“I’m already a couple of drinks ahead of ya” Matt Ash, special effects artist for horror movie Sacrament (premiering June 7th in Dallas, Texas at the famous Texas Theater) tells me in his deep southern drawl as he lights up a cigarette. Matt has worked on various movies for his specialty of creature effects as well as his special effects for gore. Vaccinated into the special effects field with a pair of plastic vampire fangs at an early age, Matt was replicating Hollywood monster makeup while other kids were wearing Ben Cooper masks for Halloween.
Within the first five minutes I could tell that Matt and I would click. A hard worker who wants nothing more than to give his passion to his work while he shares the credit with his fellow artists, doesn’t tolerate bullshit when it comes to being lazy, and pulls no punches when asked about breaking into the special effects business. Covered in classic monster sleeved tattoos, this guy could’ve been the long lost brother I’ve been looking for.
I open a Shiner Bock beer as the sun sets on a Friday night in Mesquite, Texas when Matt and I get the chance to talk about the business of blood, monsters, and Sacrament.
R.R. How long have you been doing special effects for movies?
M.A. Professionally for about six years. I’ve always enjoyed it as a kid and all the dumber shit as far as horror films go with B-Movies and even bigger pictures. I’ve always been into monster and effects, more so monsters. Unfortunately I do a lot of gore, which isn’t my favorite thing to do but it pays some of the bills, right? (Laughs)
R.R. Right! (Laughs)
M.A. But my favorite thing is monsters and stuff like that.
R.R. Where did you learn to do special effects?
M.A. A lot of it came from my love of it and books as a kid. Reading books about it. Today they have T.V. show about it. When I was young there was no YouTube, it was all just books. So you learned everything from books. As a kid I didn’t know people that were into it like I was so it was just me learning it by myself. As I got older I met a few people here and there that were into it and showed me things about special effects. The guy that I worked for a lot of the times, if I’m not doing any films on my own, I work for Oddtopsy Effects, where I’ve learned a lot from Marcus Koch, which is basically everything I know in the last six or so years. It’s like you have to be a chemist to be a special effects guy!
R.R. Chemist and magician as well!
M.A. Yeah! Yeah!
R.R. Who are some of your influences?
M.A. As a kid I really looked up to Stan Winston, probably one of my biggest. As I got older there was Stan and then there was his crew, but people like Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, these cats that now own the biggest shops in Hollywood. Rick Baker, there is just so many of them. But then there is Stan but there is also their crew that their names aren’t as known, but they had just as much if not more to do with the actual effect. So those are my influences, mainly Stanley since the monsters like the Predator and Alien are iconic. To this day they still hold up. Pumpkinhead, the Monster Squad, oh man, I can go on and on about the Monster Squad!
R.R. I think we grew up in the same generation man!
M.A. (Laughs) Yeah, I think so!
R.R. When you said “monsters”, that movie was what popped up in my mind.
M.A. Great one!
R.R. Compare the use of CGI in movies today as opposed to a time when film was more dependent on special effects.
M.A. You know, if the marriage is nice and the CG doesn’t ruin the practical effect, and it helps it, I’m all for about it. Totally, 100%. It is just a matter of over doing it with the visual effects when you don’t have to. Visual effects are fading away a little bit, but they are still going strong but I think there is going to be a resurgence of practical effects because of the techniques and the advancements. All the things have changed. People are always finding better ways to making silicon or foam rubber, or gelatin appliances. They are always getting better and better and better.
R.R. Without giving too much away, tell us a little about some of the effects you created for Sacrament.
M.A. There were several gags in there that I am actually quite proud of, and they’re nasty ones! They are good ones. The fans will like them. There are severed heads and disembowelments, some being torn away, and guts and shit. I tried to hit…well, there’s not everything, but there’s a good amount, you know what I mean? There’s a variety of effects in there, one in particular is probably going to make a few people cringe. I made my fellow effects artist cringe with this one effect, so I’m actually quite proud of it. I’ve had other people that have been doing it longer than me look at some of the stuff that I’ve done for Sacrament and if I can get them to “eww and oww” then it makes me happy. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. I think that anyone that is into horror will appreciate it.
R.R. Well I think you just sold Sacrament for all the readers!
R.R. Shawn (Ewert, director of Sacrament) is going to owe you a little more money now! Was there a particular effect in Sacrament that really pushed your abilities?
M.A. Uhh…There’s one, yeah. There’s one that I could have gone a couple of ways about it but dealing with this and it is an independent film we’re dealing with budget, you know what I mean? And maybe, well, I…look, some people say I went a little overboard with the blood on it but, I think that the fans are going to disagree with that! (Laughs)
M.A. It’s a broken limb let’s put it that way.
R.R. Is there really such a thing as too much blood?
R.R. I mean you got raining blood in the Evil Dead, you got Drag Me to Hell where the chick soaks her boss with a bloody nose.
M.A. Well you know, how about The Shining? That is the ultimate! The Shining or the Amityville Horror, you know when the walls start bleeding? You know, when you say “More blood”, that’s what I’m thinking! (Laughs) Remember that hallway in The Shining?
R.R. The walls in Amityville was one of my favorite effects ever! When I ran a haunted house attraction I once tried to recreate that effect. It was such a pain in the ass because someone would push somebody else and someone would bitch that they stained their shirt. But that effect is still one of my most favorite ones today!
M.A. That would be totally cool in a haunted house. I’m a big pussy, I’ll make stuff, but I won’t walk through a haunted house! (Laughs)
R.R. What!?! (Laughs)
M.A. Man I’m chicken shit when it comes to haunted houses. But I forget where, but I read that; how they did that effect for Amityville, how they rigged that and all. There have been other films where the walls bleed. But that’s more blood definitely. There can never be such a thing.
R.R. Looking at your IMDB profile you have done the special effects on quite the number of movies, mainly horror, though it is not the only genre that used special effects. Do you feel drawn to the horror genre more?
M.A. Oh yeah man! I’ve been warped since I was a fucking kid! I’ve always liked monster movies. Some of the earliest films I remember seeing were Friday the 13th or Hell Night, Swamp Thing, and those kinds of movies. Godzilla. I think Godzilla was actually my first. Godzilla or Abbot and Costello meet the Wolfman, along those lines. I’m a big fan of the Universal and Hammer films.
R.R. Matt you are good people, dude! I like you!
M.A. Oh I try to be. I think that most people that know me will tell you that. I’ll take a fucking beating but I’ll come back. I don’t let anybody down with my effects; that’s for sure! Even though it is a matter of a few seconds on screen, I still try to put all those little details, like punching all those little hairs into a mask or whatnot. Whether it is a severed head, or a severed arm, or if a head is being cut off I always try to give it that extra little something. It probably won’t be picked up because it will be covered in more blood! (Laughs)
M.A. But if will definitely will be there!
R.R. Do you find yourself watching movies differently now and analyzing the special effects? Has the job ruined you for movies?
M.A. I did that, I did that as a fucking kid! I’ve always known what it was and always wanted to do it and tried to copy how they did it. I’ve always been critical, but then again, some of the cheesiest, dumbest fucking effects I love. And depending on what kind of film it was and if they are taking themselves too seriously.
R.R. Is there one particular special effect in a movie that you would say is your favorite?
M.A. I’ll tell you some of my favorite monsters, because those are my favorite special effects.
R.R. Sure. Shoot.
M.A. I would say that Pumpkinhead is in there. Of course the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Wolfman, and the Predator. There probably won’t be any bigger Predator fan then me. I’ve got a pretty big hard-on for the Predator’s concept design. It’s awesome. There is just too many to say but I would probably put Pumpkinhead, the Predator, Alien, the Creature, all of those are in my top 10.
R.R. I like it. I was hoping you would say “Jeepers Creepers” because I’ve been trying to put together that costume for years.
M.A. Well I like it but I’m not so… Jeepers Creepers came out and I wasn’t impressed. Now, I’m not an elitist by far, I’m not totally old school or nothing, but I liked the first one and the second I thought was pretty cheesy. I do like the creature design though. I thought that was pretty unique.
R.R. I could never really tell if I like the costume design, the creature design, or if I just really like that fucking truck!
M.A. Well the marriage of the two was pretty fucking cool and it was exactly what it was called…creepy. The hat and the trench coat and all that, pretty fucking creepy! I did like the fact that they put wings on him and he had claws that came up. That was really fucking gnarly.
R.R. That still was a bad ass Chevy truck too!
M.A. Yeah. I think I met that cat that played the Creeper, I can’t remember his name at the moment but he is a real sweet guy. [Editor’s note- The Creeper was played by Jonathan Breck]
R.R. If someone wanted to get into special effects what advice would you give them?
M.A. (Laughs) You gotta fuckin’ love it is the only thing that I can really say! You got to fucking love it! You’ve got to love hard work. It’s one thing to sit there and watch it, but you have to do it. You can buy your way in but you won’t get any respect and I’ve seen that happen too. There are people who have busted their ass and have talent…you know what, that is a whole other question and we won’t get into it! (Laughs)
R.R. You can if you want to!
M.A. I can say that my answer for that is that you have to love it because it is not all fun and games. Not all the time. It is a lot of stress. A lot of full on stress. But I do it because I love it. Any artist knows that. It is your passion it is what drives you; it is what makes you who you are. Not because it is fucking cool because nowadays with all the shows and whatnot it is all about ratings and not talent. That’s just my personal opinion on that. (Laughs)
R.R. No I understand and I want brutal honesty, because I’m honest and if it sucks, then it sucks!
M.A. I’m the same way. So am I. All I can say is if there is a will, there is a way and it is all a matter of how bad do you want something.
R.R. Well the mic is all yours Matt. Is there anything else that you want to say about special effects or Sacrament?
M.A. Yeah, about Sacrament. I wasn’t in there doing it all by myself. I actually had some help from my friends like my buddy Burt (Bailey), and Hobbes (Lecompte), and my friend Elizabeth (Schieffer) came in one day and helped me out. There were a couple of other people that helped me out and that I couldn’t have done it without them. I had days that I had to have help and those guys were there for me. So it wasn’t all me doing that film. They all did me right.
Please follow this link for Matt Ash’s full IMDB list: