Thomas Vincent Savini (born November 3, 1946) is an American actor, stunt man, director and award-winning special effects and makeup artist. He is best known for his work on horror films such as the Living Dead series, Friday the 13th, and Creepshow, and for directing the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. Although he is officially retired from special effects, he has continued to direct, produce and star in several movies. He is a frequent and willing star and icon of typical "bad movies" and has built-up a cult fanbase based on this turn in his career, appearing in parody films such as From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse. He plays Jenkins in Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
Savini was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended Carnegie-Mellon University and was raised in the Catholic religion. Savini served in Vietnam as a combat photographer. A popular misconception holds that Savini's wartime experiences spurred his move into makeup effects, but this is untrue; he was actually inspired during his childhood by the James Cagney film Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), the cinematic biography of Lon Chaney, Sr. Savini continued to practice makeup in Vietnam, often frightening the Vietnamese natives by appearing to suddenly transform into a "monster".
In 1970 while Savini was on guard duty, a flare was triggered in the jungle area he was watching. Against military protocol, Savini fired into the bush without informing his superiors. Other soldiers likewise started firing until a duck wandered from the bush completely unharmed. Due to his failure to follow orders, Savini was taken off guard duty from his bunker the following evening. The bunker was attacked that very night and several soldiers were killed. Savini earned the nickname "Duck Slayer" and to this day will not eat duck.
Savini is primarily known for his groundbreaking work in the field of special makeup effects. He got his breakthrough working with Pittsburgh filmmaker George A. Romero, providing a typical if rudimentary wrist slashing effect in the opening scenes of Martin (1977). The following year, working with an expanded budget on Dawn of the Dead, Savini created his signature palate of severed limbs and bite-marks. Some say the gore effects in Dawn have been widely imitated but never bettered for sheer visceral impact, with the exception of Savini's own work in Day of the Dead (1985).
Savini is the only actor to reprise a role in Romero's Living Dead series, credited as the biker "Blades" in Dawn of the Dead and as "Machete Zombie" (Zombie "Blades") in its second sequel Land of the Dead. Savini has noted that most of the characters he has played are bikers. Savini did have a much more prominent role as biker/Renaissance fair participant Morgan in George Romero's Knightriders (1981), and had a small role as a biker in The Boy Who Loved Trolls in (1984). In 1985, he had a small part in Twisted Sister's video for their song "Be Chrool to Your Scuel". He also played the whip-wielding, vampire-fighting biker 'Sex Machine' in the 1996 Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez film From Dusk Till Dawn. (This character was a riff on the "Blades" character Savini created for Dawn of the Dead replete with the same costume.)
As a director, Savini helmed episodes of the syndicated television series Tales from the Darkside, the aforementioned 1990 color remake of Night of the Living Dead and, House Call, the pilot of the proposed series The Chill Factor.
In 2006, Savini played the role of Prester John, the mythical villain in the dreamlike Sea of Dust. 2006 also saw the release of Johannes Roberts' Demonic (a.k.a. Forest of the Damned), in which Savini played a mad hermit surrounded by angels cast from heaven. In 2007, Savini took on a role in Planet Terror, one of two stories in the film Grind House. He plays Deputy Tolo, who tries to save his town from an infestation of zombies. Savini plays a vampire in the movie Lost Boys: The Tribe.
He also voiced himself on the Worst Episode Ever episode of The Simpsons. He was making an appearance at Android's Dungeon where he performed his "Gutbuster" gag in which he covered the crowd in "blood and guts" and humiliated the Comic Book Guy.
Savini runs the Special Effects Make-Up and Digital Film Programs at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania and is the author of several books on special effects including Grande Illusions I and II (1983, 1994) and Bizarro! (1984), detailing the production and mechanical workings of many of his famous film effects. He is also associated with other books in the horror genre including Book of the Dead for which he wrote the foreword. Savini is an associate of Dick Smith, who teaches an advanced professional make-up seminar into the last semester of the program. Prior to 2006, Savini hosted TerrorMania, a haunted house-type attraction every Halloween. First located in Monessen, TerrorMania was relocated to the Century III Mall in 2005.
- Grande Illusions: A Learn-By-Example Guide to the Art and Technique of Special Make-Up Effects from the Films of Tom Savini ISBN 0911137009
- Grande Illusions II ISBN 0911137076
- Bizarro! ISBN 0517553198