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