Tag: jeffrey combs


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.

Would You Rather

Would You Rather (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Buried in debt and unable to land a job, Iris (Brittany Snow) is desperate to provide a better life for her brother, Raleigh (Logan Miller), who happens to have leukemia. Aware of her financial difficulties, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), Raleigh’s doctor, invites Iris to meet with a man named Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs). It turns out he wishes to invite Iris over dinner and a game will be played. It is promised that the winner will be paid handsomely. In addition, if Iris were to win, her brother would bypass all waiting lists and be provided the necessary bone marrow transplant. Though suspicious, Iris feels it is her duty to do whatever it takes to take care of her brother.

One might assume that with a title like “Would You Rather,” written by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen and directed by David Guy Levy, the movie will at least be as fun as the actual game. Instead of taking an imaginative avenue, it relies on the threat of violence to generate so-called horror. As a result, it demands to be categorized with pictures like James Wan’s “Saw” and Eli Roth’s “Hostel” when, in actuality, it has more in common with their weakest sequels: it holds no surprises and we just wait for the final girl to barely make it through the exhausted final scenes.

It is boring because the good guys consistently choose the “kind-hearted” decisions. For example, given the choice of electrocuting oneself or a complete stranger, the nice characters—the ones we are obviously supposed to root for—select to experience the shock just so their consciences remain clean.

Conversely, the bad guys—in this case a woman—are ones who are out for themselves. I found Amy (Sasha Grey) to be the most interesting character because she does not think twice about putting her life ahead of the others. Wouldn’t it have been a fresh move if somewhere in the middle she was revealed to be the actual main character? If this exact game occurred outside of the film (I hope not), I would be willing to put money that she would win. She is willing to go all the way.

Choice A or Choice B are limited. First, the same choice is offered to the eight participants. Each of them is given a superficial personality, leaving not much room for change. As a result, once we figure out how a character thinks, it is easy to guess which course of action he or she will choose. Eventually, it becomes predictable and slow.

Second, the choices are not fun. Sure, they are violent and I wanted to look away at times, but I found no joy in watching someone get hurt over and over again using the same weapon. What the choices need in order to be interesting is variety. For instance, instead of a constant threat of pain, make Choice A gross and Choice B dangerous. Would you rather eat a slice of banana cake covered in fruit fly eggs (you should see them under a microscope!) or put your hand, without protection, in a box of tarantulas for five minutes?

“Would You Rather” should have been a piece of cake—cake covered in fruit fly maggots!—to be genuinely entertaining without always having to be straight-faced and mean-spirited. To me, horror movies should be fun. They can be disgusting, violent, shocking, heart-pounding, even moving—but never boring or suffocatingly one-note. Would you rather sit through a movie that makes an active effort to surprise you or one that will encourage you to make a shopping list in the dark?