But Savini’s influence and large output during the year makes him the perfect candidate to kick start a month of reviews of horror films released in 1981.