Film Review: Re-Animator (1985)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator
Release Date: October 18th, 1985
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

Re-Animator Productions, Empire International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I must say, Dr. Hill, I’m very disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You’re not even a second-rate scientist!” – Herbert West

Re-Animator is one of those movies I have to go back and rewatch every couple of years. And every time that I do, I am always surprised by it, even though I’ve seen it multiple times.

Reason being, is that much of this movie, especially the final third is so bizarre and surreal that it still sort of shocks the senses. The last fifteen minutes or so crosses certain lines that still make you feel uncomfortable, regardless of how many times you’ve seen the picture. I don’t want to go into the details of it, because I’d prefer not to spoil this movie for those who have yet to see it.

This is a 1980s modernization of an H.P. Lovecraft story. It is somewhat of a spin on the Frankenstein tale but goes to even darker places than Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece.

The villain (or hero, depending upon your point of view), Herbert West, is a medical student that has just returned from a stint in Switzerland. He has expanded on the work of a notable doctor and has found a way to reanimate the brains of the deceased and thus, their bodies or what’s left of them. It sort of marries the Frankenstein concept and the zombie genre.

The special effects in this film are pretty well done for the most part but the budgetary limitations are very apparent. For instance, the scene where the zombie cat is on West’s back is pretty silly and plays like slapstick but the film really is a black comedy and this plays that up with its hokiness. However, the majority of the zombie effects are well handled and executed.

The cast is decent but it is Jeffrey Combs, as Herbert West, that steals the show and this was a launching pad for his career. He’s since gone on to be a horror icon and become an accomplished voice actor. He also had some great roles in different Star Trek television series, most notably as various incarnations of the villain Weyoun on Deep Space Nine.

Barbara Crampton holds her own and she had to deal with some seriously bizarre and uncomfortable situations in this movie. Props to her for that.

For many, Re-Animator is a bonafide horror classic. It’s a really good film from its era but I’m not as gung ho of a fan of it as many are. I certainly enjoy it and appreciate it but there are many more films from its time that I would put ahead of it. Still, it is effective and has had a lasting impact. It also spawned a few sequels, which I will review in the near future.

Film Review: The Mummy (2017)

Release Date: May 22nd, 2017 (State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Please meet Princess Ahmanet. She will claim what she has been denied.” – Dr. Henry Jekyll

Well, it’s here. This is the start of Universal Pictures’ attempt at resurrecting their old school Universal Monsters franchise into something more modern and unified like what Marvel has done with the Avengers series of films and like what DC is now doing with their Justice League movies that started with Man of Steel.

Universal has plans to bring back their classic monsters in what they are now officially calling Dark UniverseThe Mummy is the first of these pictures and one would hope that it would be a great start. The big problem is that it isn’t.

I’ve seen a ton of critics and fans trashing this film. While it isn’t as bad as many would have you believe, it certainly has a lot of issues that kick off this Dark Universe franchise pretty weakly.

The biggest problem is Tom Cruise. I’m not hating on Cruise per se but his inclusion in the picture is a distraction. We essentially have typical Tom Cruise making intense faces and trying to prove his manliness and coolness while two women half his age fight over him. He is just quintessential Tom Cruise and that is not what this film needs.

Going forward, a lot of huge names have been mentioned around this franchise and that’s the problem. Unlike Marvel, Universal doesn’t seem to be casting actors that fit parts the right way, they seem to be latching onto star power for the sake of star power.

Another problem is that there isn’t really a sequence that stands out from this film. Nothing is all that memorable or impressive. Its a collage of cookie cutter action sequences that tries to be something big but falls short.

The attempts at humor throughout the film also fall flat. Jake Johnson is there as Cruise’s wisecracking sidekick zombie but his wisecracks just don’t hit the right notes. Cruise tries his hand at some comic relief too but nothing really works.

While I would say that this is a better film, overall, than those atrocious Mummy films with Brendan Fraser, at least those pictures had some truly fun moments. This new Mummy flick is completely devoid of fun and while it tries to be more terrifying, it really isn’t.

There are a few highlights to the film, however.

The first being Sofia Boutella as the mummy. It was refreshing seeing a female mummy and she had a much better presence than anyone else on screen except for Russell Crowe.

Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yes, THAT Dr. Jekyll. He is in the film the same way Samuel Jackson was in the first Iron Man film; he is the character that is going to tie all of these Dark Universe movies together. We also get a nice peek at Mr. Hyde. Okay, more than just a peek but it sets him up nicely, going forward in this series.

As far as the other famous Universal Monsters creatures, we get a glimpse at the Gillman’s hand and a vampire’s skull. This is was done similar to the Easter eggs in the first Iron Man. But really, it just feels like Universal is trying to emulate Marvel too much and I really don’t know what the end game is? A monster Avengers team? But hopefully Universal can do better with their villains than Marvel has done cinematically.

The Mummy is not a good foundation for a franchise but it was a fair attempt that could have been better. It didn’t deter my interest in what else is coming in the future but that is also due to my love of the original Universal Monsters franchise. These monsters are beloved characters in film and literature and although they have all been reinvented more times than one can count, seeing them come together again could be a real treat if the big wigs at Universal learn from this film’s mistakes and correct those issues going forward.

Film Review: Shock Waves (1977)

Release Date: July 15th, 1977
Directed by: Ken Wiederhorn
Written by: Ken Wiederhorn, John Kent Harrison
Music by: Richard Einhorn
Cast: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine, Luke Halpin

Laurence Friedricks Enterprises, Zopix, Blue Underground, 90 Minutes

Review:

I was talking to a friend about Peter Cushing and then he asked, “Hey, have you ever seen the one where he’s an SS commander on an island that has Nazi zombies and the kid from Flipper?” And I said, “How the hell did I miss that?” So then I had to watch it. Granted, this was a few years ago but I decided to watch it again to review it and to just experience it one more time.

Shock Waves is not a good movie, even for an old school zombie flick but it had a lot of cool elements mixed together. It also features horror icon John Carradine for a bit.

You also get Luke Halpin from Flipper, except he’s all grown up now. Brooke Adams stars in this as the female lead. She would go on to be pretty good in the 70s take of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is my favorite version of the many Body Snatchers films.

Ultimately, this film isn’t too exciting. It has zombie Nazis, years before that became a fad in video games and modern cinema with films like Dead Snow. However, there aren’t a lot of them and they seem pretty easy to get away from.

It’s like the Romero zombie films, the monsters aren’t hard to deal with alone or in a small group, it is getting surrounded by many and swarmed that is the real issue. In Shock Waves there’s like four or five of them and a lot of wilderness to run away in and a lot of ocean to hightail it out on the seas.

Peter Cushing is about the only decent thing in the picture but I can name two dozen better films with him in it. Also, John Carradine is amusing as the boat captain but he’s only in this long enough to be the first one killed. Also, the two horror icons don’t share any screen time together which is a big missed opportunity.

It is kind of cool though to see films that have been shot close to where I’m from. This was shot in South Florida and chances are, I’ve run around the same island forest at some point or another. But geography alone doesn’t make a film good and this thing just isn’t.

Although, it isn’t so bad that it deserves to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. I will let it keep its dignity.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: Day of the Dead (1985)

Release Date: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: John Harrison
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Dead Films Inc., Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 100 Minutes

Review:

“What kind of progress? What are you talking about, “make them behave?” What does that mean?” – Captain Rhodes

While Dawn of the Dead is regarded as the closest thing director George A. Romero has to a masterpiece, I consider its follow-up (and the third film in Romero’s Living Dead series) Day of the Dead to be a slightly superior film. I know that some agree with me but that the majority are probably against me.

Maybe it’s because the outside areas of the film where shot in downtown Fort Myers, a city in my county or maybe it is because when this film came out, I was incredibly impressionable and saw it first. I think the real reason however, is that this has the most compelling story of the first three films in Romero’s zombie arsenal. In fact, it has the most compelling story out of any film that Romero has done.

This is the first time, at least to my knowledge, where a filmmaker delved into the zombie psyche and experimented with the idea of how their brains might work. In this film, there is one zombie in particular, named Bub, who shows increasing improvement in his mental functions, in that he recognizes people, likes music, learns how to fire a gun, remembers how to use a phone and builds up an almost father/son relationship with the scientist that is studying him.

To this day, Bub is one of the most iconic zombie figures in the history of film. I would even go on to say that he is the most iconic. That alone, puts this film on a higher level than the other Romero zombie flicks. A lot of credit should also go to the actor who played Bub, Howard Sherman. He didn’t speak but his facial expressions made it so he didn’t have to. His performance is what made Bub the first lovable zombie character in cinema history.

As far as style, this film takes the cake in the Romero zombie world. From the sunny and historic Florida streets to the cavernous and haunting mine underground to the brightly lit zombie lab, this film has a good palate of contrasting tones that go on to shape the emotional narrative of the film.

The great effects of its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead, were once again on display but perfected even more for this film. The death of the character named Rhodes is one of the most gruesome yet awe-inspiring scenes of all-time for a special effects junkie.

Yes, the acting can be a bit cheesy and overly boisterous at times but that adds to the fun of this film. The violence, while there is a lot and it might seem gratuitous to some, never really pushes the bar so high that this becomes some low budget gore fest. There is a pretty stark political and social message in this film and it isn’t lost by a filmmaker inadvertently distracting his audience with shock value tactics.

Romero delivered in every way and this is, in my opinion, his best film.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sherri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

Also known as: Invasion of the Zombies
Release Date: June 1st, 1964
Directed by: Del Tenney
Written by: Richard Hilliard, Lou Binder, Ronald Gianettino
Music by: Wilford L. Holcombe, Edward Earle Marsh, The Del-Aires
Cast: John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allen Laurel, Marilyn Clarke, The Del-Aires, Charter Oaks M.C.

Regal Films, Dark Sky Films, 20th Century Fox, 78 Minutes

Review:

“The director bravely mixes tedium with un-scariness.” – Mike Nelson, Mystery Science Theater 3000

Beach party movies generally suck donkey balls. This one, however, is worse than that. Although, it isn’t as horrible as Catalina Caper because it at least features a horror element and some goofy monsters.

One thing that does set this apart from other beach party flicks is that it was filmed in black and white and it was shot on the Atlantic Coast. The entire film was shot at Shippan Point, the southernmost neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut.

The film starts with a boat dumping toxic waste into the ocean near the beach town. The waste covers a sunken ship where it reanimates dead sailors. They don’t become traditional zombies however, due to the aquatic setting. What we end up with is some wonky looking gillmen in some of the worst costumes ever made for film. As can be expected, the zombie gillmen attack the beach party where the victims bleed chocolate syrup.

While this was billed as a musical, it mostly features tunes that are part of the score and six songs sang by the pop band The Bel-Aires. It isn’t a traditional musical, even though it was sold as one.

The film was promoted as being able to scare people to death and theaters were encouraged to get theatergoers to sign a release form saying that the theater wasn’t responsible for people dying from fright. The film was also released on a double bill with another Del Tenney film The Curse of the Living Corpse.

In regards to the monsters, there were two suits made. Once they dried, after construction, the suits had shrank and the stuntman could no longer fit in them. To solve this problem, the producers gave the role of the monster to a sixteen year-old kid.

Despite the charm of the awful monster suits, the movie is damn near unwatchable. It isn’t interesting, the acting is dog shit and it is really just a waste of 78 minutes. Well, unless you watch the riffed version courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Being that this is a shitty motion picture, I feel the need to run it through the trusty and always accurate Cinespiria Shitometer. So here we go. A-ha! Let’s see the results. The Horror of Party Beach is classified as a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”