Tag: h.p. lovecraft

Re-Animator


Re-Animator (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a movie that embraces H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West—Re-Animator,” and injects it with wild enthusiasm. What results is a bloody, in-your-face, nearly genius horror-comedy so wildly entertaining, it is impossible to look at without being enraptured by the bizarre images: a cat in pieces still wiggling about, a headless neurosurgeon (yes, ironic), giant intestines seeming to have a mind of its own… It’s totally bonkers. But it’s a good movie, certainly worthy of a cult following, because director Stuart Gordon, who co-writes the screenplay with Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris, commits to the idea all the way to the finish line.

Herbert West is one of the most memorable mad scientists I’ve come across in the movies. He is played with gusto to spare by Jeffrey Combs. When Herbert enters a room it feels as though he sucks on all the air from it. He is so rigid, so stern, so unrelenting when it comes to achieving his vision of defeating death, you take one look at the medical student and you are convinced morality and ethics are of no importance to him. What matters is results, and he will get it. And so when he answers a roommate ad posted by Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), one of the most promising young physicians in Miskatonic University, it is expected that Dan’s future is sealed.

Love can be felt in every touch of makeup and special effects. Whether it be a rotting hand or eyeballs bulging out of their sockets and then exploding, the filmmakers consistently frame these images in such a way that they look disgusting and beautiful—you want to cringe at the sight of them yet at the same time want to study them closely. I was especially tickled by the more realistic effects like when the superstar scientist Dr. Hill (David Gale) gives a demonstration on how to extract a whole brain from a corpse. His students are unfazed—with the exception of Herbert who despises the man for being a plagiarist. The sight of Dr. Hill still being in science, and thriving, enrages Herbert. He must get on with his late-night experiments.

The picture is peppered with deadpan humor, from the way characters respond to the reality that, yes, the dead can be brought back to life (with certain… concessions) to how a head severed from its body is still able to control the body and perform rather complex tasks. The writers are correct in allowing the more improbable occurrences happen later on because by then we are engrossed by the story’s mental universe. We grow curious of what else the work has in store. And how left-field happenings can surprise us in delightful and horrific ways.

Filmmaker James Wan has claimed that horror are the best-made movies in terms of craft. This is highly applicable in “Re-Animator” because so many pieces must be controlled to create a believable and fun experience, not just in terms of blood—how much to use, when to use it, getting just the right consistency to be convincing, and how to make it look good as it spatters on the wall—but also when to use a real head versus a mannequin, how to best angle the camera so that a mechanical effect can look more natural, down to the appearance of the zombie serum so that it looks portentous and capable of standing out amidst the chaos.

Color Out of Space


Color Out of Space (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

The essence of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are notoriously difficult to get right on film, and Richard Stanley’s “Color Out of Space” is yet another example. What should be an enigmatic, sad, and ultimately horrifying story involving a family whose matriarch, Theresa (Joely Richardson), has just undergone mastectomy is reduced to a series of “Did that just really happen?” shock moments—entertaining at first but eventually suffering from diminishing returns. While the special effects—CGI and practical—are visually impressive on occasion, especially eye-catching when the filmmakers dare us to look at the disgusting boils and rotting flesh, I found myself not caring at all about the family. Like their pet alpacas, they are treated merely as sheep to be slaughtered.

The picture shows initial promise, clearly having an eye for beauty. Observe the opening scene closely. We watch the teenage daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), an aspiring witch, partaking in a ritual that might help to strengthen her mother’s health. During her performance, we learn about her hopes for the family, how she feels about living in a posh but isolated estate, her yearning for independence. She is surrounded by verdant trees, the circle of rocks sitting right next to a pond full of life, how the bright sand allows everything on top of them to pop out. It creates the impression that the story is taking place somewhere far away, foreign, certainly not set during modern times. This fantasy, however, is broken when a curious stranger appears—Ward (Elliot Knight), the hydrologist, a potential romantic interest.

But the stranger is not the only outsider. In the middle of the night, a meteorite crashes on the front yard and creates an explosion. Nathan (Nicolas Cage) and Theresa run out to investigate, imploring their children to get away from the crash site and stay inside the house. Bizarre events begin to happen… starting with the youngest, Jack (Julian Hilliard), who goes into some sort of shock or trance right after the crash. Soon, Benny (Brendan Meyer), the middle child, begins to encounter problems with time.

Although it is interesting that the family members’ strange experiences are directly tethered to their interests—for example, Benny enjoys smoking marijuana which can alter one’s perception of time, Jack enjoys pretend play so he starts hearing someone, or some thing, attempting to communicate with him from inside the well—it is frustrating that the story fails to take off.

The movie is reduced to showing grotesque incidents. The more this formula is followed, the more the work consistently fails to provide reasons why this particular story is worth telling. We are provided not one original idea. In the middle of it, I wondered what the picture was about. Is it about Lavinia becoming a woman, the meteor serving as metaphor for womanhood? Is it about how one family member’s illness (in this case, cancer) can become the whole family’s illness (emotional, financial, social stresses)? It is about how helpless or unprepared we are as a species when faced with new or ancient disease? These are just three examples. So as you see, this story could have been so much more. Yet it isn’t.

Even Cage’s histrionic acting gets old eventually. Because nearly every element is so hyperbolic—the colors, the sounds, the effects, the characters’ desperate circumstances—the hammy acting becomes groan-inducing. I was reminded of Panos Cosmatos’ avant-garde “Mandy”—in which Cage’s hyperbolic facial expressions, behaviors, and overall being feel exactly right. Here, the Cage brand of manic functions more as distraction from the malnourished screenplay.