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Special Effects Delivers Gore Galore in New Netflix Show ‘Hemlock Grove’

FX may leave squeamish fans howling

How do we make it more disgusting?”

This was the question constantly being fielded by the f/x artists tasked with turning man into beast for Netflix’s new horror thriller “Hemlock Grove,” which bows April 19.

(From the pages of the April 16 issue of Variety.)

The result pushes the boundaries of a transformation that has been a fixture of werewolf-themed movies and TV series going back decades. All the better to help Netflix scare up new subscribers with its first effort on the original-series front since House of Cards in February.

(SHAPE SHIFTER The design for a werewolf that bursts out of the character’s flesh originated with makeup artist Howard Berger.)

Produced by gore guru Eli Roth and Gaumont Intl. TV, “Grove” centers on a werewolf suspected of the brutal murder of a teen girl. The series’ pivotal transformation depicts the protagonist having his flesh being torn apart by a wolf who emerges from inside his bloodied body as he cries out in pain. Viewers got to see the grisly scene prior to premiere in a teaser clip Netflix posted to YouTube to draw buzz for the series.

It’s an ultra-graphic twist on the usual man-to-wolf metamorphosis that makes many previous dramatizations lean a little too liberally on quick cuts, smoke and magically appearing hair and fangs. Indeed, the genre has moved quite a distance from its origins in the 1930s and 1940s, when actors were adorned with yak hair.

“It has certainly changed over the years,” said Howard Berger, an Oscar-winning special-effects makeup artist (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) with KNB EFX Group who led the werewolf design efforts on “Grove.”

The grotesque imagery on display in “Grove” even got the attention of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

“It’s completely different for many people in this audience; you’ll be grossed out,” he warned investors at a February conference of the werewolf transformation depicted in the series. “What Eli Roth does in reinterpreting that, in making it more incredible and grosser than ever before, is stunning. We’ll push boundaries on content.”

Pushing boundaries is key for Netflix, which needs to make noise in a crowded horror marketplace serving rabid fans with heavy gore expectations.

Berger’s work was enhanced by the vfx team at Zoic Studios, where repeated viewings of footage led to new inspiration. “You get ideas while you’re watching,” Colin Feist, Zoic’s lead compositor, said. “Like, wouldn’t it be rad if there was a giant stream of blood coming out of that chin skin?”

The werewolf transformation came with its share of technical challenges, however. Fur — wet fur, especially — can be a vfx artist’s worst nightmare because of the detail needed to create a realistic look. The team turned to folders of afterbirth images of cows and other animals for reference, poring over photos to understand how light hits the slick hair.

“Add blood on top of the fur and the challenge becomes even more ridiculous,” Feist said.

That comes with the territory when you have the kind of lofty ambitions of someone like Roth, who told audiences at a “Hemlock Grove” panel at MipTV earlier this month that he wanted a “howling, visceral transformation” that would, in short, “f–k up an entire generation.”

SCARE TACTICS
Meet the Fang Gang: Hollywood has provided many a memorable werewolf going back to the 1930s, when the first monsters sported yak hair:

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