Review : Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator, directed by Stuart Gordon and released in 1985, is loosely based on a novella written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1922. The film was distributed by Empire Pictures (the company created by Charles Band before Full Moon). Re-Animator has reached the status of cult classic over the years.

Re-Animator tells the story of Herbert West, a medical student who succeeded in creating a serum which can re-animate dead bodies. In Zurich, he manages to bring his dead professor back to life but there are disgusting side effects as the dosage was too high. Accused of killing the professor, Herbert West moves to New England and enrolls in university to further his studies. When he demonstrates to his roommate, Dan, the power of his discovery, the latter joins him to further test the serum. This leaves the students expelled from school with a trail of re-animated corpses behind them.

Re-animator is the perfect example of a horror comedy done right. The mad scientist premise has been used countless times and, on paper, it sounds a bit ridiculous. Instead of working against it, the film completely embraces it and does exactly what should be done : it goes over the top and delivers a gory experience with plenty of dark humor. I loved the tone of Re-Animator and its unique style. It has a good rhythm and is never boring.

The story being a mix of Frankenstein and zombies, it offers a reflexion on the God complex that is often associated on screen to scientists and doctors and the acceptance of our own mortality. Add to that a high dose of blood and gore and gags, and you get the perfect entertaining cinematic experience. Of course, Re-Animator has its flaws and I could nitpick as I often like to do. I also could list everything that doesn’t make sense. I won’t bother because this film has good acting, a fun story, great practical effects and this is all I wanted !

Finally, I just want to write a few words about what is, in my opinion, the greatest strenght of the film : Jeffrey Combs’ performance as Herbert West. It may be the first time I thought an actor acting over the top was brilliant and made the right choice. He absolutely nails the part of the scientist slowly descending into madness. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well but I do believe Re-Animator would be nothing without Jeffrey Combs.

If you love horror, you are bound to love Re-Animator. I have no clue why it took me so long to watch this classic and I can see myself rewatching it several times in the future. Learn from my mistakes : don’t wait any longer, watch it now!

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Review : Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was directed by Tobe Hooper and was released in 1974. The film is a classic, vastly considered one of the best horror films ever made. Let’s be a bit controversial : I am one of those rare people who dislike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That being said, let me explain why !

The story is extremely simplistic : Two siblings visit their grandfather’s grave in Texas along with three of their friends and are attacked by a family of cannibalistic psychopaths. The plot is basic and it won’t get any more interesting than that. I have watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre twice. The first time, I hated it and thought it was very bad. I still have some difficulties understanding why it is held in such high regards. I watched it a second time for the purpose of this review (which is dedicated to my friends Brandon and Derek who were shocked to find out how much I dislike this classic).

First, the cinematography and directing are no very good and the camera work is rather amateurish. The documentary style didn’t give a realistic feel to the story, in my opinion. I thought it was a poor excuse for mediocre filmmaking. I especially disliked the excessive use of zoom-ins and close-ups. They are badly made and Hooper overuses them to the point where it is simply annoying to look at. “Excessive use” is the expression that best sums up Hooper’s directing : if he finds one gimmick, you can be sure he’s going to use it to death. And that is a shame really, because there are indeed some good shots and some good ideas in this film. But repetition kills it all. For instance, the sunset shot at the end of the film in which Leatherface is swinging the chainsaw is amazing. Problem is, Hooper has used “sunset shots” numerous times in the film before so when you reach the ending, the effect feels old and loses its full impact. Hooper also has a tendency to drag sequences out until it becomes so boring you want to bang your head against the wall praying that the film will finally move on. The best example of that problem is the sequence in which Leatherface is chasing Sally in the woods. At first, it is quite scary and you do feel Sally’s raw terror. But, as usual, the chase is so damn long that it gets really boring and you are just hoping Leatherface will catch up to her and kill her so she quits screaming so goddamn much ! Oh, and did I mention the editing is atrocious throughout the entire film ? Well, it is.

Let’s talk a little bit about the characters. First, we have Franklin, Sally’s paraplegic brother. The idea is that Franklin is annoying and a burden for his sister and friends, mainly due to his handicap (Hooper is an asshole for implying that handicapped people who don’t have a choice but to rely on others for simple tasks are an annoyance). The main problem is that, either by acting or writing, Paul A. Partain doesn’t portray Franklin as an annoying brother but as a cringe-worthy 4-year-old brat. His performance is laughable, not because there is humor in it, but because it ridiculous and embarrassing. Then, there’s Sally. Oh, Sally ! How I hate this girl ! I’m almost disappointed that Leatherface didn’t cut her into pieces. Starting at 52:00 (yes, I wrote it down), 98% of Sally’s lines consist in screaming, screaming and more screaming. Who thought having her scream for the majority of the film was a good idea ? I never want my poor ears to endure this torture ever again. The siblings’ friends are forgettable so let’s not waste time on them. Let’s focus on the infamous family of psychos. First, we have The Hitchhiker. It is hard to decide who gives the worst performance in this film, but he and Franklin are at the top of the list. His portrayal of a deranged man is over-the-top, stupid, cringe-worthy and his actions don’t make sense most of the time. He is a caricature of a crazed man. And then, there’s Leatherface, who is a horror icon. Visually, he is indeed quite scary. He has a massive stature, a terrifying mask and a freaking chainsaw. But, there is one thing that absolutely destroyed his aura : there is a scene where he talks. Well, not exactly talks but makes sounds and mumbles a few words. I really, really, advise you to find the scene online to see what I mean when I say that his voice is ridiculous. He has a high-pitched voice that you’d expect from a little girl, not a big dude like Leatherface.

There is also one character who I simply don’t get : the grandfather. I do understand he is supposed to be very old but is he some sort of zombie ? He looks like a corpse and drinks blood. If he is just supposed to be a very old man, then his costume and face make-up (or mask, rather) are horrible. If he is “something else”, then how does that fit in with the rest of the film ? A film, may I remind you, that presents itself as a documentary-like experience to immerse you in real terror (real as in realistic).

Now, let’s not be hypocritical : The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has good scenes. While I really don’t like that film and can’t see what is supposed to be so great about it, I can’t say it is the worst film I’ve ever seen (because it’s not). I do admire the fact that you feel like you’ve seen a very gory film when in fact, the violence is not often shown on screen. The sunset shot at the end is beautiful…and..that’s pretty much it !

Before concluding my review, here are a few other things I wrote down about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while I was watching it : Leatherface’s entrance is underwhelming and badly edited ;  the dinner scene which starts out great by giving a sense of surreal madness lasts too long for its own good and ends up being boring, stupid and headache-inducing ; why does the dinner scene take place at night but when Sally escapes, it is daytime ? ; the ending is abrupt, there is no fade to black, did they forget to properly edit it ?

I know the majority of cinephiles will highly disagree with my review of this beloved classic. However, I think I have given enough reasons why I don’t like the film not to be called a simple “hater”. I know how important this film is and what it did for the genre. But I do feel a lot of people say they like the film just because it is a classic. I do not like Tobe Hooper’s filmmaking to begin with, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a good example why : I think it is badly made, badly edited, the characters are awful and so is the acting. I will certainly not be watching this crap ever again !

Review : Evilspeak (1982)

Evilspeak was directed by Eric Weston in 1982 and stars Clint Howard in the lead role. It was banned in the United Kingdom during the video nasties purge in the early 1980’s. Evilspeak tells the story of a military academy student, victim of constant bullying by his fellow classmates, who manages to unleash evil forces to take his revenge on his tormentors.

Evilspeak was very different from what I expected, especially knowing the film was part of the video nasties. Instead of a straight-up horror film, it is more of a revenge thriller. It focuses on its main character and develops the story until the gory action begins and feels justified.

Coopersmith, played by Clint Howard, is a shy nerdy teenager who lost his parents in a car accident. He is being bullied by other students and treated harshly by some of the school staff. He only finds comfort in the company of a puppy given to him by the only positive person he meets in the school : the cafeteria cook. Evilspeak shows a lot of the struggles Coopersmith is going through and his tormentors become increasingly cruel as the movie progresses. I thought treating the story in such a way was a smart move as the violence that ensues in the final act is very satisfying as watching the bullies get killed is something the viewer is waiting for all along.

It is sometimes silly and cheesy but it is full of fun ideas such as using pigs as evil animals doing satanic deeds instead of something more typical like wolves. Also, Coopersmith uses a computer to translate an old satanic book. The mix of technology (especially in an underground ritual chamber) and ancient black magic was really silly and fun.

While the first two acts focus on the characters and the story, the final act abruptly becomes over-the-top and gory. The tone changes as fast as our main character suddenly lets his rage out after keeping his pain bottled up for so long. Evilspeak could have been more bloody throughout but there is plenty of gore in its conclusion.

Though the film shows its age and the special effects don’t hold up very well, the tension is well-built and Evilspeak is a must-see for any genre enthusiast. Clint Howard gives a very good performance and the film is overall very enjoyable. It is one of those forgotten gems that deserves attention.

The blu-ray released by 88 Films has an excellent transfer, both regarding audio and video, and presents the remastered uncut version of the film. It also has a lot of interesting bonus features giving insight on the film : an audio commentary, various special effects featurettes and more.