Since my last article in April, I’ve continued my exploration into the Sci-Fi Horror genre. In issue 1, I covered the films that totally changed my perspective of the genre. As I am still a fresh newbie to this particular film world, I’ve reflected on other classics that have made an impact on me. This month’s issue includes a recommended double-feature to feast your eyes!
They are from frequent collaborators Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon, with Yuzna directing Society (1989) and producing Re-Animator (1985), of which Gordon directed. They go heavy on the practical effects, have simple yet solid story lines, and don’t seem to be talked about as much as the previous films I reviewed. They have once again proven how much more the obscure genre has to offer!
Fun Fact: Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) is another film they collaborated on in addition to other projects.
Society (1989) – Comedy / Horror
Directed by Brian Yuzna
In the 1980s, Billy Warlock starred in this classic comedy horror film as a privileged white teenager, also named Bill, living in Beverly Hills who begins to see himself as different from his sister and parents. The opening scene immediately thrusts the audience into his thoughts as he shares these concerns with his psychiatrist Dr. Cleveland (Ben Slack). He bites into an apple that may or may not have worms in it, alluding to his possible hallucinations; but then the opening credits roll, on the foreground of a slow motion orgy – at this point it’s clear we’re about to go on a ride.
As Bill’s sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings) is dressing for her upper class “coming out” party, he finds her boyfriend David Blanchard (Tim Bartell) secretly recording their family. Later, Blanchard plays the audio cassettes for Bill and he hears their parents engaging in what seems to be incestual acts as they say, “first we dine then copulation”. Shortly after, it is discovered that Blanchard has mysteriously died in a car accident. From here Bill continues to investigate his family and discovers an unsettling truth about the social elite.
The comedic aspects of the film are the acting, sexual conversations, and the practical effects. I had the pleasure of viewing this film on 35mm in 2019 at the Music Box Theatre when the coronavirus was not a threat to be indoors with a crowd. The audience’s laughter filled the theatre after hearing the delivery of Jenny’s line, “Besides, I’ve already been dating for years. Joke!” to her brother Bill. As did Dr. Cleveland’s line, “I really hate to give you drugs Billy ” and the multiple uses of the word “butthead” throughout. The many 80s references to sex feel cheesey and it makes me wonder how it was received at the time. One has to imagine that this film has become even more comical over the years, in a good way.
The horror features of the film include the possible reality of hallucinations, crimes being covered up, and the inequality of social classes. These themes shined particularly strong while viewing during today’s 2020 climate of equal rights. In the final act, Billy comes home to a large party of high class socialites which takes such a turn that, even watching it a second time, I wasn’t prepared for. When an elite member of society says, “The rich have always sucked off low class shit like you”, and lets just say the practical effects achieve their job in taking figurative speech into the literal sense.
The special effects team on this film, Nick Benson, Guy Himber (creature shop) and Nori Honda (mold maker), are incredible artists. I wouldn’t dare give spoilers to what this team creates in the final act of the film because my words couldn’t do it justice. Those out there who know I’m a newbie understand what I mean, and those who haven’t seen it yet, please know it’s not for the easily squeamish.
It’s terrifying to watch Bill, an inside member, attempt to break free from this society. My overall takeaway is that the rich love “getting off” on “screwing” the low class (I choose these words wisely). However, it’s hopeful to watch Billy overcome this society eluding to change being possible. It’s scary how this 1989 film’s subject matter resonates today, but it shows the power that movies have in rekindling discussions of issues within society – even decades later.
Re-Animator (1985) – Comedy / Horror / Sci-Fi
Directed by Stuart Gordon, produced by Brian Yuzna
The setting begins in Zurich, Switzerland where a gruesome incident occurs at the Institute of Medicine. A medical student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), relocates to America and settles in Massachusetts to attend the Miskatonic Medical School. He is determined to continue experimenting on his theory of being able to bring back the dead by re-animating their lifeless tissue. Once he’s on the new campus, he butts heads with Dr. Hill (David Gale) who has his own theory of life after death. Haphazardly, Herbert persuades his fellow medical student roommate, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), to help him test his reagent. Their subjects return to “life” with monstrous qualities and chaos ensues.
The screenplay is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s story, “Herbert West, Re-Animator”. Although new to this genre, I have heard H.P. Lovecraft is mentioned as a type of feel of a story or film many-a-times and everyone always seems to know what that feeling is. After this film, it appears I’m quickly learning. It’s a classic, “What do you do in this situation?” as the characters face various trials and tribulations.
The film is only 104-minutes long, which is perfect! Sometimes it feels like movies these days are on average 2.5-hours and don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for lengthy films, but this story is short and sweet. Throughout each act the tension builds without even knowing it until the end has you out of breath.
Re-Animator doesn’t take itself too seriously, exhibited by the bright, phosphorescent green re-animator goo. The comedic timing is spot on, such as the consequence of Dr. Hill unexpectedly coming onto the Dean’s daughter (Barbara Crampton). And just wait until you see how Herbert uses the paper holder spike stick. There’s just as much to look at as there is to laugh at – the blood, the boobs, the monsters!
The film is Unrated and the ‘80s nudity is very much present, adding to the rawness of the world we’re in when watching. In addition to how visual this film is, it was impressive to see how light and shadows are played with. Fun little thriller indeed!
A year after the film debuted, The Fantafestival (1986) awarded special effects artist Anthony Doublin, winner of Best Special Effects, and director Stuart Gordon won for Best Film. Amongst four wins and three nominations in its lifetime, the film was recently a Saturn Award nominee for best DVD/Blu-Ray Special Edition Release by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films USA (2018). Just in case you’re looking for a new Blu-Ray DVD to watch with that new, sweet OLED TV you may have purchased during COVID-19 quarantine.
Overall I’m learning it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of following directors, actors, producers, etc. who frequently work on films together in the Sci-Fi / Horror world. It’s easy to finish one film, and immediately seek similar movies based on the connected players. So for starters, after all we’ve learned about Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon in this issue, have yourself a nice thrilling double-feature night in!
This article was written by a guest contributor
Catherine became a member of the Chicago-based Music Box Theatre, which opened up her world to unexpected interests in horror and obscure classics, particularly ones with practical effects. She attended the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival and was fully captivated by the film community. Follow her on Instagram