My biggest fears used to be pretty basic: sharks, heights, failure — the classics. Then I watched episode 2 of True Detective: Night Country. Now my worst nightmare is a highly specific scenario involving corpses, frostbite, and having my arm snapped clean off.
The scene inspiring this nightmare plays out at the very top of Night Country‘s second episode. Police Chief Liz Danvers (Jodie Foster) and the rest of the Ennis police force examine the frozen, naked bodies of the Tsalal Arctic Research Center scientists, clumped together in what Liz dubs a “corpsicle.” They’ve gone blind, their eardrums have been ruptured, and their faces are stuck in terrified expressions hinting at an unknown horror. This ordeal doesn’t stop at the corpsicle, though.
One of the scientists is still alive.
That’s right: Scientist Anders Lund (Þorsteinn Bachmann) is a non-corpse stuck in a corpsicle. He awakens when a clumsy officer breaks his arm off, unleashing a scream that rivals the most chilling of zombie groans. Imagine coming back to consciousness, numb from frostbite, blinded by your time out on the tundra, and trapped in ice, enmeshed with the dead bodies of your coworkers. Lund’s horror and pain are unfathomable. How would you even begin to bring this scenario to life for viewers?
The process began with the construction of the corpsicle itself. Both the prosthetics and ice sections were made by Igor Studios, an SFX makeup and prosthetic studio headed up by the married team of Dave and Lou Elsey. The ice elements of the corpsicle included holes where the corpse dummies could slide in and out. This included the Lund dummy, which came with detachable limbs.
“You could move it and the bones would break, and you could snap bits of it off and redress it afterwards,” Dave Elsey told Mashable in a joint video interview with Lou Elsey.
The corpsicle could also hold the actor playing Lund. Bachmann could slide in for the shots of him screaming upon waking. “That little hole where his body went was almost like a saddle that he could sit on,” Lou Elsey said. “He could put his legs through a hole in the bottom of it, which is what we did with the body as well.”
“When we first set the position for Lund, using posable dolls, that was one thing. But by the time you’re doing that with a human body, you realize you’ve got him on his knees, bending over backwards with his arms out and his head in a weird position,” said Dave Elsey. “But he was fantastic — he kind of pushed himself into an even worse position.”
The scene required special effects makeup for Bachmann, including ice effects, contact lenses, and rotting teeth and gum pieces. Then, he was covered in fake ice and snow to complete the illusion of the corpsicle. One thing he didn’t have to worry about was the cold, though. While Night Country shot the discovery of the corpsicle and scenes of its excavation in the Icelandic mountains, production moved inside for scenes involving Bachmann.
“We basically shot the corpsicle with and without Lund,” production designer Daniel Taylor told Mashable in a video interview. “We shot him in the corpsicle on a stage, because it was too cold to put him naked on the mountain. So, we shot elements of him waking up inside, where we could control the temperature.”
“He’s a nice guy, Þor, in real life. He’s sort of happy go lucky, so we were like, ‘Wow, I hope we can make him look scary.’ Right up until we got on set, we weren’t really sure about it,” Dave Elsey said. “But then we realized that having a brilliant actor in a good makeup is the whole effect. You can only bring so much, and then he will bring more of it to the table and take it even further than you ever imagined.”
True Detective airs Sunday nights on HBO/Max at 9 p.m ET/PT.