Low Budget Horror Make-up Tips

Easy Fixes for Horror Film Make-up

There are many options for the fast, cheap application of special effects and character makeup. These are useful for low budget filming in a hurry but also form a reasonable basis for all good special effects.

Light and Shade: 

The key to basic theatrical character makeup, the principles of light and shade, can be used to significant effect for a film as well. A day’s theatrical makeup workshop is a good refresher in how to build a character with a few greasepaints. A subtle, blended or airbrush application of these techniques is suitable for filming and can help to avoid the use of large scale prosthetics

  • A three-dimensional look can be sculpted with just a dark and light cream or powder, using the skin as the mid-tone; everything from a six-pack to a square head can fake.

This is an ideal basis for any work but alone is excellent for sickness, disease, aging, zombies, weight loss or gain and death. It is also useful for creating scary features like heavy brow bones, alien noses, and deep-set eyes. 

Mark Making and Texture:

Experimenting with the application can turn cream makeup into something visually exciting. Almost everything will make a mark so that anything can use as an applicator for a textural or unique effect.

  • Stipple sponges, spatulas, and special brushes are relatively inexpensive to buy in professional makeup shops or art shops, but these give a range of looks and effects. Thread veins, blotches, scratches, scabs, and wrinkles are easy to create using these tools.
  • Powder greasepaint gently to take the shine off for camera but leave any bits which need to look shiny such as red cheeks or oozing flesh. Use extra powder to create a dry, papery, or aged look to the skin.


Special effects take time, so they are problematic for budget productions. No-budget collaborations offer an opportunity to indulge in complicated showpiece effects because nobody gets paid on these. Low-budget films, however, usually have a harder job because long days mean extra money spent on production.

Much of the early decision-making process will involve choosing an available script to film. However, in practice, ambitious effects are often called for, which require more time to do well than is available. Choosing correct materials can help to pull off the right makeup in these situations.

  • Aging is the worst-case scenario for low budget makeup departments, as it takes time to make realistic. Wrinkle stipple is inexpensive to buy, but the application can’t rush. Or the results will look disastrous. In an emergency, keep these techniques to small, key areas such as around the eyes. Preferably use a highlight and shade to create the look of jowls and sagging skin. The powder will make skin look drier, and a greying hairline looks more realistic than a cheap wig.
  • Stage style makeup works for screen horror monsters, including Zombies. Big budget films use more prosthetics for zombie work, but excellent effects can achieve with greasepaint. Yellows, greens, and browns can darken eye sockets and blend away lips or brows. Taking out color from the skin with even a basic pale foundation gives a sickly appearance.
  • Preparation is the key to quick effects when dealing with continuity. Scars, cuts, bullet wounds, or character features are cheap to make from latex, although making the molds takes pre-production time. These small prosthetics are also simple to fix to the skin, blend in and dress with makeup. Ideal for maintaining continuity these can be made in multiples so that the effect always looks the same.

Handy Materials:

  • Tuplast Skin Plastic creates small cuts, lumps, boils, lesions, scars, and blisters. It dries in minutes and can be applied directly to the skin, then shaped. The translucent look of the product is ideal for coloring lightly while leaving water or puss-filled finish in areas that have been left unpainted.
  • Wax is useful for quick, one-off cuts, lumps, bumps, and bullet wounds, plus is handy for sculpting effects such as severed fingers.
  • Specific latex formulas are suitable to apply directly to the skin, providing no latex allergy is present. For speed, these can be dried with a cool hair dryer then distressed to give the look of a burn or grazed skin.


Hellraiser: Clive barker, 1987.

  • Genuinely scary and revolting special effects from a low-budget production, which became a cult horror classic.

Night Watch: Timur Berkambetov, 2005.

The Audio Scientist: Peter Leontiades, 2007.

  • A short film that used special effects makeup to save post-production time. Actors’ faces were contoured before digital manipulation, giving a unique style to what looked like a purely animated work. This also facilitated the digital coloring process. This is an example of traditional makeup techniques enhancing digital products rather than being made redundant by it as some fear.

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