Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here is a blissfully simple yet tremendously rewarding exercise in dark comedy/horror that hits the mark incredibly well by castling well known faces that are already totems in the genre, employing sidesplitting situational comedy that hovers on the edge of droll and a script that anchors it all with a well written confidence, not to mention a cool retro visual palette that brings to mind minimal yet affecting stuff like Rosemary’s Baby, The Evil Dead and others from back in the day. A middle aged couple (Andrew Sensenig and Barbara Crampton) have moved into a rural house and are still grieving the loss of their son but this house, naturally, is spectacularly haunted and they find themselves and their friends plagued by a vicious dark force emanating from the basement. The life of the party is Larry Fessenden and the gorgeous Lisa Marie as their avant-garde hippie friends who arrive for a seance and get way more than they bargained for. Fessenden has a way of delivering dialogue that just had me holding my sides even when he wasn’t trying to be funny, while Marie is an ethereally beautiful presence who has mostly shown up in various Tim Burton films over the years and not much else, but it’s lovely to see her branch out. The special effects are gruesomely tactile, the scares genuinely unsettling and the story, albeit scant and simple, works very well in servicing some intensely gory mayhem in the third act after a blessedly slow burn getting there. This may be an uncomplicated, super traditional exercise in genre horror that doesn’t necessarily bring anything we haven’t seen before to the table but what it does set out to do, it does exceedingly well and I had a great time with it.
If Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond is beyond anything it’s the borders of good taste, for the most part anyways. This is a slimy, gooey, sleazy, schlocky piece of ooze that functions on an inherently terrific central premise, but drags it through the muck of lowbrow, lurid horror, and without apology. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I was expecting I guess, or not to that level. Gordon totem Jeffrey Combs plays a twitchy lab assistant whose piece of work boss (Ted Sorel) has patented a weird machine called the ‘resonator’ which uses psychic vibrations to enlarge the human pineal gland and open the doors of perception to whatever horrific beings lurk out there in other dimensions, which in this case is not as many as I’d hoped. A seemingly idealistic yet surprisingly corruptible psychologist (Barbara Crampton) and a cavalier police detective (the great Ken Foree) escort traumatized Combs back into the house where these experiments previously went berserk and wouldn’t you know it, someone pulls a whoopsie, turns the resonator thingie back on and it all goes berserk again! Thing is, I was expecting an impressive variety of ghoulies, icky aberrations and Lovecraftian hoo-hah to emerge and terrorize them, and the only thing that really does is a severely malformed new version of Combs’s boss, as you can see on the charming poster in my photo grid. He’s an admirably gross special effect, but where’s the variety, man? Where’s the whole zoo of disgusting unholy fuckers to rival something like… Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness? Maybe this thing had budget constraints, lack of creative juices or what-have-ya, but I just felt like there could have been… more, given such a delicious setup. Also, there’s some trashy bits that were unnecessary, a weird, awkward S&M freak show vibe that didn’t need to be shoehorned in and take it from someone who appreciates the uber-kinky aura in something like Hellraiser (where it was appropriate) when I tell you… it was not necessary here, it cheapens and dilutes the potential for true otherworldly horror. By the film’s climax we get several folks running amok with their sentient pineal glands protruding from their foreheads like glistening head-penises and it lands squarely in WTF-ville. Anyways there’s scenes that are ok, with the neat 80’s effects, score and aesthetic, but something just feels… ‘off’ about this one. Like the freaky deaky aspects that are so much fun in other similar films just.. landed with a clunk here. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but a film with such a cool concept just should have done more, and avoided being so trashy in certain key areas.
Stuart Gordon’s ReAnimator is a healthy dose of schlocktastic fun, taking a page out of the silly splatter book of Sam Raimi, and although not quite as fun as some of the stuff it draws inspiration from, it does the trick. I know this film has a massive cult fanbase and while I can’t say that I loved it quite as much as some no doubt do, I always have some love for gory practical effects, and the ones on display here are pretty impressive. Jeffrey Combs is funny (if not exactly the definition of subtle throughout his whole career) as Dr. Herbert West, a loony fuckin quack who has stumbled upon an ectoplasmic looking serum that brings dead corpses back to life, albeit with a side of extreme retardation. Things go riotously awry when a jealous rival (David Gale) literally loses his head and steals it, prompting a gruesome comedy of errors in which heads, limbs, blood and entrails are hurled about the screen in a feverish celebration of all things gory and grisly. You can’t exactly call them zombies, I mean I suppose they are but they’re given a modicum more sentience than your average shambling Romero flesh-eater, but the actors get to have fun with their zany side, as the formula sort of plays havoc with their cognitive functions, a hilarious touch. There’s a sexually icky part that was even a bit in bad taste for my lax sensibilities (poor Barbara Crampton is a trooper and better have gotten paid hefty fucking overtime), but I suppose that trash is sort of the name of the game here. The 80’s was a very formative decade for the horror genre, and its fascinating to see how not only was this inspired by earlier stuff like Raimi, but would itself go on to rouse other filmmakers and give them ideas, as Hollywood progresses in symbiosis. A fun, freaky time.