Third year medical student Dan Cain is on the verge of graduating from the New England Miskatonic University Medical School. That is until Dr. Herbert West walks into his life. Learning all he can from neurologist Dr. Hans Gruber in Zurich, Switzerland, West eagerly enrolls as a student at Miskatonic to viciously dismantle, what he believes, is a garbage postmortem brain functionality theory of the school’s grant piggybank Dr. Carl Hill while West also works on his own off the books after death experiments with his formulated reagent serum. West takes up Cain’s apartment for rent offer and involves Cain in a series of experiments that lead to reviving the old and the fresh dead. The only side effects of revitalizing dead tissue is the unquenchable rage and chaos that urges the recently revived to rip everything to shreds. Things also get complicated and people begin to die and then revive when West and Cain’s work becomes the obsessive target of Dr. Hill, whom discovers the truth and plans to steal West’s work, claiming the reagent serum as his own handiwork while also attempting to win the affection of Dr. Cain’s fiancee and Miskatonic’s Dean Halsey daughter, Megan Halsey, in the most undead way.
A vast amount of time has passed since the last time I’ve injected myself with the “Re-Animator” films and I can tell you this, my rejuvenation was sorely and regrettably way overdue. Stuart Gordon’s impeccable horror-comedy, “The Re-Animator,” is the extolled bastardized version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without direct references and begins the ghastliness right from the initial opening prologue and never wanes through a fast-paced narrative of character thematic insanity and self-destructing arrogance with hapless do-gooders caught in the middle of undead mayhem. Producer Brian Yuzna financially backs Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures distributed 1985 film that’s based loosely off the H.P. Lovecraft 1922 novelette “Herbert West-Reanimator.” From a bygone novelette to an instant cult favorite amongst critics and fans, “Re-Animator” glows vibrantly like it’s reagent serum embodied with reality-buckling entertainment and grisly havoc displayed through the silver screen adapted form. Umbrella Entertainment has released a two-disc collector’s set, the first volume on their Beyond Genres label of cult favorites, and this release, with various versions, will include the allusive 106 minute integral cut!
From his first moments on screen holding a syringe to over three decades of pop-culture films, comics, and social media presence, nobody other actor other than Jeffrey Combs could be envisioned to be the insatiable Dr. Herbert West. Combs is so compact with an explosive vitality that his character goes beyond being a likable derivative of a Machiavellian anti-hero. Narrowing, dagger-like eyes through thick glasses on-top of small stature and a cruel intent about him makes Combs an established horror icon unlike any other mad doctor we’ve ever seen before. Bruce Abbot costars as Dr. Dan Cain, a good natured physician with a penchant of not giving up on life, but that’s where he’s trouble ensnares him with Dr. West’s overcoming death obsession. Abbott’s physically towers over Combs, but his performance of Cain is softly acute to West’s hard nose antics. Abbott plays on the side of caution as his character has much to lose from career to fiancée, whose played by Barbara Crampton. “Re-Animator” essentially unveiled the Long Island born actresses and made her a household name who went on to have roles in other prominent horror films, including another Stuart Gordon feature “From Beyond,” “You’re Next,” and the upcoming “Death House.” David Gale rounds out the featured foursome as the detestable Dr. Carl Hill. Gale embraces the role, really delving into and capturing Dr. Hill’s maddening short temper and slimy persona; a perfect antagonist to the likes of Combs and Abbott. The remaining cast includes Robert Sampson (“City of the Living Dead”), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and Peter Kent.
The “Re-Animator” universe is right up there with the likes of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Hell, there is even a line of comics that pit the two franchises together in a versus underlining. Unfortunately, “Re-Animator” is frankly nothing without the franchise star Jeffrey Combs, much like “The Evil Dead” is nothing without Bruce Campbell even though we, as fans, very much enjoyed the Fede Alvarez 2013 remake despite the lack of chin. Gordon’s film needs zero remakes with any Zac Efron types to star in such as holy role as Dr. Herbert West. That’s the true and pure terrifying horror of today’s studio lucrative cash cow is to remake everything under the genre sun. Fortunately, “Re-Animator” and both the sequels have gone unscathed and unmolested by string of remakes, reboots, or re-imagings. Aside from a new release here and there, such as Umbrella’s upstanding release which is fantastic to see the levels of upgrades up until then, “Re-Animator” has safely and properly been restored and capsulated for generations to come.
Umbrella Entertainment proudly presents the first volume of the Beyond Genres’ label with Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” on a two-disc, full HD 1080 Blu-ray set, presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio. A very fine and sharp image quality that maintains equality across the board with minuscule problematics with compression issues, jumping imagery on solid colored walls for example, but the issues are too small amongst the rich levelness of quality and when compared to other releases, Umbrella Entertainment’s release is a clear-cut winner. The English DTS-HD master audio puts that extra oomph into Richard Bands’ score that’s heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” adding a pinch of chaotic gothic charm to the macabre story. Dialogue is balanced and upfront, but there isn’t much prominent ambient noise to put the dialogue off-kilter. Special features on the first disc include the 86 minute unrated version of “Re-Animator,” audio commentaries from director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, and stars Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson; there’s also a “Re-Animator Resurrectus” documentary, 16 extended scenes, and a deleted scene. The second disc includes the 106 itegral cut along with interviews with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, writer Denis Paoli, composer Richard Band, and former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. Plus, a music analyst by Richard Band, TV spots, and the theatrical trailer. All this and a bag of corpses is sheathed inside a remarkably beautiful encasement with a seriously wicked custom slipcover desgin by illustrator Simon Sherry. There’s also reversible Blu-ray casing cover art with previous designs incorporated. H.P. Lovecraft would be extremely flattered and proud on how Umbrella Entertainment not only enhanced the film adaptation of his classic tale of macabre, but also with how diabolically attired the release is distributed. A true horror classic done right!
Experimental doctor, Anton Lupesky, invents a controversial drug that can free a human soul from its vessel and travel through into the lifeless eyes of a corpse, possessing the body to reanimation. The only side effect is grotesque hallucinations that are so horrible, few survive the experience. After a stint of missing persons and a string of mysterious deaths at the Whitebriar Institution, Lupesky is fired from his position, banned from the medical board, and brought up on criminal charges. His acquittal sparks him to embark on a journey overseas to continue his radical medical experiments, away from regulations and tremendous oversight. The doctor returns six months later for far superior medical innovations in America and begins practicing again in his own basement with the unscrupulous help from a couple of lackey acolytes that leaves Lupesky’s supply of “patients” not in short demand. One reporter keeps investigative tabs of the good doctor as she suspects a connection between him and her father’s death at Whitebriar and when her and her friends starts to snoop around, Lupesky has no choice but to use any means necessary to thwart her investigation, even if that means secretly administrating the drug to her in hopes that her soul can fly with his – if she survives.
Thirty years ago, “The Soutangler” hit the cinema market. A low-budget gruesome mad scientist flick with a penchant for some fantastically grisly practical special effects. The 1987 shocker was directed by Pat Bishow, penned by John Bishow and Lance Laurie, and shot on location on Long Island, New York. The Do-It-Yourself and Lovecraftian macabre does a bit of soul-searching to find resurrection from the video graveyard. Luckily, Bleeding Skull! Video and the AGFA come to the rescue with a chock-full of extras release that digs up the Bishow’s lost creation, dusts it off, cleans it up, pats it on the butt, and sends it back out into the world onto DVD home video. “The Soultangler’s” niche envisioning goes against the grain of traditional filmmaking, bordering experimental, but definitely a must-see for those interested in existentialism horror: the removal of free will to be replaced by another’s.
Pierre Devaux stars in his only credited as the mad Dr. Anton Lupesky that resembles along the lines of a Dr. Herbert West from that little known trilogy of the H.P. Lovecraft inspired “The Re-Animator.” With a wiry frame, stringy shoulder length hair, and government-like issued classes, the very animated Pierre Devaux casts the ideal character whose maniacal and perverse in his medical malpractices. The only one willing to stop the Lupesky’s experiments is investigating journalist Kim Castle of The Daily Chronicle. Castle, played by Jane Kinser, is about as ferocious as her beautiful as an aggressive reporter, unwilling to stop to unearth the truth of her father’s tragic death. Kinser’s not much of an onscreen force to reckon with as she’s quite timid, but she manages to hold her own up against Devaux wild eyed lunacy. Rounding out the cast is Bob Cederberg as a Carl the drugged addict henchman, Louise Millman as a loyal minion to Lupesky, and Tom Ciorciari as Castle’s concerned friend who battles the zombified corpses embodied by Dr. Lupesky.
While a strong appreciation exists from the outstanding attention to detail with the decayed bodies and the explicit violence in the finale that nightmarishly flourish in a heap of ghastliness, the rest of the film is as disjointed as the dismembered bodies in Lupesky’s basement of horrors. Despite being submersed in various talking head scenes that divulge significant backstories between Dr. Lupesky and Kim Castle, the story struggles to keep the straight line focus, swerving erratically between subplots and the main premise. Castle’s horrific dreams of aggressive zombies loosely makes a connection other than prepping Castle’s subconscious when ingesting Lupesky’s soul freeing drug. The story of Dr. Simpson also flounders to the waist side with her and Dr. Lupesky’s love affair, the only women he would even consider getting close to and not slaughter for his own amusement.
“The Soultangler” arrives onto full-bodied, graphically illustrated DVD from the B-movie collaborators Bleeding Skull! Video and the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and distributed by MVDVisual from the original 1″ master tapes. Shot on 16mm, but edited on video, “The Soultangler” has a SOV experience in it’s original aspect ratio of a full frame 1.33:1. Quality varies from the source material, including some tracking and edge flare issues, but overall a solid transfer with a sizable color palette that includes tints, natural skin tones, and visceral dream sequences that show little-to-no sign of diminishing. Stereo mono track does the job despite poor mic placements to get the full girth of dialogue. HypnoLoveWheel’s indie synth/rock soundtrack has more popularity on the B-level than in the mainstream music, but serves “The Soultangler” with broad depth to solidify a wedge between “The Soultangler’s” whimsical charm and the Gothicism that is Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator.” Bonus features include, for the first on any release, the Unseen 62 minute alternate director’s cut, a commentary track with director Pat Bishow, behind the scenes footage, trailers for “The Soultangler” and “Dead of Night Town,” music video for “wow” by HypnoLoveWheel, and liner notes by Bleeding Skull’s Zack Carlson. Conceptually, “The Soultangler’s” premise oozes originality and creativity involving soul transformations through the portal eyes of a dead body and that’s simply brilliant and what today’s horror genre certainly craves. Constructionally, Pat Bishow couldn’t push the momentum to pickup the pace to overripe an engaging story, but the climax, out of left field, unsheathes a bloodbath of ultra-stellar, DIY proportions!
Masters of horror. You know. Those legendary filmmakers that become iconic in our beloved genre. The monumental men who made history by evolving the monsters, killers, and madmen to the very monsters, killers, and madmen we see today on the big and small screen. These giants of horror are household names to ordinary film fans and Gods to those who dedicate their lives just to live in a moment in a very small portion of their foot heel shadow. You, reading this op-ed, know the very names of these directors without even me mentioning their names. For those who are virgin to horror, however,…
George A. Romero
The list could go on with more familiar names. Familiar. That seems like a term for old people now, like myself, the thirty-years of living on this planet. Why is ‘familiar’ now for the old fogies? For one, I don’t think much of the younger generation are aware, or even respect, the above list of names. And why should they? Because, secondly, those listed about have done squat in, I don’t know, how many years? Think about. The Masters of Horror are no longer producing any great horror films and there seems to be no clear cut answer to why. A couple of theories swirl in my clustered little mind.
They’re old. Getting elderly is tough and when you’re youth runs dry, you’re energy goes right along with it. Take Romero for example. The man is 74 years old. Wes Craven is even older than Romero by one year. Could their old school imaginations keep a generation, doped up on ADD medication, entertained for more than 10 minutes. Much of today’s horror is about the blood and the tits and the “how scary you can make a CGI monster.” Creativity has gone out the window and I think that “Saw 7” and the soon to be fifth sequel to “Paranormal Activity” have proven just that.
Old school horror has run out of ideas. Can you remember the last time Romero, Carpenter, Stuart has made a good movie? Romero’s last film was “Survival of the Dead” back in 2009 which flopped. Before that “Diary of the dead” and that was another flop. Since the turn of the century, the king of the zombies has only directed four films with Land of the Dead being the more successful. Take a look at “Halloween” director John Carpenter. “Halloween” is the highest grossing independent film ever, yet also in the last decade, nothing spectacular from Carpenter. His vision of “The Thing” is classic, his character Snake Plissken is iconic in “Escape from New York”, “Big Trouble in Little China” is timeless cut, but “The Ward” and “Ghost of Mars” have been absolute below the bar with audiences. This theory doesn’t exclude international directors because we can also examine, point in case, Italian director Dario Argento. Argento famous for his colorful, psychedelic intense films such as “Suspiria”, “Phenomena”, and “Don’t Torture the Duckling”, has been reduced to direct a “Dracula 3D” movie starring Rutger Hauer. Freaking RUTGER HAUER!?!? Don’t get me wrong, I love Rutger Hauer – “Blind Fury” and “The Hitcher” are some favorites – but you can’t have a strawberry haired Van Helsing. Maybe you can – I don’t know. Let’s not forget poor Wes Craven who can’t seem to get off the “Scream” franchise train and everything else he touches turns into a limp, floppy mess.
Now that we’ve gone over my theories, there lies another question to be discussed. Who are the NEW masters of horror? Today’s films rely on blood and guts and not so much suspense and story. Would Eli Roth be my first example of a more current master? His films seemed to be well criticized – “Cabin Fever” with a fresh 63% and “Hostel” with a fresh 61% respectively on Rotten tomatoes. Also, his latest project “The Green Inferno” held promise until it’s untimely indefinite on hold status declared a few weeks ago. Who else? Alexandre Aja? More shock than schlock but hasn’t really produced anything original as he’s banked on remakes – “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Piranha 2” – but with his breakthrough hit “High Tension” and his upcoming release “Horns” starring Daniel Radcliffe, we could be watching a master in the making.
I want to hear from you. Who do you think will step in the shoes of a master? Lucky McKee? Adam Wingard? Let me hear your choices and your thoughts on these!
Perhaps the most very definition of sensory stimulation lies with the Stuart Gordon 1986 mad science horror film From Beyond. Numerous sensors are teased from color perspectives to sexual stimulation to even the thrill of exciting the mind through science. From Beyond is not only a maddeningly weird and utterly slimy film about expanding the pineal gland to the point of losing yourself to a creature ridden other-dimensional world where you’re absorbed into chaotic, gelatinous mutated mass. No. From Beyond lets you fully and freely experience what most people consider to be taboo and frightening.
Dr. Edward Pretorius and his assistant Crawford Tillinghast construct a machine called the Resonator that will tap into the dormant pineal gland of the mind in hopes of expanding to beyond the regions of the mind. When Crawford first turns on the machine, creatures appear swimming in the air and attack Crawford. Ignoring the warnings of possible danger, the obsessed Pretorius turns on the machine and has his head twisted and decapitated by a shape-shifting monster. Crawford’s story lands him committed in an mental institution where he is greeted by Dr. Katherine McMichaels who treats Crawford and wants him to recreate his experience in order to treat what she thinks is schizophrenia. Crawford, Katherine and Bubba Brownlee, an overseeing officer to make sure Crawford behaves himself, return to the Pretorius house to reactivate the Resonator – to recreate the nightmare.
How can you not read that synopsis and not be curious to see this fun flick? Loosely based of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same title and intertwined with other Lovecraftian stories. We all know that director Stuart Gordon is the true historian behind Lovecraft as he has most likely studied and then directed most of Lovecraft’s stories such as Herbert West-Re-Animator and Dagon. Yet somehow with From Beyond, Gordon and his team did something right; they infused their own ideas and their own creative style making From Beyond more memorable and highly controversial amongst the MPAA. Hell, I’m guessing this is why we can never have a home entertainment copy stay in print for more than 3 years – point in case, the MGM release! Luckily, for you and for me, UK cult and horror film loving Second Sight Films has brought back From Beyond from the DVD grave and has even enhanced the film for Blu-ray!
From Beyond really did push the limits with the MPAA; so much in fact that even using green slime over blood to lessen the effect still caused heavily edited down editions. But there are scenes of extreme uncomfortableness which I find a sense of relieve and peacefulness in. Such scenes are with Barbara Crampton in the S&M outfit and she fondles Jeffrey Combs as he lies hair less and injured in bed. If I feel awkward, dirty, or uncomfortable after a scene, I’m extremely enjoying the movie and thank you director, producers, writers, actors, and the rest of the crew in making uncomfortable scenes enjoyable for weird folks as myself. Like I always say, if a horror movie frightens you, then the movie is doing it’s job! From Beyond will surface all sorts of internal emotions and stimulations that cause the sensations to overload and explode much like the Resonator stimulating the pineal gland to the point of blissful agony.
If you want to feel like you’re on a severe acid trip, I’d suggest grabbing From Beyond from Second Sight here before the DVD goes out of print again. Remember, this is a region 2 disc and can only be played on region 2 players so beware!
This is what lazy Saturday mornings do to you. Instead of a video or a neat little gif image, I just made a collage in photoshop, but the job gets done.
You can read my thoughts on Iron Doors here.
I’m thinking Second Sight’s release of From Beyond is next!!!! I’ve seen it before and I have the MGM now OOP version, but I still love the movie and can’t wait to view it again.