Re-Animator (1985): Doesn’t Quite Work, Though Good is There

Re-Animator Poster

    I like Jeffrey Combs, I’ve even found a that I enjoy camp bloody horror like “Hellraiser” or “The Thing” the thing is this film is unlike either of those in storytelling. There are certianly aspects of the film I liked, but the focus is all wrong. We follow the most uninteresting couple when there is the prime candidate to tell an interesting story right there…Herbert West.

     The film was directed by Stuart Gordon who also co-wrote the script along with William J. Norris and Dennis Paoli. Brian Yuzna produced the film and it is based off the story Herbert West-Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft.

     The story involves a medical student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) taking in Herbert West as a roommate. Things soon get more complicated as his fiance Megan (Barbara Crampton) is the daughter of the Dean of the College as Dan finds himself pulled into Herbert’s experiments in reanimation of the dead.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is pretty cool. Any movie with a mad scientist immediately has potential to explore the depths of mortality and why a person would want to bring back the dead or escape death…sadly we don’t get any reasons behind why Herbert West does what he does, but the premise gives us the potential for more.

The Special Effects – The Special Effects are great! We get to see a re-animated cat, head and a few zombie bodies as well. This is really where the movie works and I wish we’d gotten more of it since the writing is really bad when things aren’t being brought back to life.

Herbert West – Jeffrey Combs can make anything good, even a poor script. We never get his motivation but his passion shows why even he could see the smallest of roles in “Star Trek” and make them interesting. His character is the reason to watch this and his acting owns this film.

The Ending – Dan the bland leads using re-animation to resurrect his dead fiance. That’s actually a pretty neat ending as the film establishes that being brought back warps your mind.

Cons: The Antagonists – Whether it’s the Dean or Dr. Hill these are men who only live to control and the reasons behind their insecurity and bullying is never explored in any way. They are crappy villains that bring down the story.

Megan – All she does is scream and she is only written into this film to be creeped on by all the male characters. She is nothing more than a prop that drives the protagonist (Dan) and antagonists’ (The Dean and Dr. Hill) actions.

The Structure of the Film – The structure begins with the past and Herbert West trying to bring back his mentor Gruber. It is so different from the rest of the film I am not sure why it was put in as West shows on multiple occasions he doesn’t care about people just what he can do with them after they are dead. From here we follow Dan’s story and it just goes down from there…so West’s motivations aren’t fully established and we have a weak lead…the hook fails causing the rest of the film to be weak in the process.

  This is a film that is alright and worth checking out if you are a fun of Jeffrey Combs and Lovecraft as I am. Sadly neither are given the chance to fully be in a masterpiece of his work as the film falls flat on a few occasions and the blandness of the leads and the antagonists only being one-dimension really brings the film down. For what it is worth though, I am curious if the other sequels are better.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

Shaun of the Dead (2004): Subverting the Rom Com, Popular Culture and Zombie Films

Shaun of the Dead

      “Shaun of the Dead” is a film that does a great job satirizing modern society as well as managing to subvert some of the Rom Com tropes as Shaun is a character who most of the time manages to makes situations worse by trying to do right by his relationships. The weakest part of the film is Ed (Nick Frost) who seems to function as one big joke and in a way wasn’t needed for Shaun’s story to be told.

       The film was directed by Edgar Wright who wrote it with Simon Pegg and produced by Nira Park.

      The story involves Shaun (Nick Frost) and Ed (Nick Frost) missing the Zombie apocalypse until it is in their home forcing Shaun to reconcile with his family and ex named Liz (Kate Ashfield) as he becomes the leader of the group and plans to get them to the pub called the Winchester, believing it to be the only safe place in the city.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful (as is the editing) as the soundtrack is beautifully put into the film to reflect the characters and situations. For example when David is working the lights it is like a concert with the zombies moving to the lights and music while Liz and Shaun fight to Queen. David M. Dunlap did a great job.

The Action – The action is great in this and given that these are slow walkers that says something…the Zombies actually manage to be threatening and a force even if most of the problems that happen are caused by Shaun and his own stupidity and the stupidity of his party.

The Characters – The characters are tropes in this but they get enough development that they feel real. I know people like these characters so it manages to actually be compelling in regards to what happens to them.

Pete – Pete is a dick but he also tries to be as open and supportive as he can even though Ed is giving nothing to rent and their life and he only turns on Shaun and Ed after he is bitten and can’t get any sleep because they are drunk and mixing records as Liz had just dumped Shaun that day.

Philip – Bill Nighy plays Shaun’s step-dad who was always hard on him but finally admits he’s loved him all along before he turns. He is a great character as we we gruff man not used to showing feelings finally opening up at the end and in turn revealing Shaun’s tender side too. It was great seeing him again in this too as before I’d only seen him as Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” Trilogy.

Barbara – Penelope Wilton (the Prime Minister from “Doctor Who”) is great in this as the mom who doesn’t want to intrude upon Shaun’s life. She is super sweet and when she dies you feel it as she was someone doing the best she could and living the theme of survival.

David and Dianne – Dianne is an out of work actress but comes up with the brilliant idea of them pretending to be zombies to get into the Winchester. David was always crushing on Liz and Dianne helped him get over it, him ignoring and denying that hurts her a lot and she goes to protect him when he is being devoured alive by zombies leading to her implied death too.

Yvonne and her Party – Yvonne is the one who seeks out the British Army and saves Liz and Shaun who are the only ones in their party who survive the apocalypse. She is always on it and is the only one with a clear head in all the events that go down. Her boyfriend is also played by Martin Freeman and the characters in her party mirror Shaun’s party. The romantic relationship – Martin and Liz as an example.

Subverting the Rom Com – In the Rom Com the man child (Shaun) usually grows up and redeems himself showing that he is a good guy. In this he is the same guy after he just now knows he courageous and has dealt with all his repressed feelings. When he is the leader he isn’t very good at it and he brought them to the Winchester which was an open pub surrounded by Zombies…nothing he does really helps and his friend

We are the Zombies – The way this is shown best is Shaun in his retail job where everyone is repeating the same phrases again and again, his morning routine as the apocalypse unfolds and him not noticing until a zombie is in his home and the television showing the crap reality television shows before and after the apocalypse and how they were essentially still the same.

Okay: Ed – I couldn’t stand this character, which might have been part of the point. He is selfish, lazy and doesn’t do anything for anyone without first measuring how it benefits himself. I think he was meant to be a joke though as he is played as normal after he turns at the end, showing he was a Zombie in a way, all along.

I would actually rate “Hot Fuzz” higher in the Cornetto Trilogy at this point as I found Nick Frost’s Danny a much more compelling character than Ed (who exists in every film of this nature usually played by Seth Rogen or a Sandler actor) and though I consider this film a favorite and found the overall satire hilarious, “Hot Fuzz” had better payoff with the jokes and dialogue. Still, this is one of the best satires, horrors and comedies and without a doubt my favorite zombie film I have ever watched.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

World War Z (2013): An Alright Action Film

World-War-Z-wallpapers-5

We continue Apocalypse Week with “World War Z.” World War Z is one of my favorite books, and I’m going to say off the back, there is not much related to the books in how this film was executed at all. It doesn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable film mind you, it just doesn’t reach it’s full potential and takes the simple route for storytelling and entertainment value.

The novel World War Z written by Max Brooks is told as a historical narrative of life under a zombie apocalypse, with journalistic reports of the outbreak as it happens from the initial spread, to the end and how humanity fought back against it. It takes place in locations all over the world and has a diverse cast of interesting characters. There really isn’t a traditional main protagonist. These are some of the reasons, beyond the social justice commentary that make it such a miraculous book. There isn’t any of that in “World War Z” the film.

“World War Z” was directed by Marc Forster and went through a lot of writers to actually be completed. There are five names attached to the screenplay. Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof and came from a screen story by Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. From the look of it, they did not know what they were doing, so it is a miracle it even managed to come together as much as it did. Everything was going against this film being any kind of good.

The story itself is simple in the end. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a United Nations Employee is called out of retirement to help find out how the outbreak occurred and finding some way to stop it. The narrative is entirely around him and the survivors and people he meets as he tries to survive the initial outbreak and trace the source of the contagion and find a cure.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Action – The action is really good. The zombies are like fire ants and having rage type zombies is great for action since people turn quickly and it creates tension when a zombie gets close since you don’t know if one of the survivors that Lane is with are going to turn. There is also a great scene of the outbreak occurring on a plane in flight.

The Cinematography – You see Israel, London and New York City as some of the locations destroyed by the outbreak. The sheer destruction…most of which we cause in trying to stop the spread of the zombies is powerful and the shots of fear and creating tension with simple things like people singing is masterful. Most of the times hope occurs it is squashed…until the third act.

The Music – I really liked the score for this film. Marco Beltrami created a great score that adds tension and drama when it needs too and can be reflective on the scenes that demand it. I plan to use music from this score to write sometime.

Gerry Lane – Brad Pitt is a solid actor, and he pretty much needs to carry the plot since they kill off all the interesting characters, like the doctor who thinks he knows what might be causing it dies when they land in South Korea, they go to Israel and the government agent who built the wall to protect from the outbreak dies too before we get the chance to know him, the only two who survive are people who are interesting characters who I’ll list below.

The Scientists – The final area is the pharmaceutical company in the UK where some of the scientists have a theory that the infected only target the strong to spread the contagion so they need to infect themselves with a deadly virus and cure it in order to be safe from the zombies. This is done and is one of the best parts of the film. Peter Capaldi (The 12th Doctor) plays one of the scientists and he is great as the distrustful guy. We also see one of the scientists go with him and the Israeli soldier to get the viruses. This scene is great and everyone survives!

The Ending – The ending is when we finally see people other than Brad Pitt and the military fighting back. We get references to things in the book too like the the fight in the north where people went to in order to escape the zombies and to get their bodies to freeze and destroy them that way. We also see some folks in an apartment creating a makeshift flamethrower to fight against the zombies. Honestly, I wish this had been the film. Seeing different groups from all over the world fighting against the outbreak is what made it interesting.

Cons: Lane’s Family – He has two daughters and a wife and they don’t feel so much like characters as props. Which is a shame since a lot could have been done. They are there to motivate Lane to do his job and to be protected. They are motivation and nothing more.

Most Minority Characters are Killed or Turned – If you are a minority in this film, chances are you will be turned. We see this in the Hispanic family who decides to stay in the apartment during the initial outbreak, the doctor who slips in South Korea and accidentally shoots himself and in the Palestinians and Israelis who die when the zombies climb over the wall. Only ones who survive are the U.N. Deputy-Secretary General and one of the Israeli military folks who is working with Pitt and almost gets infected.

The Pepsi Moment – Lane after he is infected grabs a Pepsi from a machine and looks relieved as he drinks it. He later uses it to get the zombies away from the door so he can get back to the science team. It is pretty blatant product endorsement and I laughed during it because it was so against everything going on before. I’m sure Pepsi was on this survivor’s mind…Wow, in the final score taking away a point just for this scene.

I honestly was expecting worse from this film. Most of the problems with how minority characters and the family were handled was just bad writing, which I think wasn’t the intent. Since Lane works for the U.N. and the whole feel of the film is global, it should have had more of it’s global characters survive. Since every group has people turned. In that way I recognize those issues but also that they were larger issues…like the blatant product endorsement thrown in at the end. The movie still manages to have a pretty strong narrative for it’s protagonist Lane and the music and cinematography are fantastic. I thought those would suffer too because of all the different writers and time in development hell.

Would I recommend this movie? Yes, just know the problems going in…and know that it is pretty much nothing like the book. Where the book was a deep story that had a larger point socially and politically, this is just a fun apocalyptic survival action film.

Final score for this is 8 / 10