Props based on movies and video games have taken off as a hobby as the cosplay community has grown, but it's important to remember that prop-makers existed in Hollywood long before Volpin and Punished Props got their starts. Here I hope to celebrate the hard work and ingenuity of prop-makers in TV and movies.
This may or may not be a biweekly column (by which I mean twice a month, not twice a week).
One of the more fun tricks a film can pull off is removing a character's limb. Mostly this is achieved by putting a green sock over the limb and editing it in post, but some characters are way too badass for a wimpy sock. In these cases, it's necessary to come up with a way for the limb to still be useful in the setting, without looking out of place. In Luke Skywalker's case, they just gave him back his hand, because technology, but for more modern or historic settings, some improvisation is necessary. Here's two solutions for heroes chopping their own hands off from series with reanimated dead people in them.
Merle Dixon's Lil Merle
Merle's reasons for cutting his hand off with a hacksaw may be less badass and more idiotic than most examples, but when he shows up with a bayonet attached to his stump, the scale tips all the way back to badass. Let's look at its construction.
Jaremy Aiello of KNB EFX Group sculpted the base cylinder to fit Michael Rooker's fist. This gives the prop the illusion of fitting over a stump without any camera trickery, and appears plausible because it looks homemade, and any discrepancies in length can be chalked up to "Merle was high when he made it". The sculpt was then cast in fiberglass resin, and sent to freelance prop maker Bruce Mitchell. Bruce then added the leather straps and metal pieces based on the design sketches from KNB. The bayonet itself is still removable, so that a rubber version can be attached for stunts and motion tracking. The rubber bayonet is simply cast from a mold made of the original, so that it is outwardly identical.
Ash Williams' "Hand" Chainsaw
After a deadite possesses Ash's right hand, he uses a Homelite chainsaw found in the cabin to slice it off. He eventually modifies it to replace his hand with the help of newcomer Annie, and uses it to try and vanquish the Evil.
You might be surprised to find out that, unlike most props, the Homelite XL chainsaw was still perfectly capable of functioning. It did have several dummy copies made for stunt work, but the original prop was still fully capable of slicing up trees. To fit Bruce Campbell's incredibly manly hand inside, the XL was taken apart and refitted with a smaller motor, which also helped reduce set noise. Many components like the handle were replaced with "redneck" versions, and a cuff made from an old duct was outfitted. The only safety feature of this saw was the chain, which had all the teeth filed down. (If you've ever used a chainsaw before, you'll know that a chainsaw with no teeth is still really freaking dangerous, so I think this is another point in Bruce Campbell's badassery column.) The man in charge of all these modifications, as well as casting rubber copies of the final assembly, was Ellis 'Sonny' Burman, from Cosmekinetics in Northridge, California.
Here, you can see just how different the final chainsaw is from the original XL model. In addition to the rednecked handle, the hand shield has disappeared and the side handle is now only attached by the base. Extra screws keep the case from literally falling apart, and of course the thing is covered in grime and some expert weathering details. The original Evil Dead II chainsaws have all but disappeared, and only a few pictures remain from either film as a testament to these awesome props.
So, if you're a stone cold badass in need of a new hand, you have a variety of bladed weapons at your disposal. Choose wisely.