Half the reason I started this blog many years ago was to write about some of my favourite genre movies, this being one of them. Based on a series of 1930’s horror tales by renowned writer H.P. Lovecraft and brought to the screen by a collaboration between Stuart Gordon (Castle Freak) and Brian Yuzna (Society) … this remains a classic.
Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a brilliant if somewhat deranged medical student who sneers at the teachings of respected Doctor Hill (David Gale) whose theories on brain function he feels are out-dated. It’s not long however that we discover West has ideas of his own and embroils a naive fellow student (Bruce Abbott) to help him with his experiments – to bring the dead back to life via a glowing green formula he’s invented. Call it a modern take on Frankenstein and you’d be half way there in getting the intent of this crazy but very entertaining horror. It’s got several stand out performances, especially the brilliant Jeffrey Combs whose every line hints at manic craziness, and beautiful genre favourite Barbara Crampton (From Beyond) as a perfect scream queen. Yet the movie is stolen by the late David Gale as the psychotic and hypnotic Dr Carl Hill – surely one of the genres nuttiest villains.
Stuart Gordon fills the movie with a dark sense of humour, decent if low budget production values and even 30 years later, excellent practical effects that still pack a punch. The movie’s long history with the censors is easy to understand as it holds nothing back – it’s violent, gory as hell and rather sexual with that notorious ‘head giving head’ sequence. Yet it’s the movie’s spirit that has to be applauded and you get the impression this was a riot to make both on and off screen. Its fast, energetic, has a wonderfully-perverse atmosphere and never out stays its welcome … like all good horrors. The story is very silly in places and some bits just don’t make sense. Also characterisation is simplistic at best, especially with Herbert West who we learn very little about … but that’s over-analysing a movie that doesn’t want to be anything more than 90 minutes of pure gory fun.
The Blu-ray I picked up from second sight is very pleasing. Firstly the image is in great shape and very sharp and detailed – coming off a restored 4k transfer no less. Add to this efficient sound with a choice of the original stereo or remastered 5.1 DTS Master Audio – and it’s here where that Bernard Herman-inspired score works a treat. Extras are exhaustive and well worth dipping into with two commentaries, one from the director and producer, another from the cast and we also get photo galleries, extended scenes and a very good documentary called ‘re-animator ressurectus’. Also on offer are two cuts of the movie itself, the uncensored ‘unrated version’ and the slightly extended ‘integral version’. An impressive treatment then for one of horror’s freakiest but most memorable entries.
One horror I had heard good things about and wasn’t a supernatural fright fest (shudder) or a remake. This has a wealthy family gathering together in their secluded mansion(!) for some occasion; three brothers, a sister and various girlfriends and boyfriends. Now as shown in the opening scene, some masked killers like to break into houses and slaughter the inhabitants, leaving the eerie message ‘you’re next’ written in blood for the next intended victim to see. Not a bad set up and fairly familiar territory if you’ve seen movies like The Strangers.
A cast of unknowns (except for an ageing Barbara ‘Re-Animator’ Crampton and horror director Ti West) are the fodder for the intruders, who are seen wearing weird animal masks and slaying people in increasingly gory but not all that inventive ways (bar a fun wire trick). The acting is amateurish, and most of the characters fairly unlikable even if a gutsy heroic female quickly proves the most interesting (with good ‘Nancy out of A Nightmare On Elm Street’ DIY survival skills).
Director Adam Wingard (V/H/S) delivers some effective shocks and has put together a competent if unsurprising horror with lashings of gore, a touch of nudity and lots and lots of screaming. A little more personality thrown around would have been a bonus and sometimes characters acted with alarming stupidity (lets go and have a lie down whilst house is being attacked by psychopaths??) … but if you’re after a slasher that doesn’t hold back and with a couple of fun twists … this still does the job.
As a long time fan of the horror genre, it shouldn’t be argued that the 80s were the golden era. With the likes of The Thing, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Evil Dead 2 etc putting a big grin on my face, even though I must have been way too young. I look back on such a time with huge nostalgia. Thankfully in the advent of DVD, we now get to watch such treats in the best quality possible.
Stuart Gordon’s 1986 kind-of follow up to his fan-favourite Re-Animator has almost the same cast (with a returning Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton) and with Brian Yuzna involved again as producer. This time instead of a mad scientist who can bring the dead back to life, we have Combs as a mad-scientist’s assistant who becomes embroiled in an experiment to open a dimension that brings with it creatures ‘from beyond’. After a major disaster, a young female doctor (Crampton) befriends Combs and along with a tough black cop (genre regular Ken Foree), they decide to investigate what happened on that fateful night that seems to have left Combs half-crazy and accused of murder. Soon we’re seeing creatures from god-knows-where messing with the three protagonists, freaky hallucinations and lots of messy make-up effects. The device the mad-scientist created you see, is meant to stimulate the pineal gland, giving the persons involved a sixth sense and a killer head ache to boot. It also stimulates them sexually, making this one of the weirdest semi-erotic movies out there. This is further illustrated when formerly stiff-collard Crampton turns sado-masochistic vixen for one particular scene, and this reviewer’s misspent teenage yearnings came flooding back in a heart beat (ahem). The film’s only real failing is the simplicity of it’s story and a brief running time – and yes, it’s not sophisticated or intelligent – but it is FUN.
The DVD I picked up houses a hilarious commentary track from the cast and director (clearly the DVDs selling point, for me at least), and we also get lots of behind the scenes footage, story boards, a gallery and interviews. The film itself is in superb condition, boasting possibly the best picture it has ever had, with more than acceptable stereo sound also. Overall, a worthy addition to anyone’s DVD collection.
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