Best Visual Effects – 1981

Official Nominations: Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Dragonslayer.

Just the two nominees this year, and a clear win for Raiders. It’s not so much the fact that Raiders was innovative, moreso that it does so much. Similar to Star Wars, it was a stepping stone towards the big budget special effects bonanzas to come, but crucially it uses its effects as a tool to serve the story, world, and characters. The closing moments of the Ark being opened and the Nazis being melted down to creamy goo, was one of the defining movie moments in my young life and one which encouraged me to seek out further gore effects while also gaining an appreciation for the craft. Dragonslayer meanwhile reunited much of the Star Wars team – the ILM guys using the film to show off their talents outside of the Lucasfilm world. Featuring more than the admittedly wonderful dragon effects, it’s the more innovative movie from an Effects perspective, and is deserving of the win too. In terms of its influence on me, and wider pop culture though, I have to go with Raiders.

My Winner: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Watch 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' Face Melt Scene in ULTRA Slow Motion - Bloody Disgusting

My Nominations: Dragonslayer. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. American Pop. An American Werewolf In London. Clash Of The Titans. Escape From New York. The Evil Dead. The Howling. Possession. Scanners. Time Bandits. Wolfen.

Baski continues his innovative techniques and desire to push the boundaries of what anAnimated Feature could be with American Pop, investing in both the emerging computer graphics techniques but also most noticeably in Rotoscoping to give the film its unique look. We all know American Werewolf In London is the winner for Make-up this year, and arguably it should not be nominated here. The film is a feast for the eyes, and it’s not simply the Make-up effects which make that possible, but the practical Visual Effects which make the action and chase scenes so impactful, not to mention the all time classic transformation scene. It’s one of the most influential movies of all time in terms of changing the mainstream’s perception of practical effects empowering storytelling.

Clash Of The Titans is one of the most important movies in my personal movie journey, opening my eyes to the ability of artists to bring impossible things to life and translating stories from dusty tomes into mass-market big screen thrills. Your average viewer now will likely view it all as hokey, but the effects were a revelation to me as a kid, before Jurassic Park came along, and they’re still incredibly impressive based on the tools available at the time. Escape From New York would set out the template for Blade Runner (which would improve in every feasible way), crafting a dank and neon drenched futurescape, while The Evil Dead is a barmy, off the wall masterpiece of visual creativity from the gore effects, to the colour palette, lighting, and the way the camera behaves. It’s another startling triumph in a year in which everyone seemed to take several giant leaps forward.

The Howling is the second big Werewolf movie of the year  and is the more serious horror movie while also having some stellar effects. Just not as strong in most respects that An American Werewolf In London. Wolfen distances itself from Horror and instead plays like a cop drama which just happens to feature a furry shapeshifter. Underseen compared with the other two, it’s worth a look if only for its cast and the thermo/heat tracking technique used to show the predatory stalking of the wolf. Possession is notorious for its stressful production, its manic tone, and its exciting effects – an interesting film but one which will ultimately frustrate. Time Bandits is another treat for the eyes, using a dizzying array of expertise to bring a visually difficult script to screen, while Scanners will forever be known for one thing – arguably the greatest head explosion put on screen. It’s wonderful – the film is so much more than one effect and that one scene, but that’s what it’ll be remembered for.

My Winner: An American Werewolf In London.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Best Visual Effects – 1981

  1. John Charet May 26, 2022 / 1:39 am

    Truth be told, I would have chose Raiders of the Lost Ark on this one, but yes, I love An American Werewolf in London as well 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

  2. Jonah Falcon (@JonahFalcon) January 6, 2023 / 6:02 pm

    Dragonslayer’s visual effects were better than Raiders or Werewolf. Not only with the Go-Motion use on Vermithrax Pejorative, but the finale with the battle between Ulrich and the dragon. Seriously, there was no competition here — the others pale in comparison.

    • carlosnightman January 6, 2023 / 6:18 pm

      Yeah, it’s definitely still impressive, a great year for effects and an excellent start to the decade

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