Tag Archives: Jeffrey Combs

From Beyond (1986, Stuart Gordon), the director’s cut

I’m having a hard time with this one. The From Beyond movie poster and VHS box scared the crap out of me as a kid. Even now, having seen the movie and knowing there’s nothing as visually creepy in the film itself, the imagery disturbs me. Villain Ted Sorel apparently having his face melted off. Only he’s not. He’s growing into a huge flesh monster. The film goes all out with Sorel’s flesh monster, while admirably executed, it’s not convincingly executed. From Beyond can’t do with its budget what it wants to do with its special effects and director Gordon doesn’t quite know how to compensate.

Turning Barbara Crampton into an uncontrollable nymphomaniac for a fourth or fifth of the runtime is one of screenwriter Dennis Paoli’s solutions. It’s not a successful solution, it’s an unfortunate one. Crampton plays a compassionless psychiatrist charged with figuring out if crazy man Jeffrey Combs (who’s pretty darn good) is really crazy or if he and Sorel did figure out a way to activate the sixth sense.

From Beyond has a lot of neat ideas but Gordon and Paoli don’t translate them into any good ideas for the film. Even after it promises Crampton, Combs and a wonderfully affable Ken Foree in a haunted mansion, it doesn’t deliver. Crampton and Combs have no romantic chemistry, which gets to be a problem. Especially since–even though Combs can imply a creepy romantic chemistry–all Crampton is doing is a nymphomaniac trope. Sure, she’s being influenced by an enlarged pineal gland but it’s awful. It’s not disturbing because the special effects aren’t good enough. And, like I said before, Gordon doesn’t know how to compensate.

Good supporting performance from Carolyn Purdy-Gordon.

There’s a lot of good technical work on From Beyond. Editor Lee Percy does a fantastic job. Mac Ahlberg’s photography provides a visual continuity Gordon’s direction does not. Richard Band’s music is good. Even Gordon does well, just not when he’s doing the haunted mansion sci-fi stuff. He seems to be banking on the appeal of the cheesy special effects; From Beyond is supposed to be absurdly funny and Gordon just tries too hard to get there. In the end, it’s not absurd, it’s not funny, it’s just exasperating. And with a less than ninety minute runtime, exasperating is a terrible quality. Especially since there’s so much energy and enthusiasm (in so many bad directions).

Hell, I’m exasperated just trying to talk about it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Gordon; screenplay by Dennis Paoli, based on an adaptation by Brian Yuzna, Paoli and Gordon of the story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Lee Percy; music by Richard Band; production designer, Giovanni Natalucci; produced by Yuzna; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Jeffrey Combs (Crawford Tillinghast), Barbara Crampton (Dr. Katherine McMichaels), Ted Sorel (Dr. Edward Pretorius), Ken Foree (Bubba Brownlee), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dr. Bloch), Bruce McGuire (Jordan Fields) and Bunny Summers (Neighbor Lady).


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Trancers II (1991, Charles Band)

Without its cast, Trancers II couldn’t possibly succeed. It’s an unfortunately limited success as is, but without everyone’s enthusiasm–regardless whether they have a good role or not–the film just couldn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of charm to Trancers II, but only the cast is actually able to deliver on any of its potential.

Jackson Barr’s screenplay, for example, is pretty solid. It’s not great, but it gives all the characters something to do–well, most of them. It’s director Band who screws up the execution of it; all of the film, he goes between this boring close-up one shots on each actor. It’s not editors Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou’s faults, it’s pretty obvious there’s just not the coverage. And it sucks because there’s a lot of good work and even more potential to Trancers II.

I mean, for a very cheap, awkwardly (in terms of acknowledging it) campy, sci-fi thriller, it’s got a lot of potential. Certainly for better parts for its cast, who do a lot with often very little. Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Biff Manard are all good. Manard’s performance suffers because of Band’s direction. Thomerson and Hunt run into the limits of Barr’s screenplay–and how Band directs those scenes–but they’re good. Richard Lynch is good as the bad guy. Alyson Croft is good as future cop Thomerson’s partner’s teenage ancestor. Megan Ward is all right as Thomerson’s future wife (Hunt being his modern day wife). She tries. She doesn’t get the support she needs from Band, but Ward does try.

Phil Davies and Mark Ryder’s music is occasionally good, occasionally bad, often mediocre. But there are some definitely high points. Bland photography from Adolfo Bartoli doesn’t help matters. Not to mention Band wasting Jeffrey Combs.

Trancers II is this odd but great concept poorly executed.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; screenplay by Jackson Barr, based on a story by Barr and Band and characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Andy Horvitch and Ted Nicolaou; music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Kathleen Coates; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena Deth), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Biff Manard (Hap Ashby), Art LaFleur (Old McNulty), Alyson Croft (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines), Martine Beswick (Nurse Trotter), Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Pyle), Sonny Carl Davis (Rabbit) and Richard Lynch (Dr. Wardo).


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Re-Animator (1985, Stuart Gordon)

Re-Animator. A romantic comedy about wacky med students who contend with vindictive deans, lecherous professors and student loans. With some good, old-fashioned decapitation thrown in.

No. That description is way too reductive. Even though it’s technically correct.

Director Gordon recognizes that camp possibility for the film, but he never lets the camp overwhelm the characters. No matter how loony its characters get, Re-Animator never plays them for laughs. And Gordon’s got Jeffrey Combs in one of the great comedic performances (undoubtedly so, as Jim Carrey aped Combs in most of his films to box office success) but he’s also got a very difficult role for David Gale. As the aforementioned lech, Gale’s got to make his not-so-brilliant, but way too ambitious surgeon believable through a rather extraordinary character arc. Gale, Gordon–and Gordon’s co-screenwriters, Dennis Paoli and William Norris–make it work, with Gale’s character revealing important ground situation details late in the film. They planted the seeds to these details early and then, to continue the metaphor, watered them discreetly.

If it weren’t for Combs’s awesomeness, Gale would give the film’s best performance.

But Gordon doesn’t have any weak performances in Re-Animator. Lead Bruce Abbott, the straight-edge preppy med student, gets a great arc thanks to his serendipitous introduction to Combs. And he gets that romantic comedy subplot with Barbara Crampton. It’s set in a med school, so she’s dean Robert Sampson’s daughter and he doesn’t approve. But most med school romantic comedies don’t involve getting your girlfriend’s father killed and then reanimating his corpse.

Re-Animator certainly has one up on the rest of the genre there.

Abbott and Crampton are both good. Abbott’s able to sell a somewhat complicated arc. Crampton’s just a damsel in distress but she’s still good.

Some excellent photography from Mac Ahlberg and Robert Ebinger–Gordon plays with depth a lot, to great effect–and the cinematography’s essential. Same with Lee Percy’s editing, especially in Combs’s scenes. Speedily cut scenes always have these wonderful punctuation shots with Combs.

And Richard Band’s music is awesome. Playful, mischievous, saccharine.

Re-Animator is an elegant film. With some great, gross special effects.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Gordon; screenplay by Dennis Paoli, William Norris and Gordon, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft; directors of photography, Robert Ebinger and Mac Ahlberg; edited by Lee Percy; music by Richard Band; produced by Brian Yuzna; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West), Bruce Abbott (Dan Cain), Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey), David Gale (Dr. Carl Hill), Robert Sampson (Dean Halsey), Gerry Black (Mace) and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dr. Harrod).