Documentary Review: In Search of Darkness: Part II (2020)

Release Date: October 6th, 2020
Directed by: David A. Weiner
Written by: David A. Weiner
Music by: Weary Pines
Cast: Nancy Allen, Tom Atkins, Joe Bob Briggs, Doug Bradley, Clancy Brown, Lori Cardille, John Carpenter, Nick Castle, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Robert Englund, Stuart Gordon, Andre Gower, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Chris Jericho, Jackie Kong, Heather Langenkamp, Don Mancini, Harry Manfredini, Kelli Maroney, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Diana Prince, Linnea Quigley, James Rolfe, Robert Rusler, Tom Savini, Corey Taylor, Gedde Watanabe, Caroline Williams, Alex Winter, Tom Woodruff Jr., Brian Yuzna

CreatorVC, 263 Minutes

Review:

Everything I said in my review of the first film in this series still holds true for this one. Reason being, they’re exactly the same in what they are. It’s just that each one features different films.

I think that I like this one a wee bit better for two reasons.

The first, is that I already know what I’m getting into now. I know that this will just fly through dozens of films and not give them the proper amount of time they deserve. As I said in the previous film’s review, I’d love to see each section spread out into a full episode and have these films actually be a streaming series.

The second reason, is that I like that the films are getting more obscure, as there were a few here I hadn’t heard of. With that, I walked away from this with a list of shit I need to watch and review.

Apart from that, this was more of the same. That’s not a bad thing, at all. I just wish that these documentaries didn’t fly through films and other topics so quickly.

I still like these, though. I know there’s a third one coming, which I look forward to, and there’s also one coming out on ’80s sci-fi flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other documentaries in the In Search of… series, as well as other documentaries on ’80s horror.

Film Review: Dolls (1987)

Also known as: Ghost… Dolls! (Thailand), Bonecos Assassinos (Portugal), Bonecas Macabras (Brazil)
Release Date: March, 1987 (Los Angeles International Film Festival)
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Ed Naha
Music by: Fuzzbee Morse, Victor Spiegel
Cast: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy Gordon, Cassie Stuart, Bunty Bailey, Carrie Lorraine

Taryn Productions Inc., Empire Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“And they remember you, Ralph. Toys are very loyal, and that is a fact.” – Gabriel

I originally saw this years ago and then a few more times on VHS when I was a teenager. It’s been a really long time, though, and it’s one of those movies that I enjoyed but hardly remember. I also didn’t realize, until more recently, that it was directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna, the guys behind Re-Animator and a slew of other mindfuck horror pictures.

What stood out the most to me, seeing this with pretty fresh eyes, is how damn good the special effects were. Considering this was made for very little money by a production company I’ve never even heard of (and I’m a massive ’80s film buff), the practical special effects were absolutely impressive.

However, I guess the level of craftsmanship in regards to the effects should be somewhat expected, as these guys did so much with so little in Re-Animator and From Beyond. The effects here are very different, though, as they had to create tiny dolls and have them interact with full-sized humans.

I’m assuming that they relied on stop-motion animation, some animatronic and puppetry work, as well as having some actors in costume or partial costumes to create the doll effects.

Beyond that, the story is pretty hokey and the acting isn’t anything to write home about but the film is still very enjoyable because the spectacle of it is really entertaining and as I’ve already said, technically impressive.

While I can’t consider this a classic or even near the top of Gordon or Yuzna’s best, it’s still a hell of an accomplishment that worked out satisfactorily. It’s just a goofy, fun flick with a lot of creativity put to good use and executed well.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other doll-centric horror films of the ’80s and ’90s.

Documentary Review: In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic ’80s Horror (2019)

Release Date: October 6th, 2019 (Beyond Fest premiere)
Directed by: David A. Weiner
Written by: David A. Weiner
Music by: Weary Pines
Cast: Tom Atkins, Doug Bradley, Joe Bob Briggs, Diana Prince, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Stuart Gordon, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Lloyd Kaufman, Heather Langenkamp, Kelli Maroney, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Caroline Williams, Alex Winter, Brian Yuzna, various

CreatorVC, 264 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this documentary for a long time. So once it ended up on Shudder, I had to check it out. But holy shit!… I wasn’t expecting this thing to be four and a half f’n hours! Not that I’m complaining but I had to make an entire night out of this thing.

Realistically, this probably would’ve worked better as a documentary television series with an episode focused on each year in the decade. They could’ve expanded even further in that format but then this was crowdfunded and not a traditional production.

Still, this was a cool documentary and while it does jump from film-to-film too fast, it covers a lot of ground. Obviously, it can’t feature every horror film from the ’80s, as there were hundreds (if not thousands) but it does hit on most of the important ones.

This goes through the films in order of their release but it also has a few breaks between each year that focuses on other aspects of ’80s horror.

This is mostly talking head interviews with a few dozen different people, spliced together with footage from all the films they’re talking about. It kind of plays like one of those VH1 I Love the ’80s shows but it is a lot less smarmy. Well, for the most part. There is one guy that kept popping up that I wanted to punch because he was oozing with failed comedian smarm.

Overall, though, this was worth the wait. As I’ve said, I wish it could’ve given more on each film but even four and a half hours isn’t enough time to do more than just scratch the surface with the rich history of ’80s horror.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about ’80s horror and horror franchises.

Film Review: Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)

Also known as: Battalion 3 (Japan), Mortal Zombie (Spain)
Release Date: June 5th, 1993 (Italy – Dylan Dog Horror Fest)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: John Penney
Music by: Barry Goldberg
Cast: Melinda Clarke, J. Trevor Edmond, Kent McCord, Basil Wallace, Sarah Douglas, James T. Callahan

Bandai Visual Company, Ozla Productions, Trimark Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“How could you… eat that man?” – Curt Reynolds

This is probably my least favorite Brian Yuzna movie. It’s also my least favorite of the Return of the Living Dead series of films. Well, at least the theatrical ones, as I never saw the made-for-TV sequels that came out more than a decade after this one.

As a kid, I loved the Return of the Living Dead series and still do. But for whatever reason, the box art for this movie’s VHS tape never did anything for me. Plus, friends of mine told me it sucked and that it didn’t have any humor in it, which is what made the previous two installments so excellent.

Back in 1993 or so, I wasn’t really keen on who Brian Yuzna was, even though I was really into Re-Animator. It probably wouldn’t have mattered whether or not I knew there was an association, as this is just a crappy film regardless of it being made by a really talented horror filmmaker, who is great at utilizing real, practical special effects.

The plot does introduce an interesting take on zombies, in that an infected person that puts themselves in immense pain can stave off the hunger for human brains and flesh. However, it’s really just used to make the zombie chick star of the film look super badass and hot. She’s still undead though, which is gross. Plus, she’s covered in sharp, stabby shit that would just hurt if you wanted to fool around with her.

It is the star that is the best thing in the film, though, as Melinda Clarke was absolutely gorgeous and even if I disliked this movie, I was crushing on her hard when I first saw this in my teen years.

I also really like that Sarah Douglas is in this, as I’ve dug the hell out of her since first seeing her in the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies.

The problem with this picture for me, is that it looks terrible. In spite of Yuzna being a horror effects maestro, I mostly hate the look of the zombies and the film in general. The sets are cheap and terrible and the special effects look half-assed, if I’m being completely honest. And I say that because I’ve seen much superior looking monsters in Yuzna’s films that predate this.

Also, from a visual standpoint, the film is just overly bronze and orange. I’m not sure if it was a camera filter or the way the film was lit but it looks awful and makes the film visually drab. It also doesn’t help the creature effects.

Man, I just don’t like this movie; it’s hard to look at, audibly shrill and it wrecks the spirit of this film series by trying to be overly serious and edgy while wasting an interesting and fresh concept for zombie cinema.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other Brian Yuzna films, most of which are better.

Film Review: Dagon (2001)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s Dagon (US complete title), Dagon: Sect of the Sea (alternative), The Lost Island (Philippines)
Release Date: October 12th, 2001 (Spain – Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli
Based on: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Carles Cases
Cast: Ezra Godden, Francisco Rabal, Raquel Merono, Macarena Gomez, Brendan Price

ICCA, Generalitat de Catalunya, Institut Català de Finances, Televisió de Catalunya, Televisión de Galicia S.A., Vía Digital, Xunta de Galicia, Castelao Producciones, Estudios Picasso, Fantastic Factory (Filmax), Lionsgate, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot care for her. You do not dream of her! You will go soon to a beautiful place. You will forget your world and your friends. There will be no time, no end, no today, no yesterday, no tomorrow – only the forever and forever, and forever without end. It is your fate. It is your destiny.” – Uxia Cambarro

Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna are no strangers to Lovecraftian horror but this film is the closest thing to the source material that they have ever produced. And while this isn’t better than their earlier films: Re-Animator and From Beyond, it is still a solid, good effort that is better than most of their films after the 1980s.

While Dagon is the title of a short story from H.P. Lovecraft, this film is actually an adaptation of Lovecraft’s novella, The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

The two major difference is that the setting was shifted to a Spanish fishing village called “Imboca”, as opposed to “Innsmouth”, Massachusetts. Also, the aquatic deity Dagon takes on more of a Cthulhu appearance, whereas in the originally story his was humanoid with fish-like features.

I like this film for the most part. In all honesty, my only real complaint were the digital effects. They looked cheap, horribly cheap. They looked worse than what the standard was in Sci-Fi Channel movies circa 2000. However, the practical effects really make up for it, as the gore that was created physically, comes off as pretty damn good. But the problem with this is that there is so much variance in quality between the great practical effects and the abysmal digital effects that it breaks the movie for me. It’s, at times, pretty jarring. Especially, when both are utilized in moments that run so close together.

Also, the acting is pretty shitty but its not so bad that it goes to lower depths than one would expect from this sort of picture. It’s just nothing to write home about and so much of it comes off as really hokey. This could also be due to the quality of the dubbing, as this is a Spanish film and a lot of the dialogue needed to be dubbed over for the American video release. Usually dubbing from Spanish language films isn’t too much of a distraction but there are some scenes that look very out of sync.

The story is pretty compelling though. But this doesn’t do anything to surprise you other than some shocks with the amount of gore towards the end. But, if I’m being honest, none of the gory stuff exceeds what Gordon and Yuzna have done with their earlier movies. The infamous face peeling scene here is also just a rehash of the infamous face peeling scene that Tobe Hooper gave us in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

What I dig most about this film is that regardless of its flaws, it is one of the best adaptations of Lovecraft’s work. It’s not “Lovecraftian horror” it is Lovecraft.

Also, the scenes with mutated people slowly walking through the dark streets of the village reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from the Vincent Price starring The Haunted Palace. That was another film that adapted Lovecraft and featured some similar plot points to this film.

Dagon is a pretty cool film to watch, if you are into Lovecraft. It probably won’t resonate for those who aren’t already fans but it does have some solid gross out moments and it’s strange, surreal and unique.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lovecraftian horror films: The Call of Cthulhu, From Beyond, Re-Animator, The Haunted Palace and The Dunwich Horror.

Film Review: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Also known as: Grounded, Teenie Weenies, The Big Backyard (working titles)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1989
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Ed Naha, Tom Schulman, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland, Thomas Wilson Brown, Jared Rushton, Amy O’Neill, Robert Oliveri, Mark L. Taylor, Kimmy Robertson, Frank Welker (voice)

Walt Disney Pictures, Silver Screen Partners III, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nick, I’ve got six hours to get home, get big and get to the mall. Now get moving.” – Amy Szalinski

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that one of the writers of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is Brian Yuzna, the guy behind Re-Animator and its sequels, as well as From Beyond and Society. In fact, this film came out in the same year as the over the top and insane Society. Talk about two extremes.

Anyway, this family classic was one of many reasons as to why the summer of ’89 is probably the best summer for movies of all-time. I loved this as a kid and it has held up pretty well.

Some of the effects look a bit dated, as this came out just before the CGI boom that came with Jurassic Park in 1993, but the use of green screen and stop motion effects pretty much comes off without a hitch and these special effects are top of the line for 1989. Disney crafted an incredible world for this movie and all the physical sets still look fabulous by 2019 standards.

The movie is also kind of timeless and the humor still works. This isn’t a film that’s chock full of ’80s cliches. Okay, maybe the clothes the kids wear are very ’80s but this is written in a way that the jokes and humor aren’t as dated as other films from the time.

Additionally, all the kid actors are pretty solid, as are the parents. The parents of course get top billing in this movie but the bulk of the film is focused on the children and their adventure, trying to get home from the other side of their backyard. Of course there are several challenges that stand in the kids way, which just makes this adventure a lot of fun and actually provides a good amount of real tension.

Rick Moranis is as good as he always is but the real scene stealer was Matt Frewer, who owned the character of Russ Sr. Frewer can do drama and comedy well but here he was so committed to the bit that he was the biggest bright spot in the film.

I’m glad that I revisited this and I’ve just realized that it’s approaching its thirtieth anniversary. Man, I can’t believe it’s been that long since the epic summer of ’89.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the sequels but each one gets worse and worse, as well as other late ’80s family sci-fi movies like *batteries not included and Cocoon.

Film Review: Society (1989)

Also known as: The Shunting (original script title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Woody Keith, Rick Fry
Music by: Mark Ryder, Phil Davies
Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson

Wild Street Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Is it really that boring being rich? I guess you’re just naturally fucked up.” – Sergeant Burt

Do you like feeling disgusted? Do you like being uncomfortable? Do you sometimes wish that you could replace your butthole with your face? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you’ll probably really dig Brian Yuzna’s Society.

In the same vein as Yuzna’s other body horror films, this one really pushes some boundaries but it does so with the element of sex thrown in. For many, this will be a challenging film to sit through. For fans of Yuzna’s other pictures, this is just a quaint Saturday afternoon with a bucket of popcorn in your lap.

The film is made as a sort of critique on high society, specifically the super rich and their super rich culture, detached from the reality that 99 percent of the people on Earth live. It follows a high school kid from a super rich family with super rich friends and all the baggage that comes with that stuff. Add in that this also comes with a hearty helping of ’80s Hollywood teen yuppie shenanigans and the setup to this picture isn’t too dissimilar from the standard ’80s teen comedy.

However, as the film rolls on, really weird things happen. I don’t want to spoil any plot details but this ends with a pretty insane finale that features the most bizarre orgy you will probably ever see. In fact, if you’ve seen an orgy more bizarre than this, no one needs to know about it.

For ’80s horror fans that love practical effects, this film is absolutely fucking impressive. Yuzna takes his horror effects experience from Re-Animator and From Beyond and then sexualizes it. But he doesn’t just sexualize it, he ups the ante in unfathomable ways, which have to be seen to be believed.

Now I’m not trying to over hype the insanity but I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of horror movies and there is nothing quite like this.

But with all that being said, there isn’t much more to this film than it’s incredibly disturbing payoff. It builds suspense fairly decently but the film feels dragged out in parts. Maybe it works better if you don’t have an idea of what’s coming. But if you’re aware of what the story leads to, which will be ruined by the trailer or anyone talking about this film, then you kind of just want the movie to hurry up and get to the craziness.

I do like Society and its special effects are superb but it’s not in the top tier of Yuzna’s work. While it may be more shocking, which I know is saying a lot, it just lacks the story and the likable characters of his other films.

Lastly, how the fuck did this come out at Cannes?!

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Brian Yuzna films: Re-Animator and its sequels, From BeyondReturn of the Living Dead IIIDagon, etc.

Film Review: From Beyond (1986)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon
Based on: From Beyond by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

Empire Pictures, 80 Minutes, 85 Minutes (unrated cut)

Review:

“Humans are such easy prey.” – Dr. Edward Pretorius

From Beyond might not be as well-known as Re-Animator but maybe it should be. It is made by the same creative team and even features two of the stars of Re-Animator. Plus, this is also a modern adaptation of another H.P. Lovecraft story. Stuart Gordon made his career off of adapting Lovecraft and this film, may be the most bizarre of all those stories.

To be honest, I like this slightly better than the original Re-Animator but not quite as much as Bride of Re-Animator, my favorite from the series. It is insane in the same way those other films were but this one is different. Where Re-Animator was more like a Lovecraftian version of a Frankenstein story, this is more like Lovecraft mixed with David Cronenberg’s body horror style. Think films like VideodromeThe FlyScanners or The Brood.

Jeffrey Combs is a scientist in this film too but he isn’t like Dr. Herbert West from Re-Animator. He is a good guy that got pulled into some really bad stuff and has been horribly effected by it.

Ted Sorel plays the evil doctor in this. His insane and disfigured Dr. Pretorius (named as an homage to the mad scientist from Bride of Frankenstein) is very similar to David Gale’s villainous Dr. Carl Hill from the first two Re-Animator films.

Barbara Crampton reunites with Combs, as the sexy doctor that is interested in the weird experiments in this story but also gets in way over her head. Horror icon Ken Foree gets some good moments in this film and looked like he was fully invested in his part, especially the more physical demands of this picture.

The special effects in this are friggin’ impressive and eclipse what Gordon and Brian Yuzna did in Re-Animator, a year prior. This is such a colorful film with great lighting, mostly employing a lot of high intensity reds and blues at different levels of depth in the shots. While the visual style probably disguised issues with some of the practical special effects, it actually makes them look even better, as the vivid colors just add to the otherworldly feel.

From Beyond is highly underrated and underappreciated. It is sort of lost to time. When I come across fans of the Re-Animator films, I always ask them what they think about this picture. Often times, I discover that they have never even heard of this movie.

This film is bizarre and unique and a hell of a lot of fun. It is disturbing and uncomfortable but has a charm about it. If you like Re-Animator, I don’t know why you wouldn’t like this.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Release Date: April 4th, 2003
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Jose Manuel Gomez, Brian Yuzna (uncredited)
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Xavier Capellas
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Tommy Dean Musset, Jason Barry, Barbara Elorrieta, Elsa Pataky, Santiago Segura, Simon Andreu

Castelao Producciones, Fantastic Factory, Filmax International, Lions Gate Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“She’s not getting any fresher.” – Herbert West

I really like the Re-Animator film series but this was the weakest chapter out of the three. I’m not sure why, as taking things into a prison setting should have provided some interesting developments and new territory. I think it may have fallen short because there was so much time between the second film and this one, the third and final.

That being said, this is still pretty fun and I do like the film. Re-Animator is a horror film franchise where every movie does a good job and brings something fresh without simply being a retread. Then again, the series stopped at three films. Although, I’d really be game for a fourth even though it has been a long time since the third. But Dr. Herbert West is still out there.

I guess the biggest thing about this film that sets it below the others is that the big grand finale isn’t bigger and crazier than the previous two movies. The first film’s finale was ridiculous in the best way possible. The second film upped the ante and was as visually impressive as it was completely insane. This film still has an awesome ending full of insanity, violence, gore and a lot of dark humor but it didn’t go any further than what we’ve seen before.

I feel like the prison riot scenario could have been so grander and with a lot more re-animated corpses ripping human flesh to shreds. It was cool seeing what happens when a junkie shoots up with Dr. West’s syrum but it felt like an understatement in the way the film handled it.

At the end of the day, Jeffrey Combs is still money as Dr. Herbert West and this is still a good horror film that fits within the franchise, even if though it came out after a thirteen year break.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

Release Date: October, 1989 (Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Rick Fry, Woody Keith, Brian Yuzna
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, David Gale, Fabiana Udenio, Kathleen Kinmont

Wild Street Pictures, 50th Street Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Blasphemy? Before what? God? A God repulsed by the miserable humanity He created in His own image? I will not be shackled by the failures of your God. The only blasphemy is to wallow in insignificance. I have taken refuse of your God’s failures and I have triumphed. There! There is my creation!” – Dr. Herbert West

I know I am in the extreme minority here. However, I actually prefer Bride of Re-Animator to Re-Animator. Not that I dislike the original in the slightest. This one just has an edge on it, in my opinion. But I will get into that.

This film brings back the important people. Jeffrey Combs returns as Herbert West, the mad doctor behind the grisly experiments that are responsible for the monsters in these films. Bruce Abbot returns as his reluctant partner Dan Cain and David Gale reappears as the villainous Dr. Carl Hill. In this film though, the severed head of Hill is given bat wings so that it can travel around with ease, scaring the crap out of everyone at every turn once we get to the final act of the story.

The film also adds in Fabiana Udenio, as a nice love interest for Dan. However, Dan is also obsessed over Gloria (Kathleen Kinmont), a deceased patient that becomes re-animated as the title character of the film in a similar fashion to the Bride from various Frankenstein stories and adaptations.

The reason I like this film better than the original, is that it seems to have a higher level of quality. The practical special effects have improved, the lighting, cinematography and overall camera work are also better. Plus, the characters are more established and the actors seem to be really embracing their roles and the story with much more vigor than in the first film. There is just a level of comfort and familiarity that seems to come through the lens and onto the screen.

Also, I just like this story better. Where the first film was a reinvention of the Frankenstein tale with an H.P. Lovecraft touch, this one is a reinvention of the Bride of Frankenstein. While I love Frankenstein it is the Bride of Frankenstein that I have always loved more and the same is true with these great reinventions of those stories.

Jeffrey Combs is just so at home here, as Dr. Herbert West. This is the film where he became more than just a one off character and really cemented himself as a horror icon. It was unfortunate that it took so long to get another sequel after this one, as he could have become his generation’s version of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein. And maybe he has reached that status but I could have watched him do this for six or seven films like Cushing’s awesome run from the late 50s into the early 70s.

As good as the first Re-Animator was, I wouldn’t have bought into the concept of it as much, had it not been for this film turning it into a series, albeit a short one with just three films.

Rating: 8.25/10