“I live in the moment.”
Pittsburgh-based filmmaker and special effects master Tom Savini starts every morning the same way. His wife, Jodii Christianson, makes him a smoothie and then he heads to another room to exercise while he watches old game shows on TV.
“Every day’s a different body part,” Savini says. His health and his appearance are important to him. He even has an annual tradition to make sure he stays in top form.
“Have you seen my 72nd birthday picture on Instagram?” he asks. “It’s kind of a tradition. It’s motivation, actually. Really keeps me going.”
I hadn’t. He whips out his phone and pulls it up on the screen. A tattooed, shirtless Tom Savini holding a birthday cake with the number “72” written in icing in between multi-colored balloons. He looks good, and not just for 72, but for any age.
“I take a picture without my shirt on,” he says. “And I’ve done it since 1960.”
He needs to stay in shape because he’s still working. According to the Internet Movie Database, he’s got four film roles in the near future. Savini still keeps himself busy teaching makeup effects at the Douglas Education Center, working on two books and appearing at pop culture and film conventions. He still lives in Pittsburgh along with his wife, cats and an impressive, expansive collection of film memorabilia.
Savini is best known as a director, actor, special effects artist and for working with famed director George Romero in a career that has spanned 44 years. Savini started working with Romero on 1978 film, Martin, as both an actor and effects artist. He would do nine films with Romero and in 1990, he directed a remake of Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. His career took off from there. He did makeup and effects for many films including Friday the 13th, Monkey Shines and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. And while he’s done a ton of work behind the camera, he’s done even more in front of it. He has 66 acting credits including From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete (and its sequels), Planet Terror and Creepshow. He got his start in film on Bob Clark’s 1974 cult horror film, Death Dream.
When he isn’t traveling for work, he’s hanging out at home with his wife Jodii Christianson, surrounded by loads of toys, masks, statues, posters and more. Christianson, 38, liked Savini’s home since her first visit. She was living in Australia when they first met on Facebook about a decade ago. She reached out to him to pick his brain about special-effects makeup, because she wanted to help a filmmaker friend of hers. Soon, they began talking about so much more. In 2010, she came to America to visit him.
“It really is like a haunted mansion… I wasn’t creeped out. I was actually really comfortable here,” she says, laughing. Now, she lives with him in the eclectic house.
Movie posters adorn the walls of the home and statues of movie characters ranging from Frankenstein’s Monster to Mini-Me from Austin Powers stand on the floor. His shelves are jammed with dozens of VHS tapes, DVDs and Blu-Rays. In his backyard stands a giant statue of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
He has a room set up with a modest projector. He also has a container of 3-D glasses because, he says, it’s the best way to watch Star Wars.
Savini doesn’t just stick to classic films, though. He saw the new Bohemian Rhapsody film with his wife and loved it. The horror aficionado didn’t see the new Halloween and says he didn’t even enjoy the original.
He admits, however, that he may be too judgmental of the film. The filmmaker tuned out in the first scene when Michael Myers stabs his older sister to death. The first-person scene is shot from Michael’s perspective and Savini says it’s angled in such a way to make it look like someone much taller than a little boy is doing the deed.
“What?! You’re going to convince me that kid is the killer when I just saw his point of view is up here?” Savini said. “That’s a huge mistake, so I tuned out of the movie.”
Savini is not a complete film curmudgeon. He has enjoyed some recent horror films like The Witch, a 2015 film directed by Robert Eggers. And though he hasn’t watched it yet, he’s looking forward to popping in his copy of the horror movie, Hereditary, a critical favorite released this past summer.
Savini has many fans who appreciate his perspective on film and horror. Before speaking with the Current, he had just got back from a horror movie festival in Manchester. Throughout October, he’d been going to horror conventions every weekend, including in North Carolina and New York.
“October’s the busiest month of the year, usually, for me,” Savini said.
Many of Savini’s fans have been greatly inspired by his accomplishments over the years. Savini has been reflecting on such successes as he works on two books, one a picture-heavy autobiographical coffee table book to be called “Savini,” and the other is a collection of storyboards for his Night of The Living Dead film.
Savini also gives back by teaching his craft at the Douglas Education Center’s “Tom Savini’s Special Makeup Effects Program.” Recently, he directed some episodes of Flicker, a horror web-series developed by the students at the private, for-profit school, which has been picked up by the horror website Bloody Disgusting.
He’s enormously proud of the school, which has trained alumni who have worked on films like Avengers, The Conjuring and Lincoln as well as television series like American Horror Story, Stranger Things and The Walking Dead.
“When [the Douglas president] first approached me about the school, and I went to visit Monessen, it was like a ghost town,” Savini says. “Tumbleweeds, ya know? The movie theater had burned down but it was still there, the marquee and the cinders.”
Now, some of his favorite restaurants are in Monessen, he says.
“There’s a lot going on, even though it’s a tiny little town,” Savini says.
One Douglas graduate, Jason Baker, 36, now serves as Savini’s assistant. He helps with whatever needs done, from filmmaking tasks to building shelves. Their relationship extends far beyond a working one.
“I would say this even if [Savini] wasn’t sitting right next to me. He is a father-figure to me,” Baker said. “[Savini] has been more of a father figure to me than my real dad. I absolutely love this man.”
Savini chimes in with some fake weeping noises during Baker’s testimonial.
“I have fought with him. I have argued with him,” Baker said. “But then 10 seconds later, I’m ready to do anything.”
Baker directed the 2016 documentary about Savini called, Smoke and Mirrors, and was careful to focus on portraying Savini’s personal life.
“If you want to know about [Savini’s] career, just throw in a DVD extra. If you wanna know about the man, come and watch this film. That was the mindset,” Baker said. “It wasn’t so much let’s talk about how awesome [Savini is] or how he went and threw 50 gallons of fake blood all over the Monroeville Mall. I wanna know about the guy who went and threw fake blood all over the Monroeville Mall as a single parent. That’s the story that interested me.”
Savini gets tattoos with the names of his children and grandchildren.
“He’s a sweetheart,” Christianson says. “He’s got a heart of gold. He’s a family man. He loves his family… he’s very close with his family which is lovely.”
Still, Savini has a deep love for filmmaking. Undeniably, this love is a large part of his identity.
“It’s great fun. That’s when you feel the most alive. You feel that’s what your purpose is, and you’re fulfilling it in those moments,” Savini says. “I live in the moment.”