Review: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

 

beyond-re-animator-2

Beyond Re-Animator is an unadulteratedly witless and trashy film that has a transcendent gonzo quality that ultimately turns it from an awful picture into a midnight movie delight. It is the sort of film where people would be shouting out the lines and audibly reacting to its various bizarre sequences. The story such as it is sees the good Doctor Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) resume his ghoulish experiments with the dead when a recently graduated medical student called Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) expresses an interest in working with him within the confines of a prison.  

The second sequel substantially improves upon its predecessor because of the following elements. The first is the direction from returning director Brian Yuzna. He crafts compelling scenes that are atmospheric and energetic in spirit. An excellent example of this comes in the opening pre-credits sequence. The scene depicts two boys telling each other a scary story inside of their tent, which culminates in one of the kids’ siblings dying at the hands of one of Herbert West’s mutated beings.

Yuzna’s sure-handed build-up provides the sequence with its spooky potency. He starts with a close up of one of the boys as he asks why he should be afraid. His friend responds by stating that they both live near a graveyard, which implies that if anything bad happens, no one will be able to hear them. Yuzna punctuates these small moments with a subtle use of background sounds. The first is the sound of thunder that provides the scene with a sense of foreboding terror. The second is the sound of police sirens that seems odd in the context of the moment, however, on subsequent viewings, one realises that it a deliberate suggestion of where the scene is eventually going to end.

These series of commendable moments concludes with the second boy talking about a creature who was let loose in the recent past. He goes onto to say that the person was brought back to life. As this is being told, Yuzna then shows us the boys’ tent with a point of view shot, which gives the audience the impression that someone is watching them. In turn, it also evokes the style of a slasher film, which along with a suggestively framed shot between two characters later in the opening shows Yuzna’s deft understanding of the sub-genre.

The second element that makes Beyond Re-Animator surpass Yuzna’s previous directorial effort is that it wonderfully extends the character of Herbert West and the concept of reanimation. In the previously discussed scene, West has become a proverbial figure of children’s stories. Moreover, later in the sequence, there is a shot of West sitting in a car. He has a meaningful glance with the young Howard Phillips. The moment feels like an acknowledgement of the enormity and weight of his character.  

Later on in the film, there is a small scene when West receives his green formula injection, which is punctuated by the reprisal of Richard Band’s theme for the original picture. The moment is incredibly postmodern as it feels like the film is aware of the iconic nature of West by framing it as significant a moment as Jason picking up a machete or Sweeney Todd’s barber blade. However, the best scene of West is the ending one where he walks into the foggy night. In spirit, it evokes H.P. Lovecraft’s story which spoke of the character as someone who would frequently disappear, much like a tornado that would wreak destruction and never be seen again. In his third turn as the character, Combs adds a sense of malice and subdued anger, which illustrates the changing nature of West in the time that has elapsed between this movie and the last one.   

Finally, the picture showcases West continued experimentation with reanimation as the audience is given many scenes, which shows the effect of the formula. The most noteworthy example is when a prisoner injects himself with an undiluted dose that results in him feeling as though he is high, which gives some of the third act a psychedelic feeling, which is accentuated with the gory effects on show that are the result of the Japanese special effects artist- Screaming Mad George.     

Review: Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

bride_of_re-animator_704_2

The opening credits to Bride of Re-Animator are a microcosm for central problems that plague the sequel to the 1985 horror comedy. It announces a limping modesty with its title barely engulfing H.P. Lovecraft`s name as opposed to the original which acknowledged its roots and with a bold surety presented itself as a fantastic new creation. Moreover, composer Richard Band took Bernard Herrman`s sharp and stirring Psycho theme and transformed it into an amusing dance piece, which illustrated that the film was aware of its cinematic heritage and was steadfast in subverting it. Band`s theme in the sequel lacks ferocious energy, and in the middle of its duration, it has a lush and passionate interlude that hint at a romantic tone in the film.

Barely any of Bride of Re-Animator has this newly established quality. Instead, the picture feels like an exercise in dull and procedural setup, which it does in the most conventional manner possible in its first two acts. The film has an utter lack of vitality, which is due to the loss of Stuart Gordon, who injected the proceedings with a sly sense of humour through the framing, lighting and cutting, which gave the original its sublime comedic edge. Brian Yuzna who was the producer of the original pictures takes over the director duties for the sequel. The result is a shoddy and amateurish patchwork, which comes from strange choices, a lack of atmosphere and the camera not being employed in a particularly interesting manner.

Nevertheless, the film does occasionally have some great small moments that hint at a better film which is hidden beneath the average depths. For example, there is a scene in the third act where Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) expounds upon his latest creation to Dan Cain. (Bruce Abbot) Using a semi-erotic and soothing tone, Combs’ performance at this moment make the horrifying creation seem appealing and seductive. Combs also injects this with a matter of fact rationality as he casually disregards the lives of the people whom he is stolen body parts of.

Abbot`s performance in Bride of Re-Animator marginally improves as he accentuates the scene as mentioned above with precise and focused facial expressions as though West`s words have utterly enraptured him. He brings this similar quality in the tail end of the film when he looks upon the titular Bride for the first time. In these moments, the film hints at the Gothic kookiness of Kenneth Branagh`s adaptation of Frankenstein but ultimately lacks the melodramatic flair that permeated that picture. The tragic romantic quality of the film also manifests in these series of scenes. The most striking example is when The Bride rips out her heart, which belonged to Dan`s late fiance- Megan. She faces the awe-struck Cain and shouts out while holding the heart, “Is this what you want?”

That moment is one of the great iconic images of the horror cinema, filled with fever-laden intensity and devastating implication. It is a shame that the rest of Bride of Re-Animator does not match the sheer majesty and terror of that shot.

Review: Re-Animator (1985)

tumblr_n6a3cyxeh11srcivjo1_500

Re-Animator is an admirable horror comedy that succeeds because of its subtle construction in illustrating the tightrope dichotomy of its dual genres. An excellent example of this comes in the pre-credit sequence which shows an assortment of medical staff and police officers bearing witness to a much-admired faculty member screaming out in pain. As the scene goes on, director Stuart Gordon shows us the graphic nature of the Professor’s anguish with a combination of medium shots and close-ups, as his eyes start gushing blood, which lands in the face of his female assistance.

After collapsing and seemingly dying upon impact, the lone man who was with the esteemed member of the University is accused of being responsible for his death. The man’s name is Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), and he responds in a clinical matter of fact manner that he is the one who gave him life. Re-Animator is a film that is filled to the brim with these absurdist ironies that not only evident in the screenplay but also in the filmmaking.

There are two moments in the picture that encapsulate this quality. The first is a minor instance in the hospital morgue as the main character Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot) wheels in a recently deceased patient and puts it in the corner of the room. As he does so, there is a dead body with burned arm that is blocking his way, and Cain puts it to one side as he continues with his job. However, the arm returns to his original state as if it is still alive.

Gordon’s framing provides the scene with it’s amusing and sly quality as there are a few still bodies that are prominent in the background of the shot. As a result of this, the audience has an anticipation of a scene where all the deceased people start waking up. However, it only proves to be one in the silliest way possible. It is as though the body is purposefully playing a practical joke on Cain. In turn, Gordon is playing with audience expectation as the framing of the shots suggests the sheer horror of the concept, but ultimately result in a gentle acknowledgement of what is to come later in the picture.

The second moment is when Cain greets his fiancee Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton) with a passionate embrace and kiss in the hustle and bustle of their campus. She protests the gesture out of embarrassment with a half-hearted declaration of no three times. The scene then suddenly cuts to the couple making love with Halsey now saying yes three times. The moment is humorous because the quick cut is akin to the timing of a joke, which is underlined with the juxtaposition of both scenes.

Nevertheless, the film’s pure comedic heart resides in an excellent central performance from Jeffery Combs as Herbert West. It is commendable how Combs takes the minute details of West from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story and injects a sense of dimension that results in the character feeling amusing and engaging. For example, in a passage from the first section of the short story, which is entitled “From the Dark” the narrator describes the character as someone who does not falter in the context of watching him waiting for a serum to display some effects in a experimented body.

In the course of one scene, which depicts Cain coming face to face with the first of West’s experiments, Combs subverts this still and calm image of the character from Lovecraft’s story. Upon breaking into West’s basement, Cain witnesses West attempting to get a berserk cat of his back. In this moment, Combs effortlessly makes the potentially terrifying situation look funny with his physical comedy as he stumbles around the dimly lit environment. At the same time, Combs’s vocals are commanding and forthright in their purpose which shows his somewhat clear-headed state.

Later in the scene, Combs balances slight empathy, an inner sense of malice intent and an unleashed madness as West places his hand on Cain’s shoulder and has a cautious and worrisome expression on his face. Soon after Cain throws the demonically animated cat against the wall and the camera lingers on West’s face as he conveys an expression of sly devilish glee as looks upon Cain’s action and his plans involving the young student.

West’s blood stained clothes and defensive gesture of holding a mallet are accentuated by the lighting as the small ceiling lamp swings back and forth, which results in West being engulfed in shadow for mere seconds at a time. With this in mind, there is one shot where the character looks like a monstrous serial killer who is about spring upon his prey. Finally, West tells Cain to look out after the cat is dead, and the latter immediately turns around to fear to the amusement of former as he breaks into hysterics, in part a reaction to the situation and the madness within.

Finally, in the context of the minuscule sub-genre of the horror comedy, Re-Animator bears the closest relation to James Whale’s 1935 eternally classic film- Bride of Frankenstein in the sense that it revels in the absurdity of its concept with many amusing extended scenes dedicated to its surreal premise. Like that film, it also shares a tragic quality. Herbert West’s experiments have caused the breakdown of a promising new relationship and have ultimately made Dan Cain just like him.

Unfortunately, while this quality is conceptually apparent insofar as the sketch of the arc is evident to the viewer, the performance by the lead actor is terrible and in turn does not shade in the portrait of the character’s transformations. Bruce Abbot’s performance as Dan is a one-note exercise in blandness, as he has the same vacant expression throughout the entire picture. There is no sense of inner turmoil, temptation or excitement at what West is offering. It is a performance that would not even cut the mustard in a weekly episode of the Power Rangers.

Reviews on the Road Volume 1: The Edinburgh Edition

Introduction

Amidst the fusion of historical beauty and natural greenery, Edinburgh contained some characteristic cinemas that keep the flame of independence films alive and the continued sustenance of tent pole fare. And like the city itself which has deeply rooted ironies in its history, one of the films that I saw in my travels is itself ironic. Throne of Blood is a Japanese adaptation of Macbeth, which is strongly tied to Scotland. How amusing that in certain moments, the film captures the essence of the country. And the cinema that it was being screened at is a microcosm of the capital, which is a fascinating melding of the ancient and contemporary into something that is initially counter-intuitive but on reflection is pleasing to the senses for its majestic alluring nature.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

magnificent-seven

The Magnificent Seven is a frustratingly empty and hollow experience. On the one hand, it has ideas that are conceptually fascinating and signify an all-encompassing nihilism that differentiates itself from the charm and melancholia that defined the original 1960s film. However, this ultimately proves to be fruitless in the face of the movie basking itself in a blanket of moral certitude. Moreover, the film never quite recovers from its first ten minutes.

The picture’s opening pre-title sequence is outstanding as a piece of beautiful, tense and striking cinema as it depicts the brutal and savage consolidation of power by the nefarious Bartholomew Bogue who is played with cold blooded steeliness by Peter Sarsgaard. He and his men burn down a church and murder some of the townsfolk who stand up to him. The most visually impressive shots come in the aftermath of this massacre as each shot is filled with a natural radiance which gives the violence a potent edge and emotional resonance. These moments are punctuated with the score, which is like striking hissing cobra with its tense musical stings that come from its use of flutes and minimalist acoustic work. The score marks the final work by the late James Horner with significant contributions from Simon Franglen who finished the film’s music.

Crucially, the opening sets up a potentially tantalising primary theme of the villagers permanently losing their religiously preached morality and consequently, they lose something of themselves in the ensuing efforts to save their village. However, this never explored and is only given cursory lip service by characters without any weight or significance. Worse yet is the film’s loathsome’s inconsistency with its use of violence. Sometimes, it is gut wrenching and lingering. Nevertheless, most of the time, the violence is used as means to deliver sadistic punchlines and crowd pleasing moments. This discrepancy is particularly bothersome in the film’s action filled climax.

There are entire scenes where the violence stirs the emotions and others where it becomes absurd and juvenile. An example of this would be a scene where Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is tragically killed by a banished Comanche warrior called Denali who pierces Horne with three arrows as he desperately tries to reach his foe in combat. This moment is juxtaposed with the death of Joshua Faraday. (Chris Pratt) His demise is a preposterously drawn out affair of impossible and laughable proportions. The injured Faraday is shot countless times while on horseback. He eventually falls to the ground, only to get up again. When up, Faraday struggles to light up a cigar, which the surrounding horsemen help him with before he proceeds to fall once more. Then he gets up again and throws a small piece of dynamite that takes out the remaining men.

The film’s most problematic qualities work harmony in final moments of the picture which showcases Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) confronting Bartholomew Bogue in the ash heaped Church about the things he did to his family in the past. The latter is close to killing the former with a small gun, however, is shot by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennet) who miraculously comes in at the last minute to save Chisolm. The moment marks an important moment for the young Cullen as she shot the man who killed her husband earlier the film. However, the film nor Bennett in her performance shows any sense of being affected by the incident.

This is a shame as the picture seemed to be placing Cullen as the microcosm of the town and in essence the exploration of the primary theme. However, the film final moments which shows the graves of the members of the titular seven serve only to venerate the group as opposed to reflecting on the ensuing effects on the town and the moral ruin it may have wrought.

Hell or High Water (2016)

hell-or-high-water

Hell or High Water is layered and textured film that harmonies deft cinematic craft, a fascinating primary thematic exploration and small incidental moments that result in the movie feeling authentic, humorous and sharp. The picture charts the course of two bank robbers who systemically steal from select banks to preserve their family farm and the resultant investigation and attempts to capture the pair by two Texas Rangers.

The ascetic strength of the picture manifests itself in naturally raw and patient shots that capture the Texas set environment in all its overly boiling, rusty and mountainous detail. The most notable example of this comes in the final’s act as there is a race against time for the two rangers to catch up with the banking robbing brothers before they reach a particular bank.

Through a clever use of quick cuts, director David Mackenzie creates a frantic sense of a car chase without the two vehicles being close to one another. Moreover, one shot along a high road overlooks a picturesque landscape that has large patches of green bushes that stretch on for miles. The moment is a microcosm of Mackenzie’s direction, which combines a blend of the intimate and epic, with a sense of the background of a frame being paramount in visually conveying place and meaning.

At the heart of Hell or High Water is the idea of an eternal cycle of violence for the purpose of gaining land. In the second half of the picture, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) while lying in wait with his partner Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) talks about his heritage and how their land was savagely taken. He equates the banking system as the modern day equivalent to what his ancestors went through in losing their land.

The theme takes on far greater significance in the last five minutes of the film when Hamilton expresses the following to Toby Howard (who is one of the bank robbers who got away scot free.) Despite his noble intentions of wanting to preserve his home for his sons, there will burden that they will have to carry knowing the violent means that were used to perform this act of paternal love and class mobility.

Throne of Blood (1957)

vlcsnap-2010-03-30-10h28m19s210

Despite the absence of William Shakespeare’s expressively poetic language and gut wrenching soliloquies, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is still a compelling and haunting interpretation of the bard’s famous tragedy. This is primarily because of the mesmerising visuals. From its thick patches of fog to rain-drenched and windy forest terrains. Kurosawa use of weather provides the picture with an all-encompassing dreamlike atmosphere. These scenes are accentuated by the stark black and white photography, the extensive use of medium and long shots as well as excellent framing.

Moreover, these atmospheric moments provide the film with a unique prism that the story is being told through. When conversing with his wife part way through the film, Taketoki Washizu (Macbeth and played by Toshiro Mifune) speaks of his experience with the evil spirit as though it was a dream in which he has finally awaken from. One could read Washizu’s experience as a vivid nightmare that was caused by him being lost in an endlessly wet, windy and wild woods.

However, a more literal reading of the film reveals that the Washizu’s rise to power is a result of paranoia in the face of survival in troubled times. His wife, Lady Asaji Washizu (Lady Macbeth) who is played with precise and terrifying stillness by Isuzu Yamada tells her husband that his best friend, Yoshiaki Miki (Banquo and played by Minoru Chiaki) will betray him by telling what transpired in the forest, which will cause the King to kill him. Additionally, in an interesting new wrinkle, she also reveals that Lord Kuniharu Tsuzuki (King Duncan and played Takamaru Sasaki) murdered the former Lord. Washizu defends the act by saying that he did it out of survival.

In this way, the film feels very Hobbesian in its depiction of a savage state of nature where any man can be killed on a whim in the name of survival. The screenwriters also lessen Washizu’s ambitions; he becomes a Lord of a garrison as opposed to a ruler of a nation, which ultimately gives credence to the Hobbesian reading as the societal structure hints at Civil strife, the conditions of which the English Political Philosopher wrote his treatise, Leviathan under in the 17th century.

Finally, the film is punctuated by a powerful and lingering central performance from Toshiro Mifune. Mifune balances, manic energy and fury with a captivating inner turmoil. The scene that encapsulates these strings of different emotions is when he kills a messenger who tells him that failed to kill Miki’s son. At first, Washizu lunges at him with frightening anger as he stabs the messenger. Then he slowly turns away from the flinching body and is keeping his eyes on it in a manner akin to Predator watching on its prey. Through the course of the scene as messenger slowly succumbs to death’s cold embrace, Mifune’s facial expressions change from satisfaction to guilt over his actions to outright fear.

The Revenant (2016)

revenant2015

The Revenant is a perplexingly peculiar film. On the one hand, it fundamentally adheres to the essential axioms of the cinema, which is visually conveying the story, themes and emotions of its characters. While also delivering on the experiential nature of the medium in two ways. The first is in an impressively constructed battle sequence. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu conveys the sheer brutality and chaotic nature of war with his free roaming camera as it pans across the various terrains that are engulfed in the conflict. The second is the sheer agony and subsequent attempts to survive by the main character Hugh Glass in the aftermath of a vicious attack that he has undergone at the hands of a grizzly bear.

One does get a distinct feeling that Glass feels less like a character than a vessel for suffering. One could argue and indeed admire this aspect insofar as it being a representation of realism, in regards to Glass’s life-threatening injuries lasting the near entirety of the running length. Moreover, this could give credence to the primary theme, which could be inferred as empathy within nature, proving that the distinctively human quality can even emerge under the most extreme conditions where survival is crucial.

Nevertheless, even outside of these moments of protracted anguish, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance proves to be a one-note exercise in toughness. It is not a captivating or nuanced, and it is a shame that DiCaprio won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in this film when there are a plethora of excellent performances that have been overlooked. Such is the nature of this picture, an astoundingly well crafted and ascetic delight with a problematic central performance that feels inauthentically bold.