Reattaching An Amputation? Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator

I didn’t think I was ever going to write anything on Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. I just didn’t really see the need. It is a film that has just the right amount of uncanny terror, visceral effects, titillation, and camp to make it a lively viewing experience. And between the twistedly morbid curiosity of Herbert West as played by Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott’s overwhelmed scientific straight man Dan Cain, and the gorgeous and rightfully terrified Barbara Crampton as Megan Halsey you had the entire acting dynamic made.

It’s true. Re-Animator — co-written by Gordon, Dennis Paoli, and William J. Norris — has a few changes from its source material, namely, the serial short horror story H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West – Reanimator.” Dr. Halsey, the erstwhile mentor of West and Cain doesn’t have a daughter in the story, as Lovecraft seemed reluctant to have many female characters, never mind romantic interests, or anything romantic for that matter. The character of Dr. Allen Halsey doesn’t die as a result of West and Cain’s meddling, but rather of typhoid fever while attempting to save countless patients from an epidemic. That, in of itself, makes him different from Dr. Alan Halsey  the Dean of Miskatonic University in Stuart Gordon’s film: for while he is also an old-fashioned doctor that doesn’t like West’s experiments, he cares more about appearances, grant money, and class than the Halsey of the serials. In the serials, in “The Plague-Daemon,” Dr. Halsey is reanimated by West and his assistant, beats the hell out of them, and runs off into the night as opposed to being captured and lobotomized by Hill. Cain isn’t named in the story at all, and is just an unnamed narrator — a function which happens a lot in Lovecraft — who is the assistant of West who is a blond-haired, blue-eyed young man in contrast to Combs’ iteration of the mad scientist. Lovecraft himself didn’t like this story, being derivative of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in a pulpish manner.

So of course it’s one of those stories that’s easy to adapt to cinema, and honestly the fleshing out of West’s assistant as a man with good intentions instead of a pedestal narrator, and the presence of Barbara Crampton to show the emotional impact and consequences of all their experiments, works for me. But you have, undoubtedly, already heard and read about all of this if you are horror fans.

Let’s focus on Dr. Carl Hill.

If you’ve seen the film, you know what kind of man Hill is. Hill is arrogant, he plagiarizes the work of better doctors and scientists, he has a creepy infatuation with the much younger and completely uninterested Megan, and he becomes the monster he was always meant to be after Herbert West kills, and reanimates his severed head and body, building for himself a little army of army to obey his every whim in a quip-filled rivalry between him, and West. David Gale plays Hill as a completely over-the-top antagonist, ridiculously so, but it is a counter to West’s combination of cold detachment, and demented obessession with his work. Hill is ego-driven, lecherous, and just a terrible human being that has no qualms about performing lobotomies on even former colleagues to get what he wants — and this is before he’s killed, and gets transformed into one of West’s creations.

So where do I start with this? In some ways, Hill is more of a banal character than West. West is about The Work, about experimenting with life and death, whereas Hill wants fame and power and flesh. Hill doesn’t exist in the serials at all. However, that isn’t entirely true. In the “Herbert West – Reanimator” serial chapter “The Horror From the Shadows,” there is a man working with West and his assistant — now both full-fledged doctors as opposed to medical students in the fields of World War I — named Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee: a British-Canadian military doctor and pilot:. This is a funny link, given how David Gale is a British actor, though he depicts an American doctor who prides himself on class. He shares a lot of fascination with West’s experiments, and even participated in some in situ. Aside from his interest in reviving the dead, however, and perhaps some of West’s more esoteric explorations, Clapham-Lee doesn’t get much more character development after he’s decapitated in a plane crash … and West decides to attempt to reanimate his body parts separately.

This is where Dr. Hill is derived from, poor Sir Eric, and it is pretty much the last in a long like off poor life — and undeath — decisions that seals our friend Dr. West’s fate in the last of the serials “The Tomb Legions.” What happens here is nothing short of a cold, methodical hunting and takedown of West, who is hiding out with his assistant, as a mysterious man who seems to wear a waxen face — and is carrying something, always, in a bag — finds all of West’s creations, and purposefully take him apart in an ancient series of catacombs under an old house before vanishing behind a wall completely, leaving the narrator traumatized and afraid for his very existence.

You can see where a lot of the inspiration behind the ends of Re-Animator, and Bride of Re-Animator came from to this extent. But something perplexing always bothered me about Re-Animator itself, and I was never able to put it into words before this point. 

You see, there is one scene in the film where Hill stares intently at West, after attempting to blackmail the latter based on the knowledge of his crimes, into giving him his notes on the serum: or re-agent. He orders West to give him his work, and for more than a few moments West is speechless. He’s transfixed. Now, bear in mind that throughout this whole film Herbert West has been caustic and sarcastic as all get-out with everyone from Dan, to Megan, to Dr. Halsey, ranting at the police in Switzerland at the University of Zurich, and especially making barbs at Dr. Hill’s expense. But now, with the potential for revealing his illegal work on corpses, and what he did to Dr. Halsey, West is suddenly quiet? He just shuts up?

So, in an early draft of the script, it’s revealed that Dr. Hill is — of all things — a hypnotist. That’s right. This man of questionable science, whose work is apparently by West’s standards woefully outdated — specifically his knowledge of the brain and the surgery thereof — incorporates techniques that attempt to influence a suggestible mind. According to Joe Bob Briggs, it was the film’s music composer Richard Band, who suggested to Stuart Gordon that this element be excised as it would be implausible for two impossible things to happen at once with already a certain kind of belief suspension in place. Joe Bob was against this happening, referencing what seems to be Aristotle’s Poetics in that one should have two impossible things occurring in a work. I’ve attempted to look it up, but from what I can see Aristotle mentions something about how “With respect to the requirement of art, the probable impossible is always preferable to the improbable possible.”
In other words, perhaps Joe Bob was trying to intimate that in a world with reanimation already occurring, hypnosis in conjunction with that feat isn’t that farfetched, and that by attempting to just stick with revival of the dead, something is lost: the rest of it just becomes “the improbable possible.”

But according to what I’ve found, Aristotle essentially says that if you need a secondary impossible thing to make a primary impossible element work, you should use it.

And that is where Joe Bob and I differed, at least at first. I personally thought that this wasn’t needed: that adding hypnosis into a story about creating the undead in the way it is portrayed confuses the issue. What story is trying to be told here? And then, there is the Cthulhu Mythos fan in me that is also annoyed. By the time of “Re-Animator’s” segment “The Horror From the Shadows,” Herbert West seems to have come to the existentially terrifying conclusion that a previously living human organism’s parts have independent qualities: they are only interdependent — connected by nerves and viscera — because of evolution. There is no intrinsic force compelling them together. There is no life force. No soul. He is already experimenting with “lizard tissue” to make little animated creations from parts at this point in time — something we see him do in Bride of Re-Animator.

In other words, there is no intelligent design behind humanity.

Yet.

What I thought was brilliant about Lovecraft’s serials is how the other undead are mindless except for Sir Eric — our Canadian Major — who has not only retained his consciousness, but a sense of vengeance against West for turning him into an abomination. Moreover, Sir Eric is a decapitated head that understands the science of reanimation, and all of West’s dirty little secrets. He is a brain that controls his own animated body.

So why can’t Sir Eric control other reanimated bodies if they are potentially interdependent limbs, or extensions of a powerful will?

See, this is what worked for me with Dr. Hill. He lobotomizes Dr. Halsey’s undead form, not merely to keep him from potentially talking to the authorities if he ever got his faculties back, but to make him more suggestible. You see him, after his own death, doing this to other corpses in advance before reanimating them. It’s brilliant, and horrible. And I just thought that hypnosis is just a cheap way to explain something far more Lovecraftian and terrifying in that there is no intrinsic meaning even in human life and sentience: all just processes formed together by chemical forces and influences until someone learns how to manipulate them to do twisted and banal things, leading to a terrible and perpetual insomnia of eternal hatred.

Of course, the undead in the film are clumsy and directionless whereas the ones in the serials move fast, and with focus. This changes a bit when Dr. Hill controls them, but he barely has fine-motor control over his own body at times, never mind the bodies of others. And there is still the fact that West is awkwardly paralyzed just looking at him in that one scene.

So, in my early articles I’ve mentioned that I wouldn’t change a thing about Re-Animator, even if it is not up to Lovecraft’s standards: the serial, or the film derived from it. But now? Years later, after seeing some attempts at a Cthulhu Mythos shared cinematic universe in Color Out of Space, and the remake of Castle Freak, as well as seeing the cultists as displayed in The Deep Ones, there is a solution.

You see, I’ve changed my mind. What if Dr. Hill, as seen by Herbert West, is into defunct and “quack-science,” but it goes further than his “stealing” of Dr. Hans Gruber’s work. What if he is also into the theories of Madame Blavatsky, and Theosophy, some very racist and eugenics shite. It’s true that unlike the serials that take place at the turn of the twentieth century and WWI that Hill exists in the 1980s, but I can see him subscribing to these ideas. And what if he is a cultist of Cthulhu or Dagon himself, but instead of making it blatant with what he says, you can just see it in his study — that typical arrogant office with shelves of idols stolen from other cultures, but nothing really specific … Until you see the Elder Sign medallion that he flashes out to hypnotise or mesmerize people. It should have been short, and to the point, and a good nod at the literary heritage from which this film was grown.

In this sense, it works for me because we establish Dr. Hill: as not only a terrible human being and an arrogant narcissist, but also believing in some abhorrent practices, and his mysticism would make him doubly hated by West even as he rubs it in the younger man’s face. He still continues to lobotomize patients so his rituals make them “more suggestible” and it says a lot more about the Western colonialism in how he treats women, perhaps other minorities, and the vulnerable. It also doesn’t take away from the insanity of the whole film. It just adds another layer. One, or two lines, even West being disparaging of Mesmerism and hypnotism, and Hill hamming it up with “there are forces that work in mysterious ways,” which also leads to West attempting to animate Hill’s parts after he kills him with the shovel … it just sits well with me.

Obviously, this injection into the body of Re-Animator wouldn’t be possible now as it isn’t fresh anymore, and David Gale and Stuart Gordon aren’t with us anymore. And the film is great as is, and discussion of these film adaptations always seems to come down to an issue about either the inherent meaningless of existence, horrifying mysticism, or just plain entertainment. But like West, I guess I still like to play with other people’s toys: a fact that will probably never change here, at this Horror Doctor’s laboratory.



Pearls Before Swine: A Rewrite of Diane Jacques’ Hogzilla

I never, until very fairly, thought I would write something about a 2014 film literally called Hogzilla, but here we are.

It’s happening.

Right.

This film, which had been incomplete for several years after being directed by Diane Jacques, was shown on second last week of Season Two of The Last Drive-In. I swear, I was even going to go into this earlier but as a student of horror rather than the Doctor that I have attributed to this Blog — much like Victor Frankenstein is called a Doctor by Hollywood but … less impressive than that — I have had some … remedial horror viewing to do. But I wanted to get here while it is still fresh.

I won’t go into the effort that was made to put this film together, to have it viewed on the show by Diana Prince — and presented with classy style as Darcy the Mailgirl — or how The Last Drive-In director Austin Jennings “restored it from previously existing cuts, since the old sequences and project were a mess” according to a Tweet he made on June 13th. I definitely will not be covering how this film was made, as Joe Bob himself and many others have definitely covered by now, I’m sure. There is even a Hogzilla Restoration Project involved and … I don’t know whether to commend them for their utter loyalty, or truly give up on the human race as sane.

This film is unique in another way for The Last Drive-In. As of recently, I discovered that while Hogzilla itself isn’t on Shudder, the Joe Bob episode that plays and comments on it, actually is. The only parallel I can find to that is the fact that there are two versions of The Last Drive-In showing of Cannibal Holocaust — with the film, and without it.

I don’t know how I feel about having watched this. But Horror Doctor, you might ask, speaking of Cannibal Holocaust didn’t you watch it not long ago? Didn’t that mess you up? Didn’t it leave you with a sense of guilt, but also some guilty-pleasure?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Cannibal Holocaust left me feeling dirty, especially for loving it. I’m left to the auspices of my own conscience about that one. But you see, Cannibal Holocaust was well made. Hogzilla

To give you an idea, based on Joe Bob verbs, it was like … Cannibal Holocaust is the dirty “aardvarking” that you regret, but you secretly go back occasionally because deep down it felt good, though societal norms tell you it should not. Hogzilla

Hogzilla is just aardvarking. Dirty, bad aardvarking. There is just no saying otherwise. Like, Tommy Wiseau attempting an … aaardvarking scene bad except without that. And yet. It was a spectacle.

And that spectacle was held together by: the acting presence of Joe Bob Briggs himself.

Never mind the weird shirt that said “Marines” on it. The extremely slow pacing, and the unlikable and not even interesting news cast crew characters. Two sets of credits between two separate introductions. The character relations that just happen without any development. And a really … messed up mutant hog prop that isn’t even seen that much, and it’s mostly just a camera that sneaks up and kills, and very awkwardly. To be honest, I was just more transfixed by the absolutely vapid and horrible characters we had to deal with, after a jumpy two introductions, that took too damn long to die horribly, to notice the other things. It was so messed up, that it took Job Bob’s segments and the red carpet premiere treatment of The Last Drive-In itself to keep me from depression.

And yet …

Maybe I’ve just gone insane. It’s not the first time a fake mad scientist has claimed such a state. But here is the deal. You see, I have already begun some preliminary experiments for the Project that I want to host on this site. You have, no doubt, read some of them by now, those of you interested in such things from my “Strains and Mutations” area. Society and They Live … and they do, have been surprisingly cooperative under my ministrations. But, to get to the point: I want to take Hogzilla, and I want to explore how I would rewrite it.

As a story.

In the words of Joe Bob, as both himself, and Andy McGraw, “It’s gonna get nasty.”

The way I would write Hogzilla as a story — in prose or as a screenplay (if I could write screenplays, which I have never tried to seriously do) would go a little something like this.

It’d need to have the tone of something between a lampoon or a parody of human selfishness, and self-centredness with a production value and ideology similar to Troma’s War. This allows for a certain level of ridiculousness and camp, while genuinely displaying grossness and suffering in many of its forms. Telling or showing a story straight through this lens would be a fine line, but we can keep it in the pen I’m sure: until we need it to get momentum charging down that climactic trail.

So, our story would begin with a brief account of those Monster Pigs, or Hogzillas from the past. I would even place a very brief account, a newspaper heading like the one in the film about Joe Bob’s character Andy McGraw — a nice easter-egg — and the tragedy of his son, but we would really focus on the news cast crew.

The thing is, I agree with Joe Bob in that Diane Jacques should have edited out the beginning with his character McGraw, his son, the Hogzilla beast, and the police officer. I also understand, however, why it was kept in by Jacques and Jennings: Joe Bob is the main attraction in this film. Let’s be honest. And in terms of when the film was shown in the eighth week of The Last Drive-In, it had come right after Scare Package: with the last anthology film “Horror Hypothesis” actually featuring Joe Bob as well — also predating his reemergence at The Last Drive-In — so thematically, it would make sense to keep his appearance in the following film: the show itself just barely keeping Hogzilla cohesive, and watchable.

So, about that newspaper clipping with McGraw. I like the idea that the clipping of him with his photo looks old. Like 1950s or 1960s old. This story about a drunk father that accidentally killed his son happened decades ago, and you only see it on the side in passing with a headline like “Child Dies During Hunting Trip: Accident, Or Hogzilla? Father Still Missing.” It’s one of many clippings included with accounts of the Chris Griffin killing a wild boar-domestic pig hybrid in Alapaha, Georgia 2004 story, and the account of “Monster Pig” supposedly killed by the eleven year old Jamison Stone in 2007 at the Lost Creek Plantation, a commercial hunting reserve outside Anniston, Alabama. One of the reasons I think this film was made was to attempt to draw on a kind of “Monster Hog exploitation” that was going on in some news media at the time. It didn’t age well, but it is still something we can work with in its own story. Some of these clippings were already added by Jacques in the film, I just think we can streamline them a bit more.

Perhaps as we narratively transition, we realize these clippings are being held by one of the initial characters. These are a news and stunt crew with some models, as we do require the gratuitous boob shots for the Drive-In Totals. They are all in Central Florida, going to an old Plantation, a hunting reserve that has been used for decades until it was abandoned one day. There are legends, of course, that the place is cursed and there has been sightings of this beast called Hogzilla that attacks people. This way we establish a scene, and a history of animal exploitation and violence here. They are setting up deeper in the bush, preparing for something. They even have a cage with them. And then, we have a perspective from those bushes and the beginnings of an assault on this skeleton crew in the bushes near the plantation.

Now, we have our intrepid idiots. I would keep all of their personalities the same, except they are a safari team now: with some newspeople and hunters. I think most of them, with the exception of Frank and Dr. Laurie Evans should be unsympathetic as fuck. They are greedy, opportunistic, and they are used to getting their way. Frank is the assistant that is always the butt of their jokes, and Laurie is there as the veterinarian to know what they are dealing with. She believes they are going to capture Hogzilla for study, and has the appropriate tranquilizer equipment. It is going to be a big scene: tracking this beast down, and taking him, and smiling for the camera. Too good to be true, right?

I like the idea of McGraw appearing out of nowhere with his boar tusk-topped staff, like some grizzled Bruce Campbell/Ash Williams analogue with a one-thousand yard stare: much like the one Joe Bob wore that night at The Last Drive-In when his crew in an ultimate act of betrayal switched out a film he wanted to show in order to reveal this twisted monstrosity of a direct-to-video film upon the world at large.

He gives them the warning that they do not heed, because they are — again — stupid. McGraw’s line “There ain’t no hogs here. There’s demons and devils and creeping things, but there ain’t no hogs” is purely inspired, especially when delivered with that haunted stare of a man who has seen far too much.

So are you with me so far? Right. Right off the bat, like in the film, things go wrong. Our primadonna newsman, Brad Bennett, can’t get in contact with the team of people that were supposed to be here: though we don’t know that. He just seems to be bitching into his cellphone for the usual reasons, but there is some tension there, and it explains that he is actually contacting people that are nearby and not out of complete Wifi range. Then the elements betray them and they lose their tents. But it gets worse. During one night, something happens to their supplies as well. They are just destroyed. Gone. It looks like a wild animal went through them, along with with their tents. They see tusk marks on the tree trunks.

The character of Joanna immediately, like in the film, blames McGraw because she is a bitch. I like the idea that she is the former wife of a character in Jacques’ previous film Off The Chain, and I would keep that in for sure.

Now I would have them order Frank to go salvage the vehicles for anything to eat while they try to rough it in the Plantation, with what’s left of their equipment. They make fun of him for his weight and his penchant in eating Pork-rinds. Then, he is at the trunk when they hear a scream, and a squeal. They go, and find that Frank isn’t there anymore, but there is a whole lot of destruction and blood. Something got him.

One by one, I’d have them give into paranoia and blame each other. I would have Mitch — the marine guy — guarding Laurie, and they start to have a bond: her being attracted to him, and him being protective of her. Now, a few more of the crew get taken down, and are found gored to death, even mutilated. Eventually, the remaining crew come across a large hog. Our marine, as he calls himself, guns the pig down. And he seems to have dealt with the beast.

But then, the attacks continue. Eventually, Mitch and Laurie are the survivors. And Laurie … finds there is just something not right about this situation. About any of it. The attacks do not seem entirely consistent with a boar’s behaviour, hybrid or injured or not. And she genuinely knows something is wrong when the pig is killed, and she sees it is in no way large enough or powerful enough to have done any of this.

And then, Mitch gets messed up in an animal trap made of tusks. We find out that Frank didn’t die. He has orchestrated all of this. He explains to Laurie that the marine — who is not a marine at all like he has been claiming this entire time, but a weekend warrior buddy of an executive — and another of the crew arranged in advance to have a drugged-up pig sent here to the Plantation to be released and taken out so that they could make it look like they found, and killed, Hogzilla. They never intended to just capture it alive, but to make a spectacle for the views. He tells her that this is what they did to a pig named “Fred” back in 2007 at the Lost Creek Plantation. Frank reveals that this pig’s name is “Harry.” Laurie is disgusted with this, but then Frank reveals that the reason he killed everyone here is because he is tired of all the fat jokes, all the comparisons between him and something unclean, greedy, and disgusting as a pig: when it is human beings that project all of these qualities. And you have to admit, when you watch Hogzilla, it is absolutely shitty how they treat Frank and when he takes that gun and imagines shooting them, I can totally picture him doing it, and I almost wanted him to do so.

Of course, Frank isn’t a good guy. His plan has been to kill the whole crew and be the only survivor, filming the wreckage, and taking all the credit for the footage. He claims that the “marine” would die a hero at least, having died taking out Hogzilla, while Laurie was just an unfortunate casualty. He doesn’t listen to her appeals to his humanity, stating she barely even looked at him, never mind defended him the entire time against the others they were there. After mashing Mitch’s” body a few times with a tusk in his hand, he is about to kill Laurie …

When a great dark horrible shape smashes out of the bushes and gores the hell of him. Frank is screaming the entire time as the real Hogzilla, his eyes piss-yellow with hate, continues to charge through, throwing him around, screeching. Laurie runs, only for someone else to push her out of the way.

It is McGraw.

McGraw charges forward, with a gun. He wields his walking staff with the tusk as well, which we see is actually a spear. His face is smeared with a line of blood, like warpaint. He launches himself at the great boar that is Hogzilla. And he actually manages to land a blow. But the beast is too strong. He looks like he is going to be thrown aside, or trampled. Laurie finds her tranquilizer gun that she remembers she has, the one they didn’t let her use on poor Harry as she wanted to capture Hogzilla alive. The darts barely do anything. Some miss. But then, before the beast comes for her, she lands a few more hits. The beast slows, just enough for McGraw to get the killing blow through its head.

McGraw is gravely injured, though he claims he has suffered far worse pain. Laurie tries to help him, to bandage his body, and get him out of that place. He tells her that he tried to warn the rest of the crew and models in the bush, had even spent his time trying to save them, but it was too late. He’d been spending the rest of his time tracking “the Beast.” He also tells her about his son, Robbie, and the whole sordid story about how he had been the local drunk: and how in just one moment of negligence he lost his son on this very Plantation, to this beast, forever. He has already added the other tusk the boar left behind to his spear.

Laurie says it’s all right. He avenged his son. They can go back, and prove that Hogzilla existed and clear his name. But McGraw just wearily shakes his head. He says that he committed himself a long time ago, that beasts like Hogzilla, like the Monster Pig, they are created from humanity’s covetousness and cruelty inflicted onto nature, onto animals. That they made Nature their own demons, and that someone — with nothing left to lose — has to deal with those demons in their own way. It is his penance. It is all he can do right.

They get out of the wilderness and McGraw gives Laurie directions to the nearest town. She walks on, but as she looks back to say something to McGraw he is gone. She keeps walking until she meets the local sheriff. She tells him what’s happened and who she met. He tells her that’s impossible: as the whole incident with McGraw happened forty or fifty years ago. The man Laurie’s seen is nowhere near elderly, and realizes his hunt has only just begun.

Meanwhile, a trunk loaded with piglets — with men cursing and poking at them — bursts a tire. The trunk veers off. As the drivers and workers are trying to right it, one of the pigs — young, but large — gets out of the pen that crashed, looks with fierce eyes and feral anger, and runs off into the bushes.

So yeah. I applied some elements from Jaws, and Mononoke Hime into this rewrite. It’s not perfect.  Neil Gaiman once said that when someone looks at a story and it doesn’t work, they are almost always right. But when someone suggests a way to “fix” it, they are almost always wrong. But then, I don’t think Neil Gaiman has ever encountered something like Hogzilla, or thought of working with it. So, I guess there’s that.

But yeah, this was so dirty to write. And it felt like bad Aardvarking. But I won’t lie. After a while, I began to feel happier than a pig in shit.

And right. This really did get nasty.