5 clever old-school tricks behind TV’s goriest shows

Thanks to CGI, there are few limits to how far you can go with a TV show these days.

But when it comes to SFX, no amount of green screen can match the stomach-churning qualities of a well-executed, lo-fi practical effect. Here’s how five gory shows keep it lose-your-lunch real.

Making edible flesh – The Walking Dead

The practical makeup artistry of The Walking Dead (helmed by Greg Nicotero, a veteran special effects wizard) has taken zombie creation to the next level. Elaborate facial prosthetics are behind the walkers’ leathery skin and exposed jaws. That incredibly authentic looking human flesh being chowed down on by the biters? It’s created by soaking ham in barbecue sauce – a special vinegar-free recipe designed to look real without melting through actors’ makeup. Stream The Walking Dead S9 weekly on NOW TV.

Setting 73 extras on fire – Game Of Thrones

One of the few old-school VFX in Game Of Thrones is something the on-set health and safety officer probably wishes they could green screen: when someone in Westeros is on fire, they’re actually on fire. Which is why in The Spoils of War, when Daenerys’ dragons let rip, they set a record-breaking 73 people on fire, 20 of them simultaneously. Stunt performers wore three layers of fireproof underwear and held their breath while alight (there’s a strict 15-second time limit when you become a human torch).

Autopsying a vampire – The Strain

This horror-drama about a vampiric virus is chock full of terrifying moments (a worm burrowing into a human eye, anyone?). Writer-producer Guillermo del Toro opened his ‘creature shop’ six months ahead of filming: they eventually ran out of space to store all the fake headless bodies. The pièce de résistance? A head-to-toe vampire corpse suit, created for an autopsy scene. A dummy was out the question – they needed the corpse to come back to life and jump off the table – so the actor wore the second skin made out of silicone, complete with cracked-open chest cavity. Stream every episode of The Strain on NOW TV.

Wrangling 20,000 maggots – Dexter

There’s a lot of blood in Dexter. So much that prop master Joshua Meltzer developed his own special blend of fake blood made from syrup, food colouring and Dawn dish-soap. To avoid continuity mistakes and clean-up issues between takes, he made portable acetate ‘blood pools’ to use under victims. One episode required 20,000 live maggots (overseen by a licensed insect trainer) to wriggle on two dummy corpses; Meltzer ‘padded’ them out with brown rice, and then sourced 5000 horse flies to buzz around the bodies to make it extra convincing. Stream every episode of Dexter on NOW TV.

Drilling into a skull – Penny Dreadful

Recreating Victorian London relies on CGI, but this gothic horror has some pleasingly DIY props. Flayed scalps are sewn with real human hair; eviscerated bodies are made from silicone and fake blood dabbed on with a pastry brush. In one disturbing scene, lead actress Eva Green has her head clamped and her skull drilled into as part of a medical procedure; the prosthetics department created a silicon cap with just a very thin piece of metal underneath it to protect her head from the drill. Credit to Green for keeping cool while an extra whirred a real, working drill by her ear. Stream every episode of Penny Dreadful on NOW TV.

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