Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

Bride of Re-Animator (1990) movie poster

director Brian Yuzna
viewed: 10/17/2016

Brian Yuzna is no Stuart Gordon and Bride of Re-Animator (1990) is no Re-Animator (1985).  But you know, “so it goes.”

Jeffrey Combs is back as Herbert West at his twitchy, comic best.  And Bruce Abbott returns as the head of Dr. Cain.  And for just having one’s head in a movie, director Brian Yuzna gets a lot out of Abbott.  The film opens with his ominous visage and ends with his head (eventually getting squashed) but flying around with attached bat wings in one of the movie’s best elements.

Really, there’s a lot of let-down here, and some of that may as well be tied to the DVD that squished the picture to full-screen (I know, I’m like the last horror film guy who watches DVDs on an analog television — probably if I keep doing this long enough it will become hip).

Bride of Re-Animator has its moments, though it is a much sloppier, less inspired production on the whole.  I guess my advice here is “Prepare for disappointment, but enjoy what you can” (maybe not a bad life mantra, in general.)

Castle Freak (1995)

Castle Freak (1995) DVD cover

director Stuart Gordon
viewed: 02/17/2016

Stuart Gordon has had an interesting career in film, known mostly for his many adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft.  In fact, he might have more Lovecraft on his cinematic résumé than any other director out there.

As good as Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) are, his 1995 direct-to-video adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” is a lesser thing.  It’s got Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator himself) and Barbara Crampton (from both Re-Animator and From Beyond), but if you’re old enough to remember “direct-to-video”, you know that that term is not an emblem of quality typically.

It’s a story of bad parenting gone amok, as Combs and Crampton arrive at the Italian castle with their daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide), who was blinded in a car accident that also killed her brother, the result of drunken driving on Combs’s part.  But worse than that the son of the castle’s long-dead duchess still lives down in its depths and his long-lived abuse has left him the resident “freak” of the title.  He likes to get freaky (despite having lost his penis somewhere along the way) and kill and mutilate.

While it’s not nearly as good or fun as Gordon’s earlier Lovecraft movies, Castle Freak has its merits and rewards.  1995 was a somewhat late date for practical effects horror films, so it’s worth appreciating its non-CGi-ness, direct-to-video or whatever.

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

The Dunwich Horror (1970) movie poster

director Daniel Haller
viewed: 02/09/2016

Five years out from his directorial premiere (1965’s Die, Monster, Die!), Daniel Haller returned to the H.P. Lovecraftian well with The Dunwich Horror.  While Lovecraft aficionados disdained his earlier “adaptation” of “The Colour Out of Space” as having very little to do with the source material, his later return, while sticking a bit more closely to its original story, Haller modernized and relocated the action in 1960’s California hippie culture.

Starring Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, and Sandra Dee, it’s been filtered through Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and the post-Manson era of the freak-out of new age psychedelic devil worship.  Backed by a strange Les Baxter score, The Dunwich Horror is a bad acid trip of a flick.

The FX are particularly psychedelic, and moderately effective, if incredibly cheap (this was a Roger Corman production, after all).  Wildly-painted, free-loving, nudist hippies could cause the kinds of flashbacks of horror that Dee’s character envisions, not just be the flashbacks.  Watching this movie, you can see why people would grow to think that Lovecraft was unfilmable.

I watched this back-to-back with Haller’s Die, Monster, Die! (it seemed like a good double feature), but if anything it counted against this later film by contrast perhaps more than it would have just on its own.  Not at all uninteresting, it seems still a misguided effort, perhaps a would-be emblem of its time.

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

Die, Monster, Die! (1965) movie poster

director  Daniel Haller
viewed: 02/09/2016

Okay, so it’s reasonable to be disappointed when looking for signs of H.P. Lovecraft in Daniel Haller’s 1965 “adaptation” of “The Colour Out of Space” as it was transformed into Die, Monster, Die! (a misleading but cool title nonetheless), but once you acknowledge that, what’s left is a stylish, interesting, occasionally quite cool horror film.  Haller had been a production designer and art director on some Roger Corman films before taking the helm of director, as he does here for the first time, and it shows in some of the film’s best moments.

For its lack of adherence to Lovecraft, it does offer a few fascinating images, my favorite of which is the matte painting (by gum, I love matte paintings like this) of the giant crevasse in the burned-out woods leading to the Witley estate, a sign of some massive cataclysm, and quite spooky.  You also have a glimpse of Witley’s menagerie from hell, the strange monsters in the hot house, irradiated by shards of a strange stone.

All this cool design gets a bit upstaged by the ending, in which Boris Karloff’s Nathum Witley becomes super-irradiated himself, a glowing silvery, shining thing that made me think of Karloff in The Invisible Ray (1936) some 30 years before (I wonder if Karloff considered that connection at the time).  By upstaged, I mean upstaged by something considerably less cool-looking.

I quite liked it, to be honest.

Interesting to note that Karloff and star Nick Adams would both be dead within four years of this film.  Karloff at age 81 from pneumonia and Adams at age 36 via suicide.

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008) movie poster

director Frank H. Woodward
viewed: 09/22/2014

When I first heard of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), I had no context for him at all.  I had taken high school American Literature, which was pretty deeply ingrained with the standards, but I had gone all my teen years without hearing about Lovecraft at all.  Who was he?  When did he write?  Where was he published?  How is he considered against those like Edgar Allan Poe or later writers?

Over the years, I would read a number of his stories and see several films made from his works.  But frankly, it wasn’t until the internet that I got any access to biographical information on the mysterious man.  Not that he’s such a total mystery, not anymore.  And now, with Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, we’ve got a nicely produced documentary with the likes of Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, Ramsey Campbell and many others speaking their own opinions of praise and wry discredit along with the historical background.

The film doesn’t necessarily reveal anything new that you couldn’t possibly find on Lovecraft’s Wikipedia page or with little other web research.  It is interesting to hear his notable fans discuss his strengths and shortcomings, analyze his work.  It’s fun to hear all that.

The documentary is almost in an A&E Biography style, at least, a simple, clean, straight-forward one, with Lovecraft’s words from letters and stories, read aloud to give some sense of his work to those uninitiated.

The film deals with the biggest elephant in the room about Lovecraft, his rampant xenophobia and racism, by discussing it in earnest.

I am one who likes to know more about the subjects in which I am interested.  So, a documentary like this one is quite nice since it is so directly on a subject that intrigues me.  It makes me think that academics probably has come around to him.  Academics that deal with the pulps and genre writers on a level that allows them to be spoken of in the same breath as “literature”.

Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator (1985) movie poster

director Stuart Gordon
viewed: 05/11/2014

I probably got my introduction to H.P. Lovecraft from watching Re-Animator on VHS back in the 1980’s.  Only, I probably didn’t realize it.

I got my actual introduction to him from a friend’s anthology of Lovecraft stories and only then (still in the 1980’s) did I start to get to know about the strange, obscure horror writer.  Lovecraft (1890-1937) worked in relative obscurity in his life but has become more and more a popular writer and cult figure since the 1980’s, possibly in part owing to this film, perhaps.

Really though, Re-Animator is a sort of variant on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “re-animating” the dead with a formula.  The titular figure is played by Jeffrey Combs, a semi-meek, sinister scientist/student maniacally dedicated to scientifically re-creating life.  It mostly goes down in the hospital morgue with his room-mate and room-mate’s girlfriend in tow.  And it’s a gory, comic mess.

The film is the work of director Stuart Gordon, who went on to a number of other Lovecraft-inspired films, most notably perhaps, From Beyond (1986).  Re-Animator  went on for a couple of sequels, directed by Brian Yuzna, producer of this film.

I always enjoyed the film, maybe not as much as some friends did.  But I have to say, it’s quite good, with lots of excellent effects and some fine performances.  I particularly like David Gale as Dr. Carl Hill, who does some of his best acting as a decapitated but re-animated head on a platter.  I also liked Barbara Crampton, who went on to a number of other horror features.

From Beyond

From Beyond (1986) movie poster

(1986) dir. Stuart Gordon
viewed: 10/10/09

H.P. Lovecraft was not really ever recognized in his time, but somewhere along the 20th Century, he was brought back to culture, and then eventually came to have a huge influence on the culture of Horror writing and filmmaking, both in adaptations, concepts, and style.  Yet, he’s still on the obscure side, even now, probably to the world at large.

Writer/director Stuart Gordon, along with writer/director Brian Yuzna nearly single(?)-handedly brought his work to film culture in the 1980’s and 1990’s and nowadays, the film adaptations are all over the place.  If you look up Lovecraft in the IMDb, you see only a handful of adaptations starting in the 1960’s (he died in 1937) before Stuart Gordon got a hold of him in Re-Animator (1985), a cult classic of its time.  Stuart went on to direct From Beyond, Castle Freak (1995), and Dagon (2001), all from Lovecraft works.  And Yuzna went on to direct Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003) from Lovecraft, though he also wrote and produced many of Gordon’s works, too.

Gordon is kind of an interesting director in the B-movie, cult world, having also directed Robot Jox (1990) a proto-Transformers sort of thing, Space Truckers (1996) whose name probably speaks for itself, and even Edmond (2005) which I heard was interesting, and the one I most recently watched, Stuck (2007).  He also wrote the story for the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), not that that is a plus, but more just a demonstration of the odd breadth of his work.

From Beyond is a solidly strange and gory 1980’s horror flick with some good effects.  A mad scientist (professor) who is obsessed with a world “beyond” our world, though in co-existence with ours.  A part of the brain can be stimulated to make the other world visible.  Unfortunately, that other world is populated with all kinds of strange monsters, some a eel-like, others like floating jellyfish with lots of sharp teeth.  And of course, you need to die to evolve into this other realm, but then you can “see” hallucinatory visions.  But then you seem to crave eating brains.  And you become in a constant state of sexual arousal.  And you transform into all kinds of wiggling spewing flesh.

The film is neither overly serious nor overly comic, riding a line of absurdity, while keeping a foot on the ground of genuine attempt at being frightening.  It’s got a lot going for it, really.  It’s gross, strange, comic, absurd, fantastic and weird.  What would Lovecraft have thought of it?  I don’t really know.  He’s a mysterious figure himself, but he’s got a solid cult following which I think that these movies helped to accentuate 20 some odd years ago.  And I’m going to have to re-visit more of Gordon’s work.