1986, US, Directed by Stuart Gordon
Colour, Running Time: 86 minutes
DVD, Region 1, MGM, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 4.0
Hot on the success of the gruesomely manic Re-Animator many of the same crew gathered for another shot at Lovecraftian terror a year later… Dr Pretorius and his assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (great name!), are conducting experiments in a mansion whereby they’ve discovered that stimulation of the brain’s pineal gland allows them to perceive the inhabitants of a parallel dimension, while the creation of certain atmospheric vibrations likewise permits those alien inhabitants to see and interact with humans. One such creature devours Pretorius leaving Tillinghast babbling like a madman and quickly locked up in an asylum. A female psychiatrist, Dr Katherine McMichaels, is sent to assess his mental state but soon finds herself believing his story, intrigued by his tales of tapping into what they empirically assume to be a dormant sixth sense. She decides to take the patient into her care and McMichaels, Tillinghast, and security man Bubba head back to the mansion in order to resume experimentation with the equipment that Tillinghast attempted to be shut down before being taken away. Switching on they witness the strange fishlike creatures that drift through the air, soon realising the danger of physical harm thanks to the machine’s vibrations, but not only that: Pretoruis has survived death to exist in the astral dimension, now monstrously mutated and quite insane. They also find that the stimulation of the pineal gland is having other side effects, such as enhanced libido and sexual behaviour that they wouldn’t normally accommodate. As Tillinghast and McMichaels become more and more enslaved by their addiction to the combined effects of enhanced dimensional awareness and primordial awakening, Bubba tries to pull the plug. But Tillinghast has become mutated himself by one of the creature attacks, developing a third eye that sticks out of his forehead and going on the rampage at the nearby hospital.
Utilising some of the same actors as in Re-Animator director/producer team (Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna respectively) create a nice feeling of continuity, but the results are not quite as successful. The script is not as exciting, though there are plenty of thought-provoking ideas in there, the black humour of the former film barely present, the action less well paced, and the music by Charles Band’s brother Richard illustrates the man’s lack of innate talent - the excellent work on the music for Re-Animator was, after all, derivative of the superb Psycho soundtrack (though at least he admitted paying homage there). The cinematography is daring in places, with the screen adopting a rich array of primary colours to reflect the switch in perception of the characters. It’s nice to see some familiar faces from the previous film too - Jeffrey Combs is another slightly nutty scientist here (Tillinghast) and he’s always a joy to witness in thespian action, his character moving into almost Brain Damage territory as he develops the prehensile eye protruding from his forehead, a tool to survey the parallel realm in all its video graphic glory. Ken Foree, needing no introduction, plays the security guy who doesn’t have too much to do except keep rein over things as control is gradually lost. Gorgeous Barbara Crampton also appears as the nifty psychiatrist who believes Tillinghast’s tale of madness, later allowing her repressed sexually adventurous nature to express itself in the form of adopting a mild but fetching S&M routine as her pineal gland is stimulated into dominant activity by the resonator device. It’s the ideas behind the project that are most intriguing, the stimulation of a relatively dormant gland to permit access to a latent sixth sense being the primary concept that underpins everything that happens. I suppose it has to be admitted that the components of this film add up to more than the final outcome but it’s an enticing ride nonetheless.
MGM pulled out the stops with their recent special edition, including a director commentary along with several featurettes as well as producing a transfer that must be classed as definitive for this film - one of the best looking eighties horrors I’ve yet seen on DVD. Detail helps immerse the viewer in the oddball world and colours seem to be as accurate as one can imagine. Previously I’d only seen this on videotape so visually (and aurally thanks to a decent four channel surround track) it was quite a revelation, certainly helping the viewer appreciate this piece more than was previously really possible. Not only that but this is the unrated version containing some excerpts of bloodiness that you may not have seen before. An adequate reminder to look forward to Gordon’s upcoming nasty flick, Stuck, which sounds pretty exciting - it‘s about some woman who ploughs her car into a vagrant, sending his body through the windscreen. Instead of doing the obvious and calling for an ambulance she ends up driving home and leaving the car in her garage with the bloody body embedded in the glass, left for dead but not quite. Partly based on a true story apparently - hey, this could only happen in America!