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Exclusive Interview: Makeup artist Mark Coulier on “SUSPIRIA’s” twisted effects, Clive Barker and “NIGHTBREED”

Thursday, January 24, 2019 | Exclusive, Interviews


With SUSPIRIA now available for viewing on digital (and coming to Blu-ray next Tuesday, January 29), more light can be shed on the remarkable achievements of special makeup effects artist Mark Coulier. We chatted with the artist about this latest work and his early days on a few horror classics.

In SUSPIRIA, directed by Luca Guadagnino, Coulier’s chief task was prosthetically transforming actress Tilda Swinton, who plays Madame Blanc, into her second, no-longer secret role of elderly male psychotherapist Josef Klemperer. Also on his plate: A number of horrific and grisly illusions, chief among them the terrible fate of ballet student Olga (Elena Fokina), whose body is horribly contorted and broken by supernatural forces. The Oscar-winning Coulier (for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and THE IRON LADY), who got his start working with Bob Keen’s Image Animation team on Clive Barker film favorites like NIGHTBREED, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II and CANDYMAN, worked with real-life dancer/contortionist Fokina to create one of the most shocking setpieces in recent cinema. (Note: SPOILERS follow…)

What went into Olga’s death?

Luca wanted this woman to be totally broken down and destroyed in this room, by the dance [performed by Dakota Johnson’s Susie] that’s happening next door. So we talked through the various ways we could achieve this, and turn it into something practical that could actually work. What Luca presented us with, originally, would have been very difficult to turn into reality, so it was a case of, “Hey, Luca, why don’t we start with this twisted arm?” I’d seen DELIVERANCE, where this guy’s got a broken arm, a dislocated arm, and the actor [Ronny Cox] could actually dislocate his own shoulder, and he twisted his arm around behind his head. I remember being really disturbed by that, so I said to Luca, “Why don’t we have the first gag be her arm getting broken, the next one is her jaw, and then her leg gets twisted?” We went back and forth trying to work out how to pulverize this woman as the witches twist her out of all shape, and turn that into a reality.

How much of that contortion is actually Fokina, before the prosthetics come in?

Elena’s amazing; she’s a remarkable dancer who did all that crawling around on the floor. From there, we had a false arm prosthetic that was strapped to one of her shoulders, and later a visual effects company removed her real arm. We also put a false leg on her and twisted that right back, to the point where people might look at it and go, “Is that real? That can’t be, no, surely it’s…” and visual effects removed her actual leg. So when you see her right at the end, it’s definitely like, no actress would be able to do that, whether she’s a contortionist or not. But we wanted to keep it on that borderline where you look at it and go, “Is that the actress, or is it not?” That’s key to how disturbing that sequence is, keeping it real that way.

Beyond that, and the transformation of Swinton into Klemperer, were there any other especially challenging makeups or scenes in SUSPIRIA?

Yeah, the ending, because we had Markos and Tilda was playing that role as well, so as you’re looking back and forth, when she’s Markos it was shot on one day, and then on the next we did Tilda’s bits as Madame Blanc, and on another she was Klemperer as the witness on the floor. Tilda’s all three characters in one scene, so that created a whole set of problems. And we had so many other makeup effects and full-body prosthetics going on: We had Chloë Moretz in her dead-Patricia makeup, we had the intestines being pulled out, we had all sorts of stuff. It was a big challenge, and we had about 20 people on set, all applying makeups for that long sequence.

Was anything you created for SUSPIRIA cut out of the movie?

No, it’s all in there. It was not a big-budget movie, so the money was spent very wisely, and everything we created appears on screen. I don’t think there’s anything we did that was left out.

What are your memories of working with Clive Barker on your early films?

It was just great fun. Clive, in the same way as Luca, is such a creative guy. He’s an amazing artist, a super-intelligent filmmaker and writer; his imagination is fantastic. Working with people like Clive and Luca is inspirational; they bring these fantastical stories to life. Luca is also very intimate; you get involved with his stories and characters in the same way as when you read a Clive Barker book. I’m really blessed to have been able to work with these people.

Did you have any idea, when you were helping bring Barker’s characters to the screen, that they would endure for as long as they have?

No, absolutely no idea. It’s really great; I went to a show called Monsterpalooza recently, which is a celebration of fantasy characters. Some guys there had recreated a character I did in NIGHTBREED called Shuna Sassi, this woman who has quills sticking out of her head. This was something I did, I don’t know, 30 years ago, and to see people who are fans of the movie today who had done this character’s makeup on someone, it was like, “Wow! That’s amazing!” I was in my mid- or late 20s when I was doing that makeup, and it was long hours creating Shuna Sassi, and who would have thought that all these years later, someone would be recreating that for fun?

Did you feel a sense of satisfaction when the longer cut of NIGHTBREED came out, showcasing more of the creatures?

Yeah, I did, but although that was all re-edited and reworked and re-put together, it’s still not the movie Clive wanted to make. In fact, some of those characters we created were afterthoughts; they were made after the fact, after they had cut the movie together. Nowadays, that’s a normal sequence of events; pretty much everything I work on has a time when they edit the film together, and then they go back and reshoot stuff and then they insert it. But at that time, it was quite a new thing. We went back and made some new stuff, and they put it into the movie and recut it and changed it. I’d love to see what Clive wanted to do with NIGHTBREED originally; that would have been my preference, but it’s great that people still like it.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.