Tag Archives: cult movies

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe

gameraguardian1

Today’s feature was the debut of the Hesei era of the famed kaiju franchise Gamera: 1995’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was written by Kazunori Itô, who is best known for Ghost in the Shell and .hack//SIGN. He would also return to write both of the following Gamera films.

The movie was directed by Shûsuke Kaneko, who also helmed the film adaptation of the popular anime Death Note as well as the Toho kaiju showcase Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: All Out Attack. As with Ito, Kaneko returned for both of the subsequent Gamera movies.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe featured two cinematographers: Kenji Takama (Welcome Back Mr. McDonald, Death Note: The Last Name) and Junichi Tozawa, who would later shoot Gamera 2: Attack of Legion and Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.

The editor for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was Shizuo Arakawa, who would also cut the sequel, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.

The producers for the film included Hiroyuki Kato (who has produced recent episode of the Pokemon television show), Yasuyoshi Tokuma (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), and Tsutomu Tsuchikawa, a frequent collaborator of Takashi Miike’s on such movies as Dead or Alive and The City of Lost Souls.

The effects team for Gamera: Guardian of the Universe included Hajime Matsumoto (The Grudge, Ringu), Mahiro Maeda (Mad Max: Fury Road, Blue Submarine No. 6), Tomo’o Haraguchi (Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Air Doll), Shinji Higuchi (Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris, Attack on Titan), Makoto Kamiya (Godzilla vs. Biollante), Toshio Miike (Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), and Shin’ichi Fushima (Godzilla Against Mechgodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus).

gameraguardian4The cast for the movie includes Ihara Tsuyoshi (13 Assassins, Letters From Iwo Jima), Shinobu Nakayama (Fist of Legend, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II), Ayako Fujitani (Man From Reno, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris), and Hirotarô Honda (Kamikaze Girls).

The antagonist monster of the film, Gyaos, was performed by a woman actor, which was reportedly the first time this was done in the history of kaiju movies.

gameraguardian5The reception to Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was generally positive: it currently holds a 6.9 rating IMDb alongside a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is plenty respectable for a franchise known for its historic low quality.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe stands in sharp contrast to the Showa era of the franchise, which I covered a while back. Whereas those movies were generally goofy and aimed at children, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe has a much more serious and dark tone, more in line with a typical monster or disaster movie. There is also the notable absence of children characters in the cast, which was a staple of the Showa era and the Gamera character.

I particularly appreciate that Gamera: Guardian of the Universe still uses the classic rubber suit monster effects, just updated for the times. If they had attempted to use mid-1990s CGI, this movie would be nearly unwatchable. Speaking of which, the team also made the solid decision to introduce both Gamera and his classic foe Gyaos in this movie. The original Gamera didn’t feature an antagonist, and is the weakest in the franchise from an action standpoint because of it (unlike the original Gojira, which was a true drama that didn’t need monster action to carry it).

Gyaos in this movie looks more like Toho’s Rodan more than I ever remember him looking before. The design used in the Showa era had a larger, more pronounced triangular head, whereas the Hesei update is toned down significantly with a head more reasonably proportional to the body. The result is a creature that looks very similar to the Heisei design of Rodan which debuted a handful of years before in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.

Gyaos design from Showa era
Gyaos design from Showa era
gameraguardian2
Gyaos design from Heisei era
Rodan design from Heisei era
Rodan design from Heisei era

Overall, this is a really enjoyable kaiju movie. It isn’t revolutionary in any sense and doesn’t break any new ground for the genre, but is perfectly serviceable for what it is. For fans of big monster action, this is absolutely worth checking out. It still isn’t as good as the Heisei Godzilla flicks, but that shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise. The fact that a Gamera movie is honestly worth the time spent watching it is noteworthy enough.

Advertisements

Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness

reefermadness1

Today’s feature is one of the most infamously terrible cult movies of all time: Reefer Madness.

Reefer Madness was directed and cowritten by Louis J. Gasnier (Parisian Love, The Perils of Pauline), with the screenplay being provided by Arthur Hoerl, who wrote numerous low budget movies over his career, including The Lost Tribe, Texas to Bataan, and Mystery in Swing.

The cinematography and camera work on Reefer Madness was provided by Jack Greenhalgh, who also shot Robot Monster, Dead Men Walk, The Mad Monster, and Lost Continent.

The musical director for the film was Abe Meyer, who also worked on such movies as Revolt of the Zombies and another famous anti-marijuana flick, Assassin of Youth.

The editor for Reefer Madness was Carl Pierson, who also cut movies like The Ape Man, The Dawn Rider, and Blue Steel.

The cast of Reefer Madness includes Dave O’Brien (The Red Skelton Hour), Lillian Miles (The Gay Divorcee), Carleton Young (Kansas City Confidential, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), and Dorothy Short (Assassin of Youth).

The plot of Reefer Madness follows a group of teenagers who become corrupted by nefarious dope fiends, who get them addicted to “the demon weed,” marijuana.

Reefer Madness inspired a loose musical remake in 2005 starring Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, and Neve Campbell, which was based on a 1992 musical play inspired by the original film. The movie was produced by the Showtime television network, and debuted at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

The plot of Reefer Madness is based loosely on the highly publicized case of Victor Licata, who murdered his family in 1933. Anti-drug activists claimed that his crimes were influenced by the use of marijuana, and the case was used to propagate the idea that marijuana could cause people to become violent. However, the idea that his marijuana use had anything to do with his violent behavior has been highly criticized, given we was found to have psychological conditions that left him prone to violent outbursts.

Reefer Madness has built up a significant ironic cult following among marijuana enthusiasts, which has grown after years of being held as a midnight screening staple.

Reefer Madness was originally titled Tell Your Children, and has been billed under a number of alternate titles over the years, including The Burning Question, Dope Addict, and Doped Youth.

reefermadness3The film is officially in the public domain, though the title card claims that it was copyrighted. The production of the movie is unclear, but popular belief is that it was written and produced by a religious group as anti-marijuana propaganda, but no one has ever come forward with a legitimate claim to the copyright. The version of the movie that most are familiar with is the result of a re-release, which inserted additional footage so it could be billed as an exploitation movie.

The reception to Reefer Madness has been traditionally negative, though it has become a cult movie staple for its transparent agenda and unrealistic plot. It currently holds a 3.7 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 46% from critics and 38% from audiences. It is worth noting that due to the movie’s cult status, there are a number of ironic positive reviews on both sites that have artificially elevated the scores.

The acting in Reefer Madness is of course way over the top, which fits perfectly with the exaggerated writing throughout the movie. The fact that it is obvious that no one in the production had any idea of how marijuana works definitely adds to the effect of the movie as a whole. Now that marijuana is on track for widespread legalization in the United States over the next few years, it is a good time to go back and look at the history of the public perception of the drug, which Reefer Madness showcases quite well.

The popularity of Reefer Madness as an ironic bad movie helped launch an entire subgenre of b-movie, specifically focused on the stoner demographic. I think that it is fair to say that movies like Evil Bong wouldn’t exist without the cult reputation of Reefer Madness.

reefermadness2Reefer Madness is certainly deserving of its reputation, and is a blast to sit through. I am a total sucker for these old social hygiene films, like I Accuse My Parents, and always get a kick out of seeing the sensationalized realities depicted within them. Reefer Madness‘s depiction of the effects of marijuana is one of the funniest things that I have ever seen in this kind of movie, just because of how wrong it is, and how much the actors desperately try to sell their performances. Reefer Madness is a solid recommendation from me, and I feel like every b-movie fan has an obligation to watch it at least once, because of its cultural relevance if nothing else.

Miami Connection

Miami Connection

miamiconnection1

Today’s feature is Miami Connection, a once-lost movie that features all of the cocaine, ninjas, and 80s rock you could ever want.

Miami Connection was directed, produced, and co-written by Woo-Sang Park, who was also behind American Chinatown, Gang Justice, and LA Streetfighters. His co-writers were two of the film’s stars and co-producers, Joseph Diamand and Y.K. Kim.

The cinematographer for Miami Connection was Maximo Munzi, who also shot such films as Detonator, Scorcher, and American Chinatown.

Both the music and special effects makeup work for Miami Connection was provided by Jon McCallum, who also worked on films like Future Shock, Project Eliminator, Soultaker, and Surf Nazis Must Die.

miamiconnection2The plot of Miami Connection centers around a group of students at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, who share a passion for taekwondo and their family-friendly rock and roll band, Dragon Sound. When Dragon Sound bumps a local gang peddling cocaine from a night club venue, their adversaries go out for revenge, and the conflict rapidly escalates.

The star of Miami Connection is Y.K. Kim, who is a noted master of taekwondo, and a local celebrity in Orlando. Apparently, he arranged most of the filming locations and extras for the movie based on his good will with the greater community. For instance, the bikers featured in the background were reportedly real local bikers from the Orlando area, and were compensated for their time in beer.

miamiconnection3Most of Miami Connection was filmed on (or near) the University of Central Florida campus in the Orlando, FL area. Despite the title of the movie, no part of the filming took place in Miami.

For years, Miami Connection was lost to the ages. Its theatrical release in 1988 barely broke out of Florida, and most of the screenings were limited to the Orlando area. The Orlando Sentinel apparently even named it the worst film of the year. In 2009, a programmer at Alamo Drafthouse picked up a copy on ebay, and screened it at one of the theaters. This eventually led to Drafthouse Films picking up the film for redistribution, which has led to its rising status as a cult classic.

Former Mystery Science Theater 3000 hosts Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy have announced that Miami Connection will be the lampooned feature for their Rifftrax Live event on October 1, 2015, which is bound to increase the movie’s profile even further.

Thanks to its new-found cult status, Miami Connection currently has an IMDb rating of 6.1, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 69% from critics and 70% from audiences. However, I don’t think anyone would claim that it is an objectively “good” movie by any means: most of those positive reviews are acknowledging that the movie is immensely entertaining for its “good-bad” qualities.

There is so much to talk about in Miami Connection that I honestly have no idea where to start. The musical numbers and rock sequences might be what sets it apart the most from the pack of b-movies out there, and those songs are guaranteed to get stuck in your head, but the movie goes so much further than just those amazing tunes:

The acting is astoundingly terrible across the board in Miami Connection, with Y.K. Kim leading the pack with his thick accent and indecipherable dialogue. The performances are at times beyond belief, like during either of the “letter” sequences, which are some of the most bafflingly awful showcases of acting I have ever seen.

If there is anything honestly good about Miami Connection, it is the aesthetic. The look of the movie is just delightful, and you can feel how charmingly low budget it was, and how much people enjoyed being involved with it. It still doesn’t make any sense and is amateurish from top to bottom, but it sure as hell has charm. Scott Tobias sums up the movie perfectly in his review for The A.V. Club:

Hits the sweet spot between stunning ineptitude, hilariously dated period touchstones, and a touching naïveté that gives it an odd distinction.

The ending of Miami Connection takes an unexpected and dramatically dark turn for a movie about man-children singing about fighting ninjas and “stupid cocaine.” The absolute slaughter that takes place in the last few minutes feels like it belongs in a totally differently film, which just adds to how endlessly bizarre Miami Connection is on the whole (there is apparently an even darker alternate ending to the movie as well). The ending title message about pacifism is also one of the most confusing and jarring conclusions to a film I have seen since Dracula 3000, but it is somehow amazing at the same time.

Something that is never addressed in the movie is the fact that all of the central characters appear to be far too old to be living together in a small house, let alone be typical college undergraduates. Speaking of which, the University of Central Florida could not be plastered on this movie any more than it already is: if one of the main characters is wearing a shirt, there’s a 90% UCF branding is on it. I think the wardrobe might have been provided by the college bookstore.

Miami Connection is one of the best good-bad movies out there: the acting is ridiculous, the writing is silly without being aware of itself, and the plot is out-of-this world strange. If you have the opportunity to catch this one, I can’t recommend it highly enough. For bad movie fans, I would go so far as to say that Miami Connection is a must-see movie, alongside movies like Troll 2, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Birdemic, and Samurai Cop.

C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud

C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud

chudii1

Today’s feature is truly one of the most unnecessary and strange sequels of all time: C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.

C.H.U.D. II was written by Ed Naha, who also penned such movies as Troll and Dolls. However, he did so under a pseudonym: M. Kane Jeeves. The fact that a man who was willing to have his name on Dolls and Troll declined credit for C.H.U.D. II should say a lot about the sort of movie we are dealing with here.

The film was directed David Irving, who has directed such films as (Night of the Cyclone, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty). However, he had no previous experience with directing horror movies.

The cinematographer for C.H.U.D. II was Arnie Smith, who has primarily worked on biographical documentaries like Aldous Huxley: Darkness and Light, Bogart: The Untold Story, and The Unknown Peter Sellers.

The film’s editor was Barbara Pokras, who cut such memorable films as The Giant Spider Invasion and The Return of The Living Dead.

The producers for C.H.U.D. II included Lawrence Kasanoff (Mortal Kombat, Foodfight!, Class of 1999, Blood Diner), Jonathan Krane (Face/Off, Battlefield Earth, Swordfish), Simon Lewis (Look Who’s Talking), and Anthony Santa Croce (Monk, Tales From The Darkside)

The music for C.H.U.D. II was composed by Nicholas Pike, who worked on scores for a number of episodes of Masters of Horror (including Pick Me Up), Freddy’s Nightmares, It’s Alive (2008), and Critters 2.

The C.H.U.D. II effects team included Allan Apone (Evilspeak, Galaxy of Terror, Going Overboard, Deep Blue Sea), Douglas White (Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, UHF), Michael Spatola (Iron Man 3, Going Overboard), Bryan Moore (Dolls, Tremors II), Tim Huchthausen (Blind Fury, 1941), and John Fifer (Return to Horror High, Cyber Tracker).

The cast for C.H.U.D. II includes Gerrit Graham (Child’s Play 2, Chopping Mall), Brian Robbins (Head of the Class), Tricia Leigh Fisher (Book of Love), Robert Vaughn (Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond The Stars), Larry Cedar (The Gingerdead Man), Larry Linville (M*A*S*H), and June Lockhart (Troll, Deadly Games, Lost In Space).

chudii3The plot of C.H.U.D. II centers around a sole surviving experimental C.H.U.D., which was synthesized by the military from the original race of Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers in an attempt to create a super-soldier. However, the project was scrapped, and “Bud” was left in the care of a Center for Disease Control. At the beginning of the story, Bud is accidentally freed by some teenagers, after which he begins creating a new army of C.H.U.D.s, and generally causes havoc for the local townsfolk.

The reception to C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud was definitively negative at the time, though it has a bit of a cult following now. Currently, it holds an IMDb rating of 3.6, which is still impressively low.

chudii4This flick astoundingly takes place in a totally different genre from C.H.U.D., and the monsters don’t look remotely like CHUDs as they were previously depicted. There is just no way that this movie was originally written as a sequel to C.H.U.D., because there are just too many dramatic differences. To be generous, CHUD II is to CHUD what Return of the Living Dead is to Night of the Living Dead: the movies are not really related, though the previous film is nodded at here and there in the story of the “sequel”.

Speaking of which, what value was there to the C.H.U.D. name that it made sense to brand this random zombie comedy? It was a bit of a cult classic, but it was never a cash cow or particularly beloved to the point of being worth a sequel. Honestly, this makes more sense as a Weekend at Bernie’s sequel, and would probably be funnier that way. The protagonists in this movie spend a lot of time trying to use Bud to get a good grade in a science class, which fits way better in a silly comedy franchise than the sequel to grimy cannibal movie.

chudii2Regarding the monsters themselves, the CHUDs in C.H.U.D. II are really unimpressive. The zombie makeup here is mostly just pale foundation, eye pits, and messed up teeth. The original CHUDs are still cheap, but they are at least a bit eerie with their contorted faces and lantern eyes. There isn’t even an attempt to recreate them here.

I couldn’t very well forget to talk about the music in this movie, which is absolutely ridiculous. Bud, the Alpha CHUD, gets his own theme song, which plays constantly throughout the movie whenever the character is on screen.

Speaking of Bud, the character is far more intelligent and thoughtful than it was ever implied that CHUDs could be. This may be due to him being a synthesized, experimental super-soldier rather than a natural CHUD, but I personally think that was just a plot convenience used to explain away any inconsistencies with the first film. However, it is pretty funny to think of Bud the super-soldier CHUD dressed up as Captain America.

This isn’t an easy flick to recommend. It isn’t particularly fun as a comedy or as a b-movie, and clearly didn’t have a whole lot of care put into it. That said, it is certainly cheesy and hammy, and is probably worth giving a shot for bad movie fans. I just wouldn’t go in with any kind of high expectations, because this isn’t anywhere close to being a good-bad elite flick. Just in the realm of zombie comedies, there are far better options out there to dig up.

The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon

lastdragon1

This post is based on a viewer request, which is being filled due to a donation to the Secular Student Alliance via my campaign during Secular Students Week (June 10-17, 2015). Thanks to all for your contributions!

Today’s feature is Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, a musical martial arts movie that has become a true cult classic.

The credited writer of The Last Dragon is  Louis Venosta, who only has a handful of other writing credits listed on IMDb. Outside of one short film, the only other things he has written are Bird On A Wire and a handful of episodes of the science fiction television show First Wave.

The Last Dragon was directed by Michael Schultz, was was also behind Car Wash and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. More recently, he has directed a handful of episodes of television shows like Arrow, Chuck, and Touched By An Angel.

The cinematography on The Last Dragon was provided by James A. Contner, who also shot Jaws 3-D, The Flamingo Kid, and Cruising. He has done a good deal of directing on television, including numerous episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, 21 Jump Street, and Charmed.

Christopher Holmes served as the editor for The Last Dragon: an experienced cutter who has also worked on films like Five Easy Pieces, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Car Wash, Donnie Brasco, Staying Alive, and Conan the Barbarian.

The special effects work on the film is credited to Gary Zeller, who also worked on Scanners, Dawn of the Dead, Vigilante, Visiting Hours, and Amityville II: The Possession. The makeup effects were  provided by Allen Weisinger, who has done effects work on such films as The Wiz, Wolfen, Tootsie, Goodfellas, The Silence of the Lambs, and Scent of a Woman.

The music for The Last Dragon was composed by Misha Segal, who has also provided scores to such movies as The Human Centipede III, Ninja III: The Domination, and The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.

The producers on The Last Dragon were Joseph M Caracciolo (Spider-Man 3, Charlie’s Angels, Biloxi Blues, 8MM), Rupert Hitzig (Jaws 3-D, Wolfen), and the famed record producer and songwriter Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown.

The Last Dragon was choreographed in part by Lester Wilson, who famously planned the choreography for movies like The Wiz, Saturday Night Fever, and Sister Act.

The cast of The Last Dragon features Taimak (No More Dirty Deals), Vanity (Never Too Young To Die, Deadly Illusion, Action Jackson), Christopher Murney (Barton Fink), Julius Carry (Disco Godfather), Faith Prince (Huff, Spin City), Mike Starr (Ed Wood, On Deadly Ground, Anne B. Real, Snake Eyes, Black Dynamite, The Ice Harvest), Jim Moody (Personal Best, Lean On Me, Fame), Ernie Reyes, Jr. (Red Sonja, Surf Ninjas, Paper Dragons, Rush Hour 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze), and future notable actors William H. Macy (Cellular, Evolver, Fargo, Edmond) and Chazz Palminteri (A Bronx Tale, In The Mix, The Usual Suspects) in small, early roles.

lastdragon2

The plot of The Last Dragon  follows a young martial artist living in Harlem, who winds up on the wrong side of a local martial arts obsessed crime boss, while also also getting involved in a feud between a violent music promoter and a famous singer/television show host. He has to face all of these challenges while simultaneously working to attain the final level of martial arts mastery, known as “The Glow.”

The soundtrack for The Last Dragon earned two Razzie nominations for Worst Original Song: the title theme song, and Vanity’s “7th Heaven.”

The famous martial arts movie Enter the Dragon, starring Bruce Lee,  appears during a theater sequence towards the beginning of The Last Dragon, which was clearly a major inspiration for this film. Likewise, clips of Fists of Fury and The Chinese Connection pop up later in the film, as well as some explicit dialogue about the influence of Bruce Lee on the lead character.

The hit song “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge was released as part of the soundtrack for The Last Dragon, and ultimately got as high as #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

The band LMFAO, which was made up of two descendants of The Last Dragon producer Berry Gordy, references the film in their hit single “Sexy and I Know It,” with the lyric “like Bruce Leroy I got The Glow.”

The Last Dragon currently has a score of 6.8 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 20% (critics) and 86% (audience). It is worth noting what accounts for that huge gulf: the Rotten Tomatoes critics score comes almost entirely from reviews that were written at the time of the film’s release, whereas the IMDb rating and Rotten Tomatoes audience score are continually updated with new submissions and input. The huge gulf between the reception it received from critics at the time and the reputation it has in the minds of moviegoers now is quite notable, and reflects its status as a cult classic in the opinions of many.

While it was a critical failure at the time, The Last Dragon managed to gross an impressive $25.7 million at the domestic box office, making it a financial success on a reported budget of $10 million.

Some of the songs featured in The Last Dragon are unfathomably awful, like Vanity’s “7th Heaven.” I don’t know what exactly went wrong there, but it just sounds awkward and really unpleasant, which is surprising for a movie that is supposed to be powered by the musical numbers.

Speaking of the songs, the one really successful entry into the soundtrack is “Rhythm of the Night,” which I mentioned previously. However, it winds up getting obviously shoehorned into the movie, which grinds the plot to a halt for the duration that it plays. Theoretically, the soundtrack is suppose to accentuate the movie, and not deliberately distract from it, which is how the song winds up functioning here.

The villain of the film, Sho ‘Nuff, is a fantastically hammy adversary for the stoic hero, ‘Bruce’ LeRoy Green, and his portrayal is probably the most memorable aspect of the movie. Personally, I wish he featured more prominently in the film, as he seems to disappear for a while in the middle of the story. On the flip side, Taimak clearly isn’t much of an actor (which is particularly clear when anything emotional is required of him), though he seems more than competent with the stunts and fighting.

lastdragon4

The Last Dragon has a generally flashy design to it all the way from the costumes to the sets, which is justifiably over-the-top given the tone and style of the movie. I could see how it could turn some people off, but I thought it all worked pretty well.

lastdragon3

The fight sequences that pop up in The Last Dragon could be shot better to emphasize the action, but they certainly aren’t awful by any means. For the most part, the crew’s experience wasn’t with martial arts movies, so it is understandable that they weren’t experts at pulling that aspect of the film off. And, to their credit, it is for the most part good enough.

The Last Dragon rightfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, and audiences certainly shouldn’t either. This is a film that is, above all else, fun and entertaining. It isn’t meant to be any deeper than its surface value, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. I mean, ‘Bruce’ LeRoy? We aren’t dealing with subtlety here. But honestly, who is complaining? The movie knows exactly what it is, and leans into that identity.

Speaking of which, naming the central character ‘Bruce’ LeRoy was a nice homage to the countless Bruce Lee clone movies that flooded the video market after Enter the Dragon, which all seemed to use a permutation of the name ‘Bruce Lee’ for their lead.

Overall, The Last Dragon is a pretty entertaining flick that merges two distinct styles, though it certainly has a whole lot of flaws. However, most of them just contribute to the charm of the flick, and help build the ambiance of the movie being an honest Bruce Lee knockoff film. The Last Dragon is a fun ride that is worth checking out for bad movie fans, though it drifts into being too self-aware at moments to appreciate as an earnest good-bad feature. Regardless, it is plenty of fun.

Plotopsy Podcast #9 – Re-Animator

Re-Animator

reanimator9

Welcome back to the (Plot)opsy Podcast! It has been a while since the last episode due to some technical issues, but now the show has been appropriately brought back to life! On this episode, I go into some fun facts and trivia about Stuart Gordon’s cult classic debut feature, “Re-Animator.” It is pretty fascinating how the combination of an experienced stage director, an out of print story, and some creative frugality can make for such a memorable classic of horror! I recommend checking out my text review of the movie from last month if you find yourself wanting more.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Re-Animator”

Re-Animator

reanimator9

Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog’s two week spotlight on the works and career of Stuart Gordon! Today, I’m taking a look at the most acclaimed and beloved of Stuart Gordon’s movies, 1985’s cult classic “Re-Animator.”

“Re-Animator” marked the first film directing work for Stuart Gordon, and was additionally the first writing collaboration for Gordon and Dennis Paoli, which would prove to be a long-running partnership. A third writing partner was present in William Norris, who never worked on any other films.

Before “Re-Animator,” Stuart Gordon was working for the Organic Theater Company in Chicago. He noticed that many of his actors were doing movies, and decided he wanted to try his hand at one as well. He decided to go with the horror genre because of the low budget required, and the generally high profitability of genre movies.

The source material, “Herbert West: Re-Animator” by H. P. Lovecraft, was published in parts over multiple issues of “Weird Tales” magazine. It was long out of print when Stuart Gordon got the idea of doing a movie, meaning that in order to read it, he had to request access to an original copy in the Chicago Public Library. The movie essentially “re-animated” the story from obscurity, and renewed popular interest in Lovecraft’s works.

reanimator1The screenplay of the “Re-Animator” film differs greatly from the content of “Herbert West: Re-Animator.” Ultimately, the original story only provided the characters and some details for the screenplay, which significantly altered the plot to make it more cinematic.

Brian Yuzna and Bob Greenberg both acted as producers on the picture, and would go on to collaborate extensively with Stuart Gordon on future projects. Yuzna even helmed two sequels to “Re-Animator”: “Bride of Re-Animator” in 1989, and “Beyond Re-Animator” in 2003.

The cinematography on “Re-Animator” was provided by Mac Ahlberg, who would go on to frequently collaborate with Stuart Gordon on films like “Dolls,” “Robot Jox,” and “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” A handful of shots were completed by Robert Ebinger, who was dismissed after only a week of shooting on the behest of Charles Band, whose Empire Pictures was backing the movie.

The music on “Re-Animator,” which drew significant influence from the score of “Psycho,” was composed by Richard Band, brother of Charles Band and ultimately a frequent member of Stuart Gordon’s movie team.

The effects on “Re-Animator” were all done as simply as possible to keep the budget low, meaning that no optical special effects were used. There are a number of shots that appear to be done with special effects, but were actually executed with the creative use of lighting, camera angles, and practical effects. It has been estimated that the production used 30 gallons of take blood in total, which was used creatively in tandem with raw meat to do most of the gore in the film. Stuart Gordon has a fantastic quote about the use of cheap effects, taken from the “Re-Animator” DVD commentary:

“The audience will accept very simple special effects if they like the story and are involved.”

reanimator5

The cast of “Re-Animator” features a handful of actors who would return to work with Stuart Gordon again in the future. Of course, Jeffrey Combs leads the way as Herbert West, who would become one of the most consistent figures in Stuart Gordon’s later films. Barbara Crampton later popped up in “From Beyond” and “Castle Freak,” and Robert Sampson appeared in 1989’s “Robot Jox.” Bruce Abbott returned for the first sequel to the film, but never reunited with Stuart Gordon on any of his later movies. David Gale would unfortunately die only a few years after “Re-Animator,” though he also appeared in Yuzna’s sequel, “Bride of Re-Animator.”

A number of notable actors appear in the background of “Re-Animator,” such as Stuart Gordon’s wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, as an ER doctor. The first reanimated corpse is played by Peter Kent, who is best known as a frequent stunt double and stand in for Arnold Schwarzenegger in films like “The Terminator,” “Total Recall,” “The Running Man,” “Predator,” “Last Action Hero,” and “Jingle All The Way.” Also in the background is Ian Patrick Williams, a member of the Organic Theater in Chicago with Gordon at the time, who would later appear in the Stuart Gordon films “Dolls” and “Robot Jox.”

“Re-Animator” follows the story of a medical student who becomes embroiled in experimentation on the re-animation of corpses after a mysterious new student transfers into the school and leases a room in his home. This relationship winds up causing significant problems for the pair as they are forced to butt heads with the school administration and simultaneously have to deal with the violent, erratic behavior of their creations.

reanimator4Notably, the creative team behind “Re-Animator” decided to release the movie unrated after getting an NC-17 from Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating board. Amazingly, the movie still managed to get advertised widely and booked in theaters, a major accomplishment for a film without a stamp of approval from the MPAA, and something that is unlikely to happen nowadays.

The infamously radiant reanimation fluid used in the film was made up of a chemical mixture used for certain kinds of road flairs, and was apparently highly toxic. Given the short life span of its luminosity, it had to be frequently replaced in order to maintain a consistent glow from shot to shot.

reanimator2All of the dead bodies were meticulously made up based on professional input from forensic pathologists in the Chicago area. Specifically, the coloration of the makeup was done using direct comparisons to actual autopsy photos of corpses. The vivid coloration on the bodies is meant to imitate the actual coloration effects that occur after death.

The humor in “Re-Animator” was something that wasn’t initially planned, but has wound up being a defining aspect of the film. Stuart Gordon has said that it was added in party due to his experiences working with forensic pathologists while doing research for the film, noting that they had some of the darkest senses of humor of any people he had ever met. In many ways, this integration of humor into horror influenced what would eventually define Stuart Gordon’s style. Here is another relevant quote from the director about what he learned about humor and horror from making “Re-Animator”:

“Laughter is the antidote for fear…you can build tension and then relieve it with laughter…but if you do both at the same time they cancel each other out.”

“Re-Animator” interestingly used many of the same locations and crew as “The Terminator.” The movie was eventually screened for Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, on the recommendation of his body double, who plays the first revived corpse in “Re-Animator.” Arnold apparently loved it, enough so that he later recommended Stuart Gordon for the directing job on “Fortress.”

The inclusion of the “laser drill” in the movie was a bit of science fiction when “Re-Animator” was made, but today laser surgery is standard practice in medicine in general, and specifically in autopsies (as is depicted in the film).

The most infamous scene in the movie is undoubtedly the decapitated head attempted rape sequence, and is perhaps the most uncomfortable thing Stuart Gordon has ever filmed. The original actress cast for Barbara Crampton’s role apparently dropped out due to the inclusion of the scene, and it caused David Gale’s wife to walk out of an early screening of the movie in shock.

reanimator6

“Re-Animator” was highly regarded by critics at the time, and still holds an impressive 94% Rotten Tomatoes critical aggregate rating. Audiences have been a little less receptive to the film, giving is a 7.3 on IMDb and a 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is regarded as both a horror classic and a cult classic regardless.

Personally, I think that one of the most fantastic aspects of “Re-Animator” is the ending, in which Bruce Abbot’s character revives Barbara Crampton over a black screen, with only the reanimating agent in a syringe visible. It then closes on an iconic scream from Crampton. I have mentioned this ending before, way back when I covered Uwe Boll’s “House of the Dead,” which manages to botch a very similar concept for the ending.

“Re-Animator” is now regarded as a classic of the horror genre, and has influenced many other films since its release. On top of the eventual sequels, “Re-Animator” also inspired a musical adaptation, which was apparently pretty highly acclaimed.

Overall, “The Re-Animator” is more than deserving of the reputation that it has garnered. The effects are fantastic, the performances are great, and it has set the tone for the careers of both Stuart Gordon and star Jeffrey Combs. It is a must watch for horror movie fans, b-movie aficionados, and arguably film buffs in general. For fans of the genre, this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

However, I think it is hit-or-miss for people not already ingratiated into the genre: particularly, the infamous “head” sequence is likely to turn a subset of people off who might otherwise enjoy the movie. As effective as the scene is at disturbing the audience and drawing a reaction, that has to be weighed against the potential for the effect to turn people away: you want an audience to cringe and turn their head, but you don’t want to go so far as to push them out the door.

So, as far as a recommendation goes, it is an emphatic ‘yes’ for horror fans, and an indecisive ‘maybe’ for general audiences, with a clear caveat of the content that pops up in the film. If you think you can handle it, give the film a shot.