For this Niagara Falls resident, gore, horror is all in a day’s work
Special effects artist’s gruesome work seen in new thriller ‘Becky’
Karlee Morse’s job isn’t done until you feel a little sick.
Whether it’s a gouged eyeball, a ruler through the neck or death by lawn mower, the former Niagara Falls resident keeps the gore coming in the new thriller “Becky.” As the film’s special makeup effects artist, she’s responsible for several of the movie’s most extreme shocks.
Which is surprising, even for her. She was hardly a horror fanatic growing up.
“A lot of my friends who do this are big horror movie buffs,” she says. “I don’t dislike horror movies, but it’s not my favourite genre. I think romantic comedies might be my favourite!”
“Becky,” currently available on video-on-demand and screening at select drive-ins, is a gruesome flick about a teenage girl (Lulu Wilson) who must defend her home against a group of escaped convicts led by a white supremacist (Kevin James) searching for a mysterious key hidden inside a tin box.
Morse has been singled out in reviews for her garish gore effects, especially an eyeball scene that even had the crew cringing.
“The directors (Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion) wanted these to be super realistic and wanted them to make people feel sick,” she says. “When people feel bad looking at it, that means I’ve done it properly. On ‘Becky’ in particular, they wanted a lot of insert shots — hyper close-ups of the different gore effects — and there’s one in particular that when I brought it to set, everyone was just cringing.
“They couldn’t look at it and everyone was just gathered around the monitor kind of gagging. It was really exciting!”
Morse, 31, originally had her sights set on video game design, taking visual arts at Brock University. But she soon realized “I hated sitting in front of a computer all day, which is what video game design is.”
But she still loved creating in a studio, so she took a postgrad course on special effects makeup at Sheridan College.
“I applied not really knowing what that entailed. I just thought, ‘This sounds like studio work so I’ll do this.’
“As soon as I started, it just clicked. It was that ‘a-ha’ moment.”
In Morse’s new line of work, makeup artists like Tom Savini (“Friday the 13th,” “Dawn of the Dead”) and Rob Bottin (“The Thing,” “Total Recall”) are horror legends. She “backtracked” and gorged on their work, realizing that the techniques they used 30 or 40 years ago still work today.
If anything, old-school makeup effects stand out more in the era of CGI.
“Rick Baker (known for ‘Planet of the Apes’) and those other artists, I’m still learning from them,” she says. “A lot of directors prefer to work with practical effects because nothing works the same way. You can really see something that’s CGI … oh, I hate CGI blood when I see that in movies.
“All the blood gags are the same ones that were being used 40 years ago.”
“Becky,” which Morse describes as “‘Home Alone’ meets ‘Kill Bill,’ ” isn’t just getting buzz for its gore; it also features a scary performance from funnyman James. The “King of Queens” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” star was charming when he wasn’t being a killer onscreen.
“He would be really sweet, really funny with us and then he would immediately go on set and be terrifying,” says Morse.
The break in film projects brought on by COVID-19 was actually a relief for Morse, who was starting to feel burnout from the long hours on her last project.
She returned to work this week and on Thursday got news of her first Daytime Emmy nomination for her work on the children’s show “Dino Dana.”
“Because we love what we do so much, we pull these crazy hours,” she says. “Last year I was on a show and we would pull 18-hour days. It was absolutely insane and bad for our health. Mentally, it was awful.
“This time off has been a time to re-evaluate that. When I go back into everything — and I’m real excited to — I’m going to pace myself a bit more. Take care of myself more.”
Special effects makeup artist Karlee Morse on the set of “Becky” with one of her gory creations.