Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween Holocaust: Double Feature: Re-Animator/From Beyond (Stuart Gordon, 1985/1986)


This mid-80s H.P Lovecraft inspired double-header can easily be considered as a pair of the ballsiest and most far-out horror adaptations ever made. As shown by masters of cinema such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, it matters not if your story is borrowed from elsewhere; it's what you do with it that counts. Therefore, the most interesting adaptations usually require the input of someone with a strong vision, who can read the source material and refract it through their own unique sensibility. Whilst both films are ensemble pieces through and through (both in front of the camera and behind), I think it's safe to say that director Stuart Gordon qualifies as such a man.  

The Chicago born Master of Horror originally got his start in the theatre, producing such wonderfully subversive fare as an adaptation of Peter Pan inspired by the shenanigans at the '68 Democratic Convention, with Peter and the Lost Boys as a bunch of hippies taking on a Mayor Daley inspired Captain Hook. Best of all, the trip to Neverland was apparently a lysergic one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the authorities and the public were appalled, leading to the whole affair becoming a national controversy and, word has it, causing Gordon and his future wife to be arrested for obscenity (the charges were later dropped). As you might expect then, this is exactly the sort of guy you could reliably put your money on to make a balls-out, pull-no-punches horror flick, which is exactly what then neophyte producer Brian Yuzna (director of 1989's brilliant splatter-satire Society) did when he and Gordon first met. With assistance from writers Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris, the pair would go on to craft an unforgettable, visceral, cinematic one-two punch with their debut and sophomore efforts.

Both films essentially concern Promethean scientific research gone awry (i.e. the whole "humans weren't meant to meddle with such things" story), caused by irresponsible and/or amoral scientists. Intriguingly however, the character dynamics presented in Re-Animator are later reversed in From Beyond, with Jeffrey Combs's reckless scientist from the former becoming a well-meaning and cautious unfortunate in the latter and Barbara Crampton turning from the victim in the first film to borderline antagonist in the second (she certainly helps to catalyse coming events, at any rate).

One of the things that makes these films both unforgettable in their own right and somewhat atypical as Lovecraft adaptations is how they co-mingle the horrific, the comedic and the erotic, to create situations and imagery that you can't quite believe you're seeing at first, perhaps due the relative anemia of the majority of routine genre fodder. 

A thick vein of black humour runs through both titles in varying degrees, but I'd say that From Beyond veers closer to pure horror, where as Re-Animator manages to maintain a fairly consistent balance between the funny and the frightening throughout almost its entire run-time.                  

On the acting side, credit is also due to Bruce Abbott and Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree, who serve as believable and likable audience surrogate characters in their respective films, and David Gale and Ted Sorel who play the two movies' creepy, power-hungry antagonists. The production values, especially the cinematography, gore effects and music, are uniformly top-drawer; much of the same talent worked on both pictures.

Needless to say, if you're a fan of the genre, or not easily shocked and looking for something out of the ordinary, check either (or ideally both) of these films out immediately. Just don't let your grandmother watch them, as she'll no doubt be appalled, if she doesn't have a heart attack first, of course.

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