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Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini (2015) Review

I think it’s fair to say that anyone who is into horror is familiar with the name Tom Savini as well as his major credits, Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, The Burning, Maniac, etc. Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini takes a look not only at the man’s work as a special effects innovator but as an actor and director as well.

That, of course, is what you expect from a film like Smoke and Mirrors. And given director Jason Baker’s background as a prop maker and effects person, he’s worked on everything from Wrestlemania to Sky Sharks and the upcoming film The Black Phone, you might think that would be all you were getting.

Instead, after a montage of his work, Smoke and Mirrors spends its first thirty minutes or so on his life before he got involved with films. His family life growing up in Pittsburgh, his work at 14 for a travelling spook show are mentioned, as are his first marriage and his time in Vietnam and the effect that had on him.

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A large part of Smoke and Mirrors is devoted to Savini’s personal life. Some of it is relevant to his career, some of it isn’t but will be interesting to his more devoted fans, and some of it is frustratingly vague. I understand him not wanting to put everything out in the public eye but for example, if you mention that you used your connections with the police to take full custody of one of your children, you know that viewers will want to know the full story.

For most viewers, though, his film work will be what interests them, and we get into that, as mentioned, around the thirty-minute mark with the story of how he ended up working on Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Deathdream and Deranged. I wish Smoke and Mirrors had gone into more detail on these lesser-known titles rather than retelling some of the more familiar stories about his later films. Especially as much of it revolves around two very well-known films.

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A lot of time is spent on his first film as a director, the Night of the Living Dead remake, and why it didn’t turn out as he wanted. From the cuts demanded by the MPAA to his second marriage dissolving into divorce during the shooting. The other film that gets a large share of the screen time is Robert Rodriguez’s Dusk to Dawn. From how he was cast in the role of Sex Machine, a role that was supposed to go to Fred Williamson, to some unedited footage of him killing vampires.

There’s plenty of interview footage with Savini himself, and he comes across as a fairly nice and relatively normal guy. Among the other people, we hear from are the late George Romero, Alice Cooper, Danny Trejo, Tony Todd, Cory Feldman as well as a couple of Savini’s family members. The interviews run from a couple of minute segments that look like they were filmed at conventions to longer, more in-depth segments.

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Don’t expect coverage of any of the more recent developments in Savini’s career or life to be covered here. Smoke and Mirrors was originally released in 2019, but carries a 2015 copyright. And, going by some of his comments, much of it was filmed around 2012 and the most recent film mentioned is Inhuman Resources, under its original title, Red Inc.

Despite its age, Snake and Mirrors is still interesting and newer fans who are just discovering Savini will learn a lot from it. Those of us more familiar with his career, however, may wish Baker had found time to ask about films like Red Scorpion and Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh.

Wild Eye Releasing will release Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini on Digital and On Demand on October 19th. You can check their Facebook page for more information.

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