Tag Archives: H.P. Lovecraft


Re-Animator 1

Format: DVD + Blu-ray steelbook

Release date: 2 June 2014

Distributor: Second Sight

Director: Stuart Gordon

Writers: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon

Based on thestory by: H.P. Lovecraft

Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale

USA 1985

86 mins

Being an impressionable teenager with a love of horror movies during the 80s was a glorious thing; VHS had revolutionized the consumption of and access to films, leading to an explosion of genre filmmaking that pushed the envelope in terms of graphic gore, nudity and outré laughs, which adolescents such as myself lapped up on a daily basis. While 70s horror had been brutish, nasty and, largely, grimly realistic, 80s horror, fittingly for a decade synonymous with gaudy excess, revelled in slapstick terror, outlandish amounts of adrenaline-fuelled, blood-splattered violence. The likes of The Evil Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, Basket Case, Bad Taste and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator all injected an energy, dark wit and invention into the genre that the more conventional slashers of the era sorely lacked.

In addition to the DVD limited edition and two-disc Blu-ray steelbook, Re-Animator is also available to download from 19 May and via VOD from 26 May 2014.

Gordon’s movie also breathed new life, excuse the pun, into the work of H. P. Lovecraft. The director’s loose, successful adaptation of Lovecraft’s serialized short story from 1922, ‘Herbert West–Reanimator’, led to a subsequent raft of generally forgettable movies based on the novels and short stories of the American author, who died in poverty before posthumously coming to be regarded as a seminal figure in the evolution of horror fiction. Since Re-Animator’s release almost 30 (!) years ago, Gordon himself went on to direct four more Lovecraft adaptations (with varying degrees of success): From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon and Dreams in the Witch-House, the latter as part of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.

Having revisited Re-Animator for the first time in many years, I’m glad to say that it still pushes all the right buttons and remains a hugely entertaining, frequently outrageous riot, from its scene-setting pre-credit sequence to its final shot of the lurid, green reagent being injected into a lifeless corpse. The gorgeous opening credits (kaleidoscopic neon diagrams of the human body) and Richard Band’s upbeat soundtrack, variously described as ‘inspired by’ or ‘ripped off from’ Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, aligned with the cast’s fully committed performances and Gordon’s evident who-gives-a-shit sense of fun, make Re-Animator an absolute blast to watch. In a performance that made him a cast-iron fan favourite, Jeffrey Coombs memorably stars as Herbert West, the gifted, arrogant and driven medical student who has discovered a potion that can restore life to the recently deceased. As West’s Frankenstein-like experiments spiral out of control in ever more outrageous ways, Coombs is ably supported by Bruce Abbott as Dan, West’s straight-laced student colleague at the medical school they both attend; Barbara Crampton as Dan’s girlfriend Megan, daughter of the school’s dean; and the late David Gale as West’s vain nemesis, Dr Carl Hill.

Listen to Alex Fitch’s interview with Re-animator producer Brian Yuzna.

Gordon’s movie is a joyously anarchic experience, as funny as it is grisly. Dead cats, shotgun-blast victims, entrails, limbs with lives of their own and headless corpses wreak bloody havoc after being subjected to West’s reagent, the side effects of which make the reanimated dangerously violent. To say any more regarding the plot would spoil the fun for the uninitiated, but if decapitations, eviscerations and a censor-baiting sprinkling of reverse necrophilia are your thing, then Re-Animator is a film you really need to have in your collection. As with many other 80s horror movies, Re-Animator is also testament to the fact that CGI effects are a poor substitute for practical ones. The tangible, messy and ingenious effects on display here are far more entertaining to watch than any computer generated image ever could be.

Neil Mitchell

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Banshee Chapter

Banshee Chapter
Banshee Chapter

Format: DVD + VOD

Release date: 27 January 2014

Distributor: 101 Films

Director: Blair Erickson

Writers: Blair Erickson, Daniel J. Healy

Cast: Katia Winter, Ted Levine, Michael McMillian

Germany/USA 2013

87 mins

Taking as its inspiration the C.I.A.’s MKUltra project, an experimental programme in mind control techniques covertly conducted during the latter half of the 20th century, Blair Erickson’s Banshee Chapter promises more than it can ultimately deliver, failing to mine the promise of its richly paranoid subject matter. Despite an entertaining turn from Ted Levine as a Hunter S. Thompson stand-in, the film only shows a Wikipedia-level understanding of its counter-cultural milieu, and ultimately falls apart in a haze of nonsensical writing and sloppy direction.

Opening with real documentary footage relating to the C.I.A. experiments, Banshee Chapter seems to be positioning itself as yet another found-footage genre movie, as we first witness James (Michael McMillian) testing a suppressed drug he claims was used in the MKUltra programme (with predictably dire off-camera results), and then pick up with James’s old college buddy, investigative journalist Anne (Katia Winter), vowing to discover what happened to him (and that’s pretty much all she does, Winter’s rather thankless role basically being to get the audience from A to B and to serve as the ubiquitous final girl in a tight tank top). All of this material is delivered documentary-style, either on camera or in voiceover, but having set itself this formal limitation, the film seems to subsequently shy away from the demands of the sub-genre, only occasionally (and pointlessly) cutting away to ‘real’ video footage at random interludes thereafter (a can’t-be-bothered quality it shares with other such semi-found footage films as David Ayer’s recent End of Watch and Ti West’s upcoming The Sacrament).

In a scene that signposts the all-too-convenient scripting that is to follow, Anne then heads to James’s abandoned house, and within minutes finds a letter written to him from the unnamed Colorado source that supplied the illegal drug, a communication that was handily not discovered by the police. The letter ultimately leads her to Thomas Blackburn, a burnt-out author modelled closely on the aforementioned Thompson. Despite Levine’s game performance, one can’t help but notice the film is largely content to portray the author in one-dimensional gonzo mode, with little suggestion of the fierce intelligence and questioning of authority that fuelled HST’s seminal early work, a sense of which might have added more depth to the narrative. One might argue that Thompson eventually became a victim of his own image, and that Banshee Chapter is only reflecting his real life arc (perhaps not without some regret), but equally the suspicion is that if he’d lived to see his cartoon portrayal here, he’d have been reaching for his gun collection within seconds.

It transpires that Blackburn’s drug opens up levels of perception in the user’s brain, allowing them to see entities existing on other planes; the drawback being that said entities can then also see them back (the lift from Lovecraft’s From Beyond is intentional, the film knowingly establishing its genre cred by having Blackburn reference the actual story). And once they see us humans, they want to ‘wear us’ (a nicely chilling moment of dialogue). The fact that Blackburn has had the drug in his possession for quite some time and yet apparently hasn’t bothered to sample it unfortunately serves to question either his supposed drug fiend status, or else Erickson’s ability to write a coherent, believable screenplay.

Horror predictably ensues thereafter; but sadly, the film avoids any real attempt at constructing scarily effective set-pieces in favour of having one of the unnamed entities pop screeching out of the dark whack-a-mole-style every few minutes. Dodging these clichés as they go, Anne and Blackburn soon follow the trail of convenient plot points to a disused military installation in the desert, abandoned entirely without any governmental security despite the fact that, as we discover, Bad Things are still present there. After which Erickson is content to go through the usual genre motions of wrapping everything up before pulling out a nonsensical ‘aha’ epilogue (the MKUltra drug apparently not the only formula the film’s characters are following).

A shame, because if Banshee Chapter had dug deeper into its characters and the real life conspiracies and horrors of the C.I.A.’s covert activities, we might have had a meaty, subversive genre film worth reckoning with. But as it stands, it’s not enough fear and too much loathing.

Sean Hogan

Watch the trailer: