Monday, October 8th
"Bride of Re-Animator"
One of my favorite 80's era horror films was Stuart Gordon's adaptation of HP Lovecraft's "Herbert West: Re-Animator". This was one of the first appearances of Zombies in modern horror, showing Lovecraft to be way ahead of his time. The short story takes place at Lovecraft's fictional Misktonic University, an evil place from the mind who also brought us the demon king Cthulhu. The short story involves medical students who discover they can Re-Animate the dead, even severed limbs, with a serum they create. This was some extremely dark material for being released in 1922.
Gordon adapted the story for modern times in 1985 as "Re-Animator" (Streaming on Shudder), featuring Jeffery Combs as Dr Herbert West, injecting the tale with a wonderful amount of dark humor. Combs's performance was one of my favorites of the entire era, keeping the film light despite its excessive gore. The '85 installment also featured a standout performance from Barbara Crampton as Meg, a character with as much depth and importance as her male counterparts in the film.
Herbert West is a brilliant student turned Mad Scientist in a way reminiscent of Victor/Henry Frankenstein. His obsession with the ReAnimation of the dead is all consuming, and also inspires the mind of his medical partner Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot). Cain has much to risk as he's in love with the Dean's daughter Meg (Crampton), but he can't help with joining in on West's obsession with creation. The duo spend the film trying to find fresh tissue to perform their experiments on, finding the older cadavers they take on to have lost much of their humanity from the decomposition of tissue.
Crampton's performance as the moral center of the film is what really elevated it above just another experiment in gore effects from the 80's. While I absolutely love Combs's performance as the mad scientist, it's the depth that Crampton brought to her role, and the chemistry that she had with Abbot that makes the first film such a classic. In the sequel "Bride of Re-Animator", Brian Yuzna, the producer of the original, replaced Stuart Gordon as director. He kept HP Lovecraft's name above the title, and created an entirely new story for the sequel.
After the massacre at the college, Herbert and Dan have escaped to a country torn apart by civil war in order to continue their experiments on the dead with fresh corpses. It's a bit of a ridiculous opening, including the pair opening fire on soldiers like they're channeling a Rambo sequel. After an opening battle, and title card to establish the passage of time, they decide that their work as battlefield medics has come to a close. It's time to go back to the states, and the beautiful female assistant that is with them just must come with.
The biggest problem with the film isn't the slightly ridiculous plot line that has them hiding out in the middle of a war, and then being able to return to area where the first one took place just because they feel like enough time has passed. The problem is that Yuzna failed to realize how important it was to cast an actress who would give a performance to the level Crampton did in the first one. Along with being one of the most beautiful horror actresses of the 80's, Crampton had some serious acting chops. She still does, appearing in films like "Dead Night" and "Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich" just this year. Instead, Yuzna just cared about the eye candy, casting an actress whose biggest credit was "Hardbodies 2" as the female lead in the film. Besides looking good, she brought absolutely nothing to the role.
Without a strong female anchor, the sequel relied on the stop animation gore, and the performances of Combs, and David Gale who reprises his role as the Re-Animated Dean in the film. I'm happy to say that this was enough to make this a 3 and a half star out of 5 film, but not the 4 and a half I'd give to the original. That one is timeless, never getting old no matter how many times I revisit it. "Bride of Re-Animator" doesn't reach that level, but it's still a fine addition to our Halloween Season, and also makes for a perfect double feature with the first one. Make it a Jeffery Combs night. Bride can be found streaming on Amazon.
"Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns"
John Carpenter's first addition to "Masters of Horror", "Cigarette Burns", finds the legendary director returning to similar inspirations that fueled his "apocalypse trilogy"; "The Thing", "Prince of Darkness", and "In the Mouth of Madness". These are three of the best Carpenter films, in a cannon that has many great titles, so I was not disappointed at all that this was the territory he was returning to.
This chapter centers around a collector, Udo Kier who is trying to find an extremely rare film that is rumored to have driven the only audience who had seen it past the brink of madness. He enlists the help of a theater owner who is known for being able to track down the rarest of films for people who can pay the high price tag for finding them. Desperate for money, the filmic investigator takes on the task of finding the film. The journey takes him into some very dark places in the snuff community, and also to other things that may be supernatural in a religious sort of way. Especially a living artifact that Kier's collector possesses; a fallen angel that has had its wings removed. This isn't an ordinary, or friendly story, but it was a journey that really worked for me.
Carpenter, who had not done a film for a very long period of time, seems to feel perfectly at home doing an hour long Showtime installment, so hearing he might be working with Shudder in this upcoming year has me very excited. Even more so because it sounds like his is returning to his "apocalypse" roots. His nightmare vision of how end times and insanity can be fueled by film, captured images being seen by the public all at once, is always appreciated and compelling. This one does push the boundaries of gore, and what an audience can take, so be warned when entering this chapter of the series. It is rewarding for those who love big ideas, and don't mind a master filmmaker pushing the limits of gore on the screen.