May 04, 1981 12:00 PM

As a fat, lonely kid, Rob Bottin also gorged on a steady diet of monster movies. At home, he’d artfully paste cut-up bread on his face to re-create himself as the creatures he saw on screen. His schoolmasters may have scoffed, but now, at a still boyish 22, Rob has the last scream. In the season’s hottest horror hit, The Howling, Bottin’s special effects and makeup artistry transform a 5’4″ actor into a drooling, snout-nosed, nine-foot werewolf—all without unconvincing time-lapse camera tricks. “I love bad guys and bad girls and see the showmanship in them,” gloats Bottin. “In the movie the werewolf says ‘Look at me,’ because his skin is crawling and he’s crazy. He wants you to notice him.”

Moviegoers find it hard not to. So far The Howling has earned $10.8 million, surprisingly favorable reviews and lucrative offers for its young technical wizard. Unlike most of his secretive colleagues, Bottin revels in describing his trade’s tricks. For example, the actor’s werewolf masks alter shape on camera through air bladders of urethane rubber concealed under makeup. They expand like balloons when pumped with air. Cables manipulate the growing claws. And teeth become greedy fangs when the actor presses his tongue against a release device concealed in his mouth.

Long-haired, full-bearded and carrying 240 pounds on his 6’6″ frame, Bottin bears a certain lupine resemblance to his creations, but his appearance has paid off—even beyond winning the part of the monster mouse in Roger Corman’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. “I like long hair,” grins Tamara Fites, 20, Rob’s girlfriend of two years. “He was real mysterious.” No doubt. When they met in 1979—on Halloween—Rob was wearing an eerie fish suit on the set of Humanoids from the Deep.

“She’s great, my one and only,” says Rob of Tammy, a freshman art student at the College of the Redwoods in Northern California who shares his fascination with the far-out. “I really like his work a lot,” says Tammy, “but sometimes he’ll call me in the middle of the night from L.A. to see if an idea is scary enough. Then he’ll get to work on his idea, and I’ll be too scared to go back to sleep.”

Because of his work a holism—and talent—Bottin is, incredibly, already an eight-year Hollywood veteran. The youngest of five children, Rob grew up in a grimy industrial neighborhood in the L.A. suburb of El Monte. One brother died in childhood, another of a heart attack at 48. His fixation with monsters was an escape from a world he found “too real, too normal,” recalls Rob. “For some kids it’s cars or horses. For me, it was monsters.” His father, a crate maker for a storage firm specializing in movie props, inadvertently fueled Rob’s passion at 7 by showing him the crate where a Frankenstein dummy was stored. Rob wanted to know how the dummy came to life in the movies. His father could offer only the unsatisfying stock explanation, “trick photography.” A frustrated Rob started spending his lunch money on monster magazines, which revealed the magic was really the work of special effects masters like Dick (The Exorcist, Altered States) Smith and his protégé Rick (Star Wars) Baker.

At 14, Rob’s sketch of Lon Chaney Sr. (he shares an April 1 birthday with “the Man of 1,000 Faces”) led to an audience with his hero, Baker. “I was jelly,” Rob recalls. Or at least until the sight of Baker’s home lab bucked him up. “There were 10,000 monsters in there,” he marvels. Baker, then newly married, dubbed Bottin his “first son” and became his mentor. “Rob had this bad self-image,” explains Baker. “We helped convince him he could do it.” Rob soon was spending more time helping the master with projects like the King Kong remake than at Arroyo High School. No matter. His obvious talent won him “most likely to succeed” honors over the eggheads at his 1976 graduation, and Rob’s art teacher left the faculty to become his full-time business manager.

Bottin to date has assisted Baker on Star Wars and The Fury and on Roger Corman cheapies like Piranha. But when a scheduling commitment (for another werewolf movie) prevented Baker from supervising special effects on The Howling, Rob got the job. “He kept adding new things,” raves director Joe Dante. “Finally we had to say, ‘Rob, this movie is done.’ ”

Today Bottin is working literally tooth and nail on John Carpenter’s upcoming remake of The Thing. He has acquired a top agent and, though he still lives in El Monte, is hunting two houses “near the action” in North Hollywood—one for himself, the other for his elderly parents. “I feel my career is a carnival, exactly like running away and joining the circus,” says Rob, who assumes he will wind up a director. “I think,” he boasts, “I can do weird stuff like no one else.”

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