Re-Animator


Re-Animator

Barbara Crampton has no idea what's in store for her in Re-Animator.

(Empire) Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Gerry Black, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Peter Kent. Directed by Stuart Gordon

My wife’s favorite horror film of all time is The Hitcher which just goes to show that some people can have diametrically opposed tastes in horror movies and still co-exist. The Hitcher is one of two movies that I’ve walked out on in the middle of the movie in my entire life (for completists, D-Wars is the other). I thought it was creepy enough, but I simply couldn’t get behind the actions of the hero in the movie and finally gave up on it after the infamous truck stretching scene.

But what is my favorite horror movie of all time? Well, I have several that are contenders – The Exorcist, Bride of Frankenstein, Poltergeist, Alien, Them and probably a few others that rotate in and out of my top ten depending on my mood but generally speaking the movie I usually name as my all-time fave is this one.

After a scandal forces young Herbert West (Combs) to leave a prestigious university in Switzerland (under the tutelage of the brilliant Dr. Gruber) to slum over to second-rate Miskatonic University, he rents a room from Dan Cain (Abbott), a medical student studying neurosurgery under the arrogant Dr. Carl Hill (Gale). Cain is also dating the lovely Megan Halsey (Crampton), daughter of the straight-laced Dean of the Medical School (Sampson). Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet set-up, dude!

West, himself an arrogant little jerk, has been spending an awful lot of time in the basement of the house of Cain and Dan and Megan soon find out why. It turns out that West had been working on forbidden experiments with Dr. Gruber in Switzerland that involved re-animating dead tissue and the two had been successful using a bright green glowing liquid West refers to as Re-Agent.

The problem is that the re-animated dead become violent and unpredictable, basically mindless animals who lash out to inflict the pain that they themselves are feeling. There’s a whole lot of screaming involved with the process.

At first Dan is appalled but quickly sees the legitimate medical value of the stuff and begins to help West out with his experiments. In the meantime, Dr. Hill has also found out about the Re-Agent and wants the formula for himself so that he can take credit for the discovery. He has also developed an unhealthy obsession with the nubile young Megan.

As West tries to keep control of his discovery, he slips into a kind of obsessive madness that is equal parts mad scientist, nerd and obsessive-compulsive. He longs to have more bodies to test out his serum on and after not too long he’s up to his elbows in them.

This was one of the most influential horror movies of its time on a lot of different levels. Made for horror producer Charles Band’s first studio Empire (which would later be replaced by the notorious Full Moon Studios which was essentially direct-to-video), it was one of the more critically acclaimed horror movies for its time (and remember the 80s were one of the most fertile periods for the genre, with the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises going strong) and remains a cult favorite for many.

Part of the reason it works so well is that it is perfectly cast. Combs established a persona that he has spent a career spinning off of as the twitchy unlikable lead. Gale makes the perfect counterpoint, being loathsome, arrogant, smooth and lecherous all at once. Crampton, a veteran of soap operas, became a horror scream queen based on her work here – she was cute, sure but she had more personality than most of the other cute scream queens of her time. Of course, her notorious scene with Dr. Hill was unsettling, funny and sexy all at once…I know it had a number of people squirming in their seats at the time.

The effects don’t always hold up 25 years later but for their time they were pretty innovative and quite a few of them still pack a wallop even today. The script by Dennis Paoli is imaginatively written and even if it didn’t have a whole lot to do with the source material, a short story by horror icon H.P. Lovecraft, it still was an outstanding piece of work.

Dead is dead but not in the horror movies, and director Stuart Gordon knows when to go over-the-top and when to be subtle. This is one of those serendipitous movies in which everything came together perfectly and all the planets aligned correctly to make a movie that surprised a whole lot of people with how good it was. It established the careers of Gordon, Crampton, Combs and producer Brian Yuzna and raised the bar on horror movies, a bar that remains even today. If you love horror movies and haven’t seen it, you need to stop what you’re doing and go rent this. It’s fairly widely available and the Anchor Bay DVD edition is loaded with special features. It’s got something for everybody and even those who aren’t fond of horror movies will appreciate the quality of this one.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the best horror movies ever made; it has everything from black humor to extreme gore to titillating sexuality. Combs made his career with his twitchy performance here and Crampton made a great scream queen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might be too over-the-top for some.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of gore and ghoulishness, with plenty of nudity and sex. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore; not for kids in the least.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The special effects department went through 25 gallons of fake blood during the shoot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A recent re-release of the movie on Anchor Bay includes a 12-part documentary feature on the making of the movie as well as the controversy surrounding it, and a PDF version of the original H.P. Lovecraft short story for those equipped with DVD-ROM on their computers.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Stuck


Mena Suvari in Stuck

Mena Suvari suddenly realizes the best part of her career may be behind her.

(THINKfilm) Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea, Russell Hornsby, Rukiya Bernard, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Lionel Mark Smith, Wayne Robson. Directed by Stuart Gordon

We love the catharsis of a good horror movie because it allows us to exorcise our inner demons safely. The reason we have inner demons, however, is because real life can be far more horrific than any movie.

Brandi Boski (Suvari) is a sweet-natured nursing assistant at a care facility for the elderly. She is so compassionate that the sometimes hostile residents, particularly the increasingly demented Mr. Binckley (Robson) want her to tend to them exclusively. That hasn’t escaped the notice of the shrewish facility director Ms. Peterson (Purdy-Gordon), who tells Brandi she is up for a promotion.

On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas Bardo (Rea), a man who is hitting bottom. Laid off from his job as a project manager, he has been unable to find work and is being evicted from his apartment. He is trying to get unemployment benefits at a faceless agency but his application has been lost. Rather than trying to help, the faceless drones force the penniless Bardo to pay for their mistake by filling out the forms all over again and waiting for yet another appointment. With the kind of long-suffering sigh that actor Rea is a master at, he walks off to the local park to find a bench to sleep on, although even that is denied him by a pitiless cop who orders him to hoof it to the mission across town – on incongruously named Hope Street.

Meanwhile, Brandi has been partying with a Tanya (Bernard), a sympathetic co-worker who has been the target of Ms. Peterson’s wrath and her drug-dealing boyfriend Rashid (Hornsby) who has been plying both women with alcohol and X. Even though she’s reeeeeally intoxicated, Brandi elects to drive home – after all, she has to work the next day.

As Bardo trudges towards Hope Street pushing a shopping cart left by a sympathetic homeless man named Sam (Smith) that carries his few belongings, Brandi is on her cell phone calling her boyfriend…you know, the one she just left at the bar. You know the two are going to meet and when they do, it will be with a bang. The distracted, inebriated Brandi hits Bardo head on and he plunges through the windshield.

As you might guess from a white girl wearing cornrows, she panics and after getting spooked trying to drop off her unwanted passenger – who is still alive, miraculously – at the hospital, drives home and parks her bloody car in the garage. When her boyfriend arrives, she chooses not to tell him more than that she’d been in an accident and spends the night having sex with him over a loud rap soundtrack.

As the next day arrives Brandi thinks that by letting Bardo expire naturally, she can then convince her boyfriend to get rid of the body after dark but since Bardo stubbornly refuses to die, she must consider other options, some far more dark than the one she’s already chosen.

This is based on an actual incident, in which a Texas woman named Chante Jawan Mallard struck a homeless man with her car and drove him to her garage and left him to die, although coroners would later say that he could have been saved had she just called for help. Her victim actually died within an hour or two of the impact, while Bardo survives for a great deal longer despite horrific injuries.

Director Gordon is responsible for some excellent cult movies dating back to the 1980s. Stylistically, he is known for a very dark sense of humor – think of the term “black comedy” and multiply it times a thousand here. For example, while Bardo suffers in agony in the garage, a local dog finds its way in and decides to chow down on a bone – one of Bardo’s, sticking out from his leg. It’s the kind of thing you laugh at then wince at then wonder how sick you are to have found it funny.

Suvari, who has come a long way from the American Pie movies, does a reasonable job in Stuck. She plays a character that has a veneer of compassion but it deserts her when her comfort is threatened. She’s not evil per se, but self-centered to the point of psychosis. I thought the movie would have worked a little bit better if Brandi had been a little more likable, but perhaps it might not have been possible to paint the character that way without making her actions completely unbelievable so I guess it will have to do. As it stands other than Bardo and Sam, nearly everyone in the movie is completely self-absorbed.

Rea, so good in movies like The Crying Game and V for Vendetta has the hangdog look that befits the character. Given the fact that he spends most of the movie impaled on the windscreen with little to do but moan and rage at the heavens, he makes this movie work. While he isn’t like a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, he does take a licking and keep on ticking leading to a conclusion that is extraordinarily bloody but nonetheless satisfying.

This is not a laugh out loud funny joke-fest but it could be classified as a comedy. It doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat but it could be counted as a thriller. There are no major scares but it certainly might be found in the horror section of your home video emporium. The fact is, it fulfills the criteria for each genre quite nicely and manages to be quite a good little movie that escaped under the radar. It is certainly worth a rental.

WHY RENT THIS: Gordon is a splendid director who knows a thing or two about ratcheting up the tension level. A not so thinly veiled commentary on the state of the American people – self-absorbed to the point of psychosis.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Suvari’s character is so loathsome that it is difficult for the audience to get behind her, which might have elevated the film a bit had we been able to.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence, some fairly horrific, much nudity and sex and some drug usage. As you can see, not terribly appropriate for the kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Gordon appears in a cameo as a resident carrying a bag of groceries who gets yelled at by Rashid’s girlfriend.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: On the Blu-Ray edition, there’s a feature that touches somewhat in-depth on the incident that inspired the movie. Note that on the DVD edition, there are no extras whatsoever, not even a commentary track.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Final Day of Six Days of Darkness