Saturday, August 11, 2007

Episode 51 - Masters Of Horror Part 1

The Re-Animator - Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a slightly unstable, but well-meaning medical student. After being thrown out of the school he'd been attending in Germany he relocates to a med school in the United States where he is under the tutelage of the famous Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), with whom Herbert doesn't see eye to eye. In need of a roommate, fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) accepts Herbert into his home where he promptly sets up a makeshift laboratory in the basement. When Dan's cat goes missing, his girlfriend (and daughter of the school's Dean Alan Halsey [Robert Sampson]) Megan (Barbara Crampton) discovers it lying dead inside Herbert's refrigerator. Before long, Herbert demonstrates for Dan what got him kicked out of his previous school: an luminescent green serum called "Re-Agent" that can bring the dead back to life. The serum isn't perfect though, as is demonstrated when Herbert injects Dan's dead cat and it returns to life, though is frantic, violent, and stronger than it was previously. Intent on trying his Re-Agent on a human subject, Herbert convinces Dan to help him sneak into the school's morgue where they test it on a cadaver. The resulting rampage by the previously dead body ends with the death of Megan's father, but before they are caught, Herbert and Dan inject him with the Re-Agent, leading everyone to believe that he has simply gone stark-raving mad. Convinced that something is awry, Dr. Hill visits the laboratory of Herbert, offering to let him get away with the murder of Dean Halsey if he hands over his research regarding the Re-Agent. Before the night is out, Herbert must decide what to do about his problem with Dr. Hill and Dan will do whatever it takes to win back Megan, who Dr. Hill is secretly obsessed with. Bear in mind that while that plot synopsis may seem very intricate and revealing, I've left a lot of story points out. The plot of this film rarely slows down to give you a moment to breath and is constantly changing directions. It's nearly impossible to predict where it's going next, which is one of the reasons that it is so great. The Re-Animator is just a flat-out fun movie to watch. The pacing is great, albeit a bit fast, it's funny, it's horrific, it's intriguing, and it has some incredibly memorable moments. First, the story. As you can tell by the plot synopsis above (as well as by the title itself), The Re-Animator is about zombies and the mad scientist who brings them back to life. Dr. Herbert West isn't your stereotypical mad scientist, though. He is a young man who genuinely wants to help people by beating death. He just gets a little too worked up and makes some bad decisions sometimes. Jeffrey Combs is an actor who I've never really noticed before, but he is far and away the perfect person for the role of Herbert. He livens up the entire screen whenever he's on it with some of the best facial expressions and line deliveries in a B movie since Bruce Campbell. Playing the perfect opposite to the over-the-top Herbert West is Bruce Abbott as his roommate Dan Cain. Bruce is another exceptional talent in this film, not necessarily because he's an incredible actor, but because he plays so well off of Jeffrey's performance. He knows he has to play the less entertaining straight man and he just pulls it off wonderfully. In many ways The Re-Animator wouldn't work without a good performance from Dan's character because he's the person in the film who is most like the audience: being pulled along on an insane ride which he wasn't ready for. The third performance in The Re-Animator that really shines is that of David Gale as the evil Dr. Carl Hill. For a good portion of the movie Dr. Hill's character is just an unlikable old fart, but by the time the climax rolls around he has become an absolutely despicable villain that you just want to see get mutilated (and if you feel this way too, you may be in luck). The premise behind The Re-Animator is simple, but taken in some completely unpredictable and ingenuitive directions by writer/director Stuart Gordon. He takes the tired concepts of zombies and nutty scientists and creates one of the most original stories that I've ever seen on film. Match the wild, rollercoaster ride of a story and the spot-on performances with the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, pre-CG special effects and The Re-Animator is a must see film for anyone who likes to laugh and scream their way through a movie. In my opinion, the only thing holding The Re-Animator back from garnering the mainstream critical acclaim that it deserves is the general public's inability to accept films with over-the-top violence and gore as anything more than throwaway B movies.

The Stuff - When a miner working late one night stumbles upon a pile of white slime slowly seeping from within the Earth, he does what anyone would do in his position. He eats some of it. Finding the ooze particularly delicious, he soon begins pumping it out of the ground in large quantities and marketing it to families in middle America as a new yogurt-esque desert treat called The Stuff. Before long the new taste sensation has gripped the nation and people everywhere are indulging themselves with multiple servings of The Stuff. In fact, so many people are eating it that an ice cream company has hired a private detective by the name of David "Mo" Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) to investigate the product and find out what it is about The Stuff that everyone loves so much. When he arrives at the small town where The Stuff is mined he meets a young boy named Jason (Scott Bloom) who adamantly opposes eating The Stuff after claiming to have seen masses of it moving around of it's own free will. He ran away from home after his family began to act strangely in the wake of eating the product and joins up with Mo in his search for the truth. Together, Mo and Jason learn that The Stuff takes over the mind and body of anyone who eats it and that it has plans to take over the entire human race. Later on they also team up with a former cookie brand spokesman called "Chocolate Chip" Charlie (Garrett Morris) who is out of a job thanks to the popularity of The Stuff, a woman who Mo has the hots for named Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), and Colonel Malcolm Grommet Spears (Paul Sorvino) of the U.S. Army Reserves, in order to stop the reign of terror brought on by the deadly dessert. Every now and then a movie comes along that is so bad that it's good. The Stuff is not one of those movies. The Stuff is so bad that it's just plain bad. However, it does have some redeeming qualities. But first the bad. The acting in The Stuff is atrocious. I dare say that there isn't a single believable, well-delivered line in the entire film. This is not helped by the movie's horrible sound quality. Then there is the story. There are so many problems with the story of The Stuff that while it has a great premise and some wonderful ideas, the plot just can't seem to sustain itself. From scene to scene the story bounces all over the place so many times that it can become confusing, and the story is generally told in such a poor way that it's sometimes hard to stay interested regardless. "What is there to like about The Stuff, then?" you ask? Plenty. First is the concept. At the base of every good science fiction film is a original, interesting premise, and The Stuff is no exception. The idea that this substance takes over peoples bodies is not new or revolutionary, but the little differences between this idea and something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers really make it stand out. The fact that people are exposing themselves to the product of their own will and that before anyone knows that it's dangerous they've already willingly tried it is a great idea. The hopeless nature of the situation is also great. As the sad excuse for a plot rolls on there are these incredibly shocking moments of great intrigue when a person with an active imagination can stop and say "Wait a minute! That's a great idea! I wish they did something better with it!" This by no means makes the movie itself all that much more enjoyable, but it certainly can get you thinking, and that's half of the enjoyment of watching The Stuff. The other half is the special effects. I'd say that about half of the effects in this movie are terrible, but the other half are just the kind of stuff that any self-respecting horror/monster movie lover thrives on. Horribly twisted facial expressions, slime oozing out of people's bodies, mutilated human hosts, and ghastly transformation scenes are all achieved with some pretty impressive make-up effects. The majority of the weaker effects shots are poorly constructed and poorly filmed miniatures, forced perspective shots, and reversed action shots, but every now and then one of them manages to look pretty good. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when a bed has been booby-trapped with The Stuff and it comes pouring out of the mattress, pinning a man against a wall and forcing him up to the ceiling. The shot was obviously achieved by titling the set, but just seeing old-school effects in action is often enough to get me excited when watching a B-grade horror movie. The Stuff is most certainly not for everyone, but if you like movies like The Evil Dead, The Re-Animator, or Brain Dead/Dead Alive, chances are that you'll get something out of this film.

Hellraiser - Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman and later Oliver Smith) is the kind of guy you wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley. He's an ill-tempered jerk who likes to dabble in life's dark taboos. That is how he ended up in possession of a small puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration. When Frank solves the puzzle he is drawn from the attic of his former home into hell where a quartet of disfigured, leather-clad individuals known as the Cenobites proceed to bring him to the heights of pleasure and pain via intricate means of torture. Some time later, Frank's brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his new wife Julia (Clare Higgins) decide to move from the city into Larry and Frank's childhood home which the brothers still own. When they arrive they find evidence that Frank had been residing there at some point, but he himself has gone missing. While moving a mattress up the stairs, Larry cuts his hand and ends up dripping some blood on the floor of the attic. After he leaves, Frank begins to rise from beneath the floorboards, awoken by the blood, and starts to rebuild his physical body. Discovering Frank's partially reconstructed form in the attic, Julia, who had a secret affair with him in the past, agrees to bring him more blood so that he may continue to rebuild himself. Over the next few days, Julia begins seducing men, luring them to the attic, and killing them to feed Frank's need for blood. Later, Larry's daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who he'd had with his previous wife, discovers the puzzle box and accidentally unlocks it, drawing the Cenobites to her. Before they can take her, though, she offers to lead them to Frank, who had escaped them, in exchange for her life. The Cenobites accept, but can Kirsty really trust a pack of demons? For years I had a preconceived notion that Hellraiser was simply another sub-par 80's horror movie. It turns out that I was wrong. With Hellraiser, Clive Barker has not only crafted an entertaining story, but also a completely original take on the concept of hell. It will be difficult to explain my feelings for this concept, but some of Pinhead's (Doug Bradley) lines were very poetic and spoke volumes to me about the way Barker envisioned this film that no plot synopsis could. For example, when Kirsty asks Pinhead who they (the Cenobites) are, he replies, "Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others." Then there is Pinhead's bone-chilling delivery of the line "We have such sights to show you!", which drives itself into your chest like a nail when you hear how disturbingly happy he is while saying it. There were some very interesting ideas and concepts in other areas of the film's plot, but the best moments are by far when the Cenobites confront Kirsty on Earth after she solves the Lament Configuration. Without this scene the movie still has merit, but with it it is on a whole other level. Outside of the Cenobites, Frank is definitely the most interesting and well-portrayed character. In general I was unimpressed with many of the film's other characters, but Frank was a delight to watch because of his performance and his physical appearance. The special effects and make-up people on Hellraiser earned their paychecks well by creating every stage of Frank's "re-birth" in visually gory glory (I wonder if that phrase sounds as dumb as it looks). The most noteworthy effects in the film take place when Frank is first rising from the floorboards. Imagine watching a human body literally melt and fall to pieces, and then imagine watching that happen in reverse. That is essentially what the viewer is treated to in this scene. There are some fairly cheesy effects in Hellraiser (particularly at the end of the film when the Cenobites are being sent back to hell or when the two-headed demon is around), but they are overall pretty good. My biggest complaint with the movie would be that in the middle it gets a bit slow and tedious, but as soon as the Cenobites grace the screen with their presence it becomes a whole new ball game. Don't go into Hellraiser expecting a work of genius, but don't underestimate it the way I did for so long, either.

Children of the Corn - In the small town of Gatlin, Nebraska a young boy named Isaac (John Franklin) and his right hand man Malachai (Courtney Gains) have convinced all of the other children who reside there that there is a being living among the corn fields who requires them to make sacrifices to it. To sate the hunger of "he who walks behind the rows", the brainwashed children murder every single person in the town over the age of eighteen. Meanwhile, Burton "Burt" Stanton (Peter Horton) and his girlfriend Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are on their way to a new life in a new town where Burt has gotten a job as a doctor. While looking at a map, Burt accidentally swerves their car on a back road near Gatlin and hits a child mows down a child. Upon further inspection, the child is dead, but from a lacerated neck, and not from being hit by the car. Burt and Vicky load the boy into their trunk and take off for Gatlin to tell the authorities, however when they arrive they find that the town has been abandoned. Searching a nearby house they discover a young girl named Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy) who has the ability to draw pictures that tell of future events, but Vicky isn't aware of this when she sees a drawing of herself being attacked in a corn field. Splitting up, Burt searches for help as Vicky is captured by Malachai and some other children and strung up on a cross among the corn. Sarah's brother Job (Robby Kiger) helps Burt hide when he is attacked by some other children and then leads him to where Vicky is being held. Rescuing his girlfriend from some little kids seems pretty easy, but what if there actually is some unseen force that lives among the fields of corn? Children of the Corn has a lot of potential, but sadly comes up short of achieving it. The idea of scary little children has been done to death these days, but Children of the Corn actually has the redeeming quality of not being about demonic children, but just misled ones. I really enjoyed the idea that there's nothing special about these kids aside from their being motivated to do something bad because they don't know any better. Aside from that one good aspect though, this film is a train wreck. First off, finding a movie with a good performance by one child in it is hard enough. This film, on the other hand, has dozens of kids and none of them are particularly good at just about anything in the realm of acting. Malachai is probably the best of the child characters in the movie unless you count Isaac, who was played by an actor with Growth Hormone Deficiency who is in fact much older than he looks. Then again, Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton didn't really do anything for me in this film either. The entire cast was pretty lackluster. Then there's the story. Yes, I like the concept of a bunch of kids who kill people without demonic/alien inspiration, but the plot of Children of the Corn couldn't be more boring. Some people arrive in town, one of them is kidnapped, the other rescues her, etc. The pacing of the film is horrible as well. The beginning is excruciatingly slow while the climax is over in the blink of an eye. Speaking of the climax, I find it hard to believe that the ending of the original Stephen King short story is the same as the ending of the film, because if it is, I don't know how anyone ever convinced a movie studio to finance this project. Then again, maybe no one did finance it because the special effects at the end were so bad that they must not have had much money to work with. The ending is just ludicrous, horribly shot, poorly acted, and so botched in the suspense department that I don't see how anyone could like it. Not that the rest of the film is much better, but it seriously seems as though when the time rolled around to film the climax of Children of the Corn, Fred Kiersch forgot how to direct. When you get right down to it I honestly only liked the most basic premise of the film and that is no reason to like the movie. I implore you to avoid Children of the Corn unless you like your movies bad (and not in a good way).

1 comment:

Ricky said...

I guess I have a sort of unique view on these reviews since I watched all of these films with you. I'll start by saying I love how you ended the "Children Of The Corn" review, truer words have never been spoken. Unfortunately I don't have much to offer in the comment department because I basically agree with all of your reviews, I guess I'll quickly run through my opinions of the movies.

Re-Animator--one of the best 80's horror movies I've seen, if you're into interesting sci-fi ideas and great pre-CG special effects there are very few films that can outdo this one, I was completely blown away by how great it was--I can't believe I didn't hear about it sooner.

The Stuff--I haven't seen many movies put together worse than this one, but somehow it still manages to be a more fun viewing experience than many horror movies. It's completely terrible. Most of the acting is ad-libbed and many of the special effects are horribly done, but it has enough humorous and completely ridiculous moments that warrant at least one viewing. It's really bad, but I would highly recommend "The Stuff" if you're in the mood for an awesomely bad horror movie.

Hellraiser--For some reason, seeing the image of Pinhead as a child left me with a completely innacurate preconcieved vision of Hellraiser. Having finally seen the movie, it was really original and great. I finally saw what set Pinhead and the other Cenobites' characters apart from the slasher antagonists of the 80's I had so innapropriately lumped them in with. Hellraiser has a unique premise and some of the very best pre-CG special effects of all time. This is a film you must see.

Children Of The Corn--As Rian said, this movie is very bad and has no redeeming qualities. I agree that the idea of children killing people because they are simply mislead is interesting, but this movie is really one of the worst things I have ever seen, it's just completely horrible. Do not watch this movie!!!