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!


Review : Class Of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)

Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, directed by Lloyd Kaufman (and a number of Troma directors) and released in 1986, is one of Troma’s better known features. Troma Entertainment is an independent production and distribution company (founded by Lloyd Kaufman in 1974) which specializes in low-budget trash films. Troma films are not for everyone and it is quite understandable why the majority of film viewers might not enjoy such films. But if you typically enjoy B-movies, low-budget productions or unique trashy experiences, then Troma is definitely up your alley.

The action of Class Of Nuke ‘Em High takes place, like the majority of Troma films, in Tromaville. The local high school is a melting pot of nerds, jocks and punk delinquents. One day, a chemical leak occurs at the nuclear plant located near the school. Students are soon exposed to the radioactive matters which results in mutations, hallucinations, monsters and overall craziness.

Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is not as mindless as it first appears (like it is the case with other Troma films). Released in 1986, only a few months after the Chernobyl catastrophe, the message of the film was extremely relevant at the time (and remains so today). Similarly to The Toxic Avenger, Class Of Nuke ‘Em High deals with the danger of nuclear plants and humanity’s tendency to destroy the environment while delivering a social commentary on youth. This may be surprising to some but Troma manages to deliver trashy films with substance !

Of course, the film’s extremely low budget is very apparent throughout but what it lacks in production value, it makes up for it in ingenuity and creativity. Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is filled with fun ideas though some may not be implemented in the best way. The most impressive aspect of the film is the practical effects. All the gore and gross effects are brilliantly manufactured and look fantastic on screen. From the mutations to the big monster, everything looks great ! However, the same cannot be said of the costume designs.

The biggest weakness of Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is the acting, especially from the supporting cast. When watching a B-movie, you accept the fact that the acting will not be A-level. However, in most Troma films, the acting is hilariously horrendous. However, I was very surprised as Gilbert Brenton (who portrays Warren, the main character) actually gives a good performance. He is definitely the highlight of the film, acting-wise.

Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is extremely entertaining and fun. It definitely has so-bad-it’s-good qualities while being genuinely good at times. Troma features may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I do recommend Class Of Nuke ‘Em High. I personally loved it and was not bored for one second.

Review : Frogs (1972)

Frogs, directed by George McCowan and released in 1972, is a killer animal flick attempting to deliver a message in defense of the environment. The film takes place on a Florida island. Picket Smith, a nature photographer, is canoeing while taking pictures of the effects of pollution on the environment. While on the water, his boat is tipped over by a young man, Clint Crockett. To apologize, he takes Pickett Smith to the family estate and offers dry clothes and food. While there, the photographer soon finds out nature is fighting back pollution and especially the Crockett family, who has little respect for the environment.

As silly as the story first appears, the film does try to deliver a strong message in favor of the environment : nature should be cherished and not abused. The film doesn’t do a particularly good job at delivering this message but it at least gives a deeper meaning to the killings. Unfortunately, the killings are my biggest issue with the film. When you watch a film about killer animals, entitled Frogs, you have every right to expect frogs to perform the killings. Never have I watched a film with such a misleading title. A variety of animals participate in the killing of the Crockett family : spiders, snakes, alligators and even a turtle. Never does a frog ever kill anyone…or even does anything besides observing the killings. The frogs are almost like the mob of the forest : they orchestrate the crimes while never actually participating. This was, to say the least, extremely disappointing.

The majority (if not all) the death scenes are hilariously bad. They consist in a character overacting, screaming and running with the addition of animal footage (most likely stock footage) which never matches the action. Every time the animal footage is shown, it is so out of touch with the rest of the scene that it makes absolutely no sense. No effort was put into making those scenes appear slightly plausible (even the backgrounds never match). One fight scene in particular needs to be pointed out : the alligator scene. I am not sure if the man was fighting the alligator or hugging it or dancing with it. It is horrendous to the point where you will laugh hysterically. Overall, the production value is extremely low.

Frogs, with its misleading title and poorly-made killing scenes, falls in the category of films you might enjoy precisely because it is quite bad. I cannot recommend this awful attempt at a killer animals flick but if you want a good laugh, a lot of scenes will surely deliver !

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.