How to Replicate Al Williams death in The Fog 1980

I am currently working on a film which needs to stake the heart of a vampire (from back to front). We are discussing being able to see the stake come through the chest while also being able to see our actor's face and reaction. Our other choice is going a Lost Boys route and separating the shots of the dummy being impaled and then using a prosthetic. I can't find many examples of a practical effects stabbing while being able to see the actors reaction. Al Williams death in The Fog (1980) is a great example of what we would want, but I can't find any commentaries by Rob Bottin on how he accomplished this. watch Here is a link to the death which happens around 1:30. I can't tell if they used a simple "under the arm trick" with camera angle, if they used a magicians "impalement illusion" with a harness, or if they utilized a dummy body. If it is a dummy then they did a great job at hiding it. Our actor will be standing up straight like Al, so I am not sure how they would've hidden a dummy. 

If someone knows how they did this and how I could replicate with a stake, that would be awesome! Suggestions welcome. 


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    Based on the movement and some subtle visual cues, and this is a total guess, it looks to me like it might be a dummy body with the actor behind it laying semi-flat or at an angle, and looking upward with his head tilted back to try and line up with the dummy.  The neck looks like it might be a prosthetic to help attach to the body and hide the actor's real neck angle.  His hand (notice only one is used) could then come through from behind as well, so the arm your see from the elbow up would be part of the dummy. If they tried to have 2 arms moving the alignment and range of motion would feel unnatural.  Also, notice how the sword has a mostly upward angle.

    That said, I could be completely wrong, as the gag is executed so masterfully. I would LOVE to see some behind-the-scenes on this effect.  Such a great shot! 

    My first guess was a flexible sword that can wrap around the body in a bent tube (like some magicians use), but the blade looks too solid for that.

    You could try something similar with a dummy.  Depending on how long the steak is you might be able to get away with the actor just leaning forward a bit with a dummy chest hanging down and have the steak between him and the dummy chest.  You would need a rigid setup that is well anchored for this, so nothing moves when the steak comes through or the actor reacts.  It's all about getting the right body and camera position to make it look natural, and then a good performance to tie it together.  If the actor flails their arms around it can give the gag away and hint that they are locked in position and unable to move.   Having it be a short shot helps.   The shot in the fog also had the dropping flashlight to give a nice natural reaction that did not call for the actor to move much.  Shots like that also benefit greatly from lots of rehearsal.  Pre-production rehearsals with the effects crew, and then plenty of time with the actual actor.

    A common technique these days is to have the item (sword, steak, arrow) already protruding from the actor and then digitally paint it out and animate it in for the first part of the shot.  But it's way more fun to get it all in-camera.

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    Madelyn, A similar effect to what you are trying to create was done in the movie Aliens (1986) The Stan Winston School has a behind the scenes Blog "Aliens 30th Anniversary! Revisit Aliens Behind the scenes at Stan Winston Studio" At the end of this is a menu for more behind the scenes. Look at ALIENS - Alien Queen Attacks Bishop! This explains how the effect was created. The Alien Queens tail that impales bishop was a flexible rubber that was pulled out by a wire to look as if it had punctured Bishop's body. Blog shows each step with pictures and description. You can create your effect with a flexible steak and pull it out of your actor with monofilament line. Good luck with your film. 
    Regards, Sean Dalton   
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