Tom Savini on Learning from Dreams, Exercising in Quarantine, and Revisiting Friday the 13th

The Hollywood legend is staying busy in lockdown -- and he couldn't be happier

Tom Savini Interview
Tom Savini, photo courtesy of Shudder

Halfway to Halloween Month comes to a fiery end on Consequence of Sound with an exclusive interview featuring the one and only Tom Savini.

“Dreams are very powerful,” Tom Savini says over the phone, “and we really do take them for granted.” We’re 20 minutes into our conversation on a chilly Friday afternoon, and the Hollywood legend has already whisked me away to another world. He takes us deep into the recesses of his mind, a very cerebral, imaginative place. But, what do you expect from the man responsible for some of the greatest movie magic of the last half-century?

These are magical times for Savini, who appreciates the world he’s created for himself at home. “I’m reading a lot more,” he tells me, “and I guess that’s been the case my whole life: engaging your mind with something that gives you pleasure.” Other such pleasures include vigorous exercising, tasty stews, and custom busts of Vincent Price. Chaos may dwell outside his walls, but inside, he couldn’t be happier — and the feeling is contagious.

Throughout our near-hour long conversation, Savini regals me with charming tales and meditative tangents. His voice — readymade for ASMR videos — is soothing and his humor never wanes. At 73, he’s still the boy who fell in love with Frankenstein, and his joy for the genre, his craft, and the creativity of it all is downright inspiring. He’s living proof that the influences we wear on our sleeves never fade away so long as the heart’s still in ’em.

“I’m surrounded by stuff that were influences to me when I was a kid growing up,” he says, taking a moment to look around his room, “and obviously that’s important.”

Above, you can stream the full interview in a truly special episode of Halloweenies: A Jason Voorhees Podcast. Below, we’ve offered an abbreviated version of the discussion that has also been edited for clarity. However, for more from the Maestro of Makeup, be sure to tune into The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs this Friday at 9 p.m. EST on Shudder. What movie will they be screening? You’ll have to stop by the lot and find out yourself. 

On life in quarantine

Tom Savini

Tom Savini

I’m enjoying the hell out of this. The one thing that lockdown has taught me is that I will never say again, “When I have time I’ll do this or I’ll do that.” It’s taught me, “You make time for what you want.” We have lots of time here. I’ve painted the bathroom, I’ve re-arranged all my monsters, I’m sculpting. I’ve never seen anybody sculpt Vincent Price in his makeup from The House of Wax, so I’m doing that. You know, putting clay around it, it’s this Frankenstein syndrome: This didn’t exist before, I’m giving it life, you know? So that’s always a great feeling. It’s this piece of art for everyone to look at, but also mainly it’s just for yourself.

But I’m reading a lot more, and I guess that’s been the case my whole life: engaging your mind with something that gives you pleasure. So, my daily routine is I work out as soon as I wake up. Most people can’t go to the gym because of the lockdown, but mine’s right here, so there’s no excuse. So, I said to myself, “If this is going to be two months, well, I’m going to be a physical specimen whent this is over because I’m working out a lot more. So, I work out, I ride my bike — I just bought this Riese & Muller bike — and I just love riding it. We have lots of hills around here and it’s a good work out.

Yesterday, I made a vat of cabbage soup with potatoes and carrots, and celery. So, I mean, I’m enjoying the hell out of it. I don’t have to be anywhere. I joined Cameo! That’s incredible. So, I’m pretty busy.

On his exercise routine

Tom Savini at 73, courtesy of Twitter

Tom Savini at 73, courtesy of Twitter

Maybe I’ll do abs on Wednesday, or I used to do arms on Saturday, and then shoulders and calves on Friday. Now, I’m doing abs every day. You know, a 100 sit ups a day. I’m doing squats and arms twice a week. Normally if you go to the gym, you’ll say, “Okay, I have to be done by so and so… but now I can spend as much time as I want.” I put on the Match Game. There’s a two-hour marathon; there’s a Match Game every day. I missed that in the ’70s because I was in Vietnam, and then in the Army, and then North Carolina, so I never saw the Match Game. Now? I’m addicted to it.

So, that comes on, and while I’m working out, I’m answering the questions. So, that’s a blast. I look forward to it every day. So, 11 o’clock, I’m in the gym, no matter what. But if you want the regiment, it’s one body part a day, so by the end of the week, you’ve worked out your whole body. And it has to be high intensity, which means you don’t stand there and count 10 bicep curls, you do it until you can’t do it anymore, until you’ve really worn out the muscle. That’s when you see results. So many people go to the gym and they wonder, Why am I not seeing results? Well, you’re not doing high intensity. The point is to wear out the muscle.

Anyway, that’s it in a nutshell.

On the pandemic

Tom Savini in Dawn of the Dead

Tom Savini in Dawn of the Dead

I’m 73. I’ve never seen anything like this. I walk out my front door and half a block away is Main Street. On Friday night? Nothing, all dark. That’s 28 Days Later, you know? That’s a sci-fi movie right there. But, you know, it’s like I tell my wife all the time or when there’s a problem: This is a temporary situation. Torture is… if I pound on your foot with a hammer, but you know I’m going to stop in three seconds, it’s not torture. You can deal with that. But if you don’t know when I’m going to stop or if I’m going to stop, that’s where the torture is. So, this is obviously going to go away, and we’ll learn something from it.

But the scary thing about it is something worse could happen. You see how the world reacts at this, something that’s a billionth of your size causing such havoc. It shows you that movies like Outbreak or Contagion, they’re not that far off.

I’m surprised there aren’t people wandering through the streets screaming. People seem to be dealing with it mostly, but there’s still the craziness. Like what the fuck is going on with Facebook? I go in there… I don’t want to see full frame faces yapping at me, or asses wiggling at me, or people fighting. That seems to be all there is on Facebook. It’s supposed to be bringing friends together. I don’t blame all these people for quitting Facebook. I’m not gonna quit because every now and then there’s some terrific thing on there and I don’t want to miss it, but you got to wade through the garbage.

On the parallels to pandemic movies

Dawn of the Braindead meme

Dawn of the Braindead meme

There’s a famous photo that’s circulating now around a Trump rally or a protest against the lockdown, and there’s a bunch of people outside of glass windows. I did an interview with The Washington Post yesterday about that photo. They said, “Hey, does that remind you of something you’ve done? Is this Night of the Living Dead?” I said, “No, that’s Dawn of the Dead. That’s when we had all the zombies outside of the window, pressing their faces against the glass, and leaving bloody footprints.” Well, somebody created that photo, and they made a horror movie poster out of it: Dawn of the Braindead.

There certainly has been a spread of ignorance and stupidity because of this. I didn’t want to get political with that and say anything against Trump, but there are these rallies where they all come together and not one person in front of the window is wearing a mask or gloves. Who knows what’s going to come out of that! It’s like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I think there was a huge rise! Or Spring Break! There was a huge rise of the virus among those idiots. So, anyway, that, to me, is the Dawn of the Brain Dead happening.

On the power of dreams

Tom Savini and Christopher Lee, photo courtesy of Twitter

Tom Savini and Christopher Lee, photo courtesy of Twitter

I just dreamt last night that I was doing a Quentin Tarantino movie. They cut the fencing scene between me and Christopher Lee, and I was really upset about that. So I went to Quentin — and I forget what he said now — but he gave me a very logical reason for why this scene had to be cut. So, I go back to Christopher Lee, who’s sitting there, and we’re rehearsing, we’re hanging out, and I say, “They cut the fencing scene!”

I think there’s a reason I had that dream. A long time ago, I met Christopher Lee for the first time at a Fangoria convention. We heard we was arriving through the kitchen, so me and five other guys went to the kitchen. The door opened, snow wafted in, and he took up the whole doorway with his overcoat over his shoulders — it was fucking Dracula. So, I had overheard somebody interviewing him and saying, “Well, you’re most commonly known for your horror movies,” and he stopped him right then and there, with his finger in the air, and said, “No that is not true.”

I chimed in, because I heard him say that he, as an actor, has had the most fight scenes — fencing scenes. And I wondered about that. Then he started rattling them off with Errol Flynn and The Master of Ballantrae, Rochefort in The Three Musketeers, and just throughout history, he’s had so many sightings. And he showed me his little finger, which was bent at like a 45-degree angle halfway up, and he said, “That’s a little gift from Errol Flynn,” and he motioned drinking. He said by noon Errol Flynn was sloshed and in the fight scene, where he’s supposed to go for his shoulder, he went to his leg and hit his finger and broke it.

So, that’s stuck with me, the fact that he was a fencer, and I was a fencer — I’m a tournament fencer. So, I think that’s what that dream came from last night, just thinking about him. I had just watched the uncut version of The Horror of Dracula, which has a little bit more of the seduction of Mina in the bedroom, and then a little bit more of disintegration at the end. They did an elaborate makeup on him with his real hand on his face before they cut to the dummy with a fake hand. So, that was fresh in my mind.

Dreams have had a big influence as you’ve seen in my “Wet Dreams” segment in a movie called The Theatre Bizarre. There’s a scene in there with my wife, she’s just about nude, luring this guy to a bedroom, and they get to a corner. He looks in the mirror like, “Wow, she’s really hot,” and we pan down from her face, past her breasts, and when you get down to her crotch, there are insect tentacles coming out of her pussy. Okay? Now, that’s a dream I had when I was nine years old about a girl in the neighborhood — and I used it in that episode. It’s from life and it’s totally unexpected and totally creeps people out. Girls love it. Men cringe in pain. She pulls them into those tentacles — you know, like lobster claws. Anyways, it’s worth watching.

Dreams are like memories. You play memories in your head just like you put a record on or a tape in. Dreams are very important to me. It’s a phenomenon that we take for granted. Not me. I don’t take it for granted. This is a phenomenal experience. Yes, you are lying in your bed. You’re seeing things without using your eyes. You’re hearing sounds that don’t exist. You’re unconscious, yet your thoughts are giving rise to something just as solid as the room you’re standing in, or the chair you’re sitting in the table that might be in front of you — and that’s very godlike. If god is an intelligent force that created everything, you’re doing that. When you dream, you’re not being plunked into a scenario. No matter how complicated the sets are, or whatever you’re in, you’re creating every bit of that, and sometimes you have very complicated scenes that you’re in.

This is godlike. You are giving life creating physical stuff that doesn’t exist, but it is, at that moment, existing for you, except it gets absurd. You search all night for your car, and when you find it, it’s the size of a shoebox and you can’t get in it. So, dreams are very powerful, and we really do take them for granted.

But, I believe in reincarnation. You know how sometimes you wake up and you forget the dream instantly? I think you’re programmed to do that. Just like in life when you die, and you are reincarnated, you’re programmed to forget the previous life. See, if you’ve read my books, the first paragraph in my new book, talks about: “I was born when I was fairly young.” I know that’s a joke, and it sounds stupid. But my first memory was that I had just come from someplace, and I was super intelligent, and I’m wondering, What am I doing in this place? And then suddenly, my dad chased me down to the basement because I had shit my pants, and I became the kid I was to be be. Before that, to me, it was like I had just come from another life, and I was being programmed to forget that previous life. So dreams are a very significant and powerful phenomenon to me.

inception top Tom Savini on Learning from Dreams, Exercising in Quarantine, and Revisiting Friday the 13th

I’ve read a few books on lucid dreams, and lucid dreaming is knowing that you’re dreaming. Because then, you have unlimited power. If you’re in the middle of a dream, and you suddenly realize you’re dreaming… Well, I’m gonna take five steps from sly. I’m gonna rob that bank. I’m gonna go over there and kiss that woman. I can do whatever the hell I want. Because I know there’s no consequences. And what the books on lucid dreaming teaches you is to give yourself signals. For example, when a dream does become ludicrous? Well, I’m dreaming. And if you’re lucky enough, you can stay in the dream because sometimes that makes you wake up and snap out of it. But if I’m searching for my car keys the whole dream — aha, I know I’m dreaming now. Or if I’m pissing in a toilet, you know? I want to make sure I don’t miss my bed, which is entirely possible. So hey, I’m dreaming. There are signals that you can initiate and I really love that aspect of it.

On his love for horror

When I was a kid, it was thrilling to be scared in a movie. The Creature from the Black Lagoon. When I saw that in 1964, I was eight years old in the theater, and being scared, I’d cover my face, but I would have to peer through my fingers to see. Like …Teenage Frankenstein, that really fucked me up. That scared the hell out of me as a kid. So, it was being scared, and then making me want to scare people. I was doing that at an early age, scaring my sister or scaring my mother. It was thrilling to scare somebody because it was so thrilling to be scared, and then the lifestyle came out of that. Collecting masks. Looking at the back of Famous Monsters at the Captain Company. I remember ordering my first mask and looking out for the mailman every single day, and I only had enough money for one of the monster hands, but they mistakenly sent me two.

Now, I think I have so many masks because as a kid I couldn’t. So, now I’m making up for that by having thousands of masks. So that lifestyle, surrounding myself with that… I mean, there are swords on the wall because I’m a big swashbuckling fan. Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, The Mark of Zorro, The Black Pirate… I’m surrounded by stuff that were influences to me when I was a kid growing up, and obviously that’s important. The whole reason I do any of this is seeing the movie Man of 1000 Faces. So, why wasn’t that just another movie that I saw, and then life goes on? Why did that movie have such a huge effect on changing my whole direction and my whole life? I don’t know.

Lon Chaney

Lon Chaney

If I were going to Monsterpalooza next week, I was scheduled to sit with Ron Chaney and do a Q&A on Lon Chaney, and I was prepared to tell him, “I think I’m your dad. I think I was Lon Chaney in another life.” Why else would that movie have such a profound effect on me? You know, believing in that glass house, you know, it’s stuck in there. So anyway, I was trying to tell them that … one, I wanted to make the Q&A more interesting; two, to get a rise out of him; and three, you know, jokingly, in front of everybody say something like that. So, I’ll do it when this finally does happen.

On why we keep revisiting movies

Tom Savini in From Dusk til Dawn

Tom Savini in From Dusk til Dawn

It changes every time you see it. “Wow, I can’t wait to watch a movie that I really loved when I was a kid,” and then, “Boy, is that terrible.” Like The Magic Sword! I watched that recently, and it’s so chintzy, but it changed. Back then, I loved it, but now, because I think I’m brighter, I’ve seen more, and I’ve experienced more effects-wise, there’s a chintzy way they did it, but that’s all they have back then. Sometimes it’s the mood of a picture that I can’t wait to watch again. The Horror of Dracula, there’s a mood in that that’s just elegant and gorgeous.

You know, I loved Cats. Cats is fantastic. Cats is gorgeous. To watch. And I’ve seen it after all this criticism, but to me, it’s the Broadway musical done so extraordinarily gorgeous and beautiful — the intent is there. I can’t wait to see Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story that he just finished. I’m just a fan of musicals. Listen, I loved Van Helsing, even though everybody hated that movie. But, to me, the mood is… like if you had an elaborate dream about horror movies, that’s what Van Helsing is. All of it is completely unreal and hokey and fake, but it’s a dream. So, I loved it.

Cats, Taylor Swift, Universal

Taylor Swift in Cats (Universal)

A good director knows the [aesthetics]. A good director does know the color palette. Like Sidney Lumet. When he did 12 Angry Men, most of the first half of that movie is above eye level — like you’re being subjective. Then when it gets real serious, you’re on eye level, and you’re in one room with 12 people and it’s very claustrophobic. And in the end, when they come up with a verdict, it’s wide angle shows, and you feel relief just visually getting out of that. That’s the freedom he wants us to experience, and what the defendant would have, so nobody teaches that stuff in film school. It’s something a person came up with.

Spielberg, when he did E.T., almost every angle is from the height you are when you’re 12 years old. The keys on the waistband, it’s all designed to make you feel like you became one of the kids in that movie. That’s brilliant. That’s extraordinarily brilliant. In Close Encounters…, when the little kid is looking out the window, and he’s marveling — the wonderment in his face — it’s supposed to be him looking at the spaceship. But what Spielberg did, he had a bunch of people put on fairy costumes, and dance outside the window. To get that reaction from that kid, that is astoundingly spielberg Tom Savini on Learning from Dreams, Exercising in Quarantine, and Revisiting Friday the 13th

If you’re interested in directing or the.methods that directors use, there are so many examples. In Cold Blood. When Robert Blake is at the window, he’s got handcuffs and the straight jacket, he’s lamenting about his life. They had rain trickle on the windows, and the lighting pushing those on his face made him look like the tears were flowing down his face. Just brilliant.

On revisiting Friday the 13th

friday 13th feature Tom Savini on Learning from Dreams, Exercising in Quarantine, and Revisiting Friday the 13th

They just kept getting dumber and dumber and dumber. I remember I was seeing some movie in a multiplex, and Jason X was playing, and I went into it. After I see my movie, I usually do walk into other theaters. And, you know, Jason goes into a closet and he comes out like Robocop, and I said, “God, it’s still so stupid.” Even the last movie was incredibly fucking stupid. A kid drops his gun into the swamp, and he actually says while he’s looking for the gun, “Where are you gun?” He says that in the fucking movie. I mean two teenagers are making love, and the guy says, “Your tits are stupendous,” and I’m like, “Who’s writing this?”

I never talk in movies, and I hate people that do talk in movies, but me and my friends for the rest of the movie were like, “Where are you gun? Your tits are stupendous!” We kept yelling at the screen. Then they put Jason into a tree shredder, and the mask flies off, and they don’t show Derek Mears, and it was a fabulous makeup for Jason. Then, they carry him 150 yards to throw him in the lake. And as soon as they threw him in the lake, just look at your watch: How long will it be before he pops up? They were trying to capitalize on the ending of the first movie with Jason coming out of the lake, which was my idea. That was not in the script.

It was my idea because I had just seen Carrie. In Carrie, she’s walking toward the graveyard, and the music is playing and the credits are going to roll any second. So, to you, the movie over, and then that fucking hand comes out of the grave, scared the shit out of me. So, I said, “We need to have an ending like that with Jason coming out of the water and grabs Adrienne.” “But he’s dead.” “Well, it doesn’t matter. Make it a dream because people buy anything if you make it a dream.” The whole fucking last season of Dallas. He comes out of the shower and everyone bought it. So, we made it a dream sequence. So, that movie was incredibly stupid, that last Friday the 13th.

Where would I go with it? Before Part Eight, I called Sean [S. Cunningham], and I said, “Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Dracula, they were fading in popularity and some brilliant person combined them with Abbott and Costello and made Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It catapulted the careers of Abbott and Costello, it but it killed Frankenstein and the Wolfman forever. Why don’t we do a Friday the 13th where it’s.a rapper with a bunch of kids and make it a comedy! Make it Abbot and Costello Meets Jason.” “Oh, well, I’m not involved in the franchise anymore.” So then he hired a kid out of film school to direct Part Eight because, you know, I wanted to direct Part Eight.

So, again, they just keep getting dumber and dumber. The last one was supposed to be a reimagined retelling, and it was the dumbest one of them all. So, I have no hopes for it. But people keep going. We’re up to Part 12, and I firmly believe that they will be a Friday the 13th Part 13. They were going to do it, but they canceled it because of some previous movie they did failed miserably. I forgot the name of it now. But like I said, I stopped watching, and you know, I keep hearing how Part 4 is the best one, and I think it is the final chapter. That’s why it’s called the Final Chapter. They believed it was going to be the last one because the series was waning, but that movie made so much money … and that’s why we’ll see Part 13.