When you figure that a lead actor’s job is to, essentially, become a vehicle for the viewers to project themselves onto, it’s no wonder that so many high-concept films disappoint.
If a film’s hero is staring into the eyes of a monster, walking through an otherworldly landscape or caught up in a chase, the viewers will only believe they are there if the proper look is reflected on the actor’s face. With so many stars staring at green screens, tennis balls and men in unitards, French filmmaker Christophe Gans realized that the only way to bring the video game “Silent Hill” to life was to scare the bejesus out of his leading lady. Then he recruited one of the best in the business to do just that.
“It’s quite inspiring, because you have a sense of what it looks like and what it feels like,” actress Radha Mitchell said of the nightmarish creatures who tormented, tortured and terrified her daily on the set of the “Silent Hill” movie. “To actually be physically touching the thing [is better]; it’s different to pretend to touch something. When it’s touching you, you can feel it. It’s great. … This is the thing that’s attacking me, and this is pretty much what it would feel like. … You have the real sense of drama doing that.”
After Gans (director of the genre-bending cult classic “Brotherhood of the Wolf”) decided to go down the path of monster manifestation, he recruited creature and special-makeup-effects creator Patrick Tatopoulos and gave him the ultimate dream job.
“They are the dream of a little girl,” said the monster maestro behind “Independence Day” and the “Underworld” movies, describing his thought process while designing the “Silent Hill” baddies. “[Gans] wanted them to be like dolls, all of them. And that’s interesting, because that’s what you try to avoid usually.”
As it turned out, Tatopoulos wasn’t the only one living in a dream world.
|See why a guy is walking around with an apron made from human skin and check out clips of the horror flick, cast interviews and more.|
“I’d have these crazy dreams all the time,” Mitchell said. “That was part of the experience. … When we were shooting this movie, those were images that we saw every day. Every day there was something completely disgusting and new and gross to encounter, and it did affect the subconscious.”
A few friends Tatopoulos brought to the set to scare the cast are the gray children — 4-foot-tall tortured souls condemned to spend eternity in a tormented, eternal howl. “We created the arms, and we had a small dancer from China wearing those suits,” he said. “One thing that Christophe told me was that, ‘I want every single one of those creatures to suffer and scream all the time.’ ”
A stunt actress “would have a tube coming out of her leg [to breathe] and would sit in that costume for hours,” Mitchell remembered. “Some of the time we were shooting outside and it was freezing cold, and the little gray child would come along in her costume, and I never saw her face, and she’d have her little dressing gown on and little slippers, and then she’d take it off and start shooting the scene. It was pretty bizarre.”
Another group of scene-stealers are the nurses — blank-faced vixens whose skin has melded with their ashen uniforms for a Florence Nightmare-ingale effect.
“Some of the preparation for this movie we were going to do was watch Japanese violent porn, but we decided not to. I’m sure that was an inspiration to the tone of erotic violence that’s in the film,” Mitchell said. “There’s something erotic about all those monsters, because they’re naked-looking and vulnerable in their scariness.”
“The nurses are made of a mouth that screams all the time,” Tatopoulos said. “Their faces are twisted; you take the skin and flip it around, you lose everything. You lose the eye, you lose everything. The skull is still in the same place, but everything is turned around. And then you have a crack, and then things come out of the mouth, and this mouth stretches open and it screams. It screams all the time. Silent scream, Silent Hill.”
One of Tatopoulos’ most cherished projects was Pyramid Head, the terrifying executioner from the “Silent Hill” world. “We had to texture the helmet differently, so the helmet we redesigned from scratch, although we kept that very cool triangular-shape pyramid thing, because there’s nothing better than that,” the creature designer said. “When an actor wears a helmet like that, and he has to be able to turn his head in it, you have to think from scratch. That’s the fun part.”
“He was definitely one of my favorites,” Mitchell said. “Pyramid Head is … this huge mythical character wearing a human-skin apron, and he’s horrifying and, in a way, beautiful as well. He symbolizes the darkness. And when the darkness comes, everything in the whole place of Silent Hill becomes different; he signals that by heralding it.”
As Mitchell discussed many of these characters, “I never saw that guy’s face” is a common response. Such mystery, she said, was more common than you’d think. “I never saw [the actors inside], and they couldn’t really see me because the whole costume covered their face. … They were, like, in a cocoon inside their costumes.”
Despite the fact that Tatopoulos similarly tormented Mitchell in the 2000 sci-fi hit “Pitch Black,” she still hasn’t crossed paths with him. “I haven’t met Tatopoulos, who I would love to meet,” she said. “His work was so genius in the film.”
After all, what’s important is that the creatures are on set — not the creature maker.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Silent Hill.”
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