Saturday, March 5, 2011
Giving New Life to a Classic
Thanks to my buddy and CHUD writer Josh Miller, I recently had the good fortune to witness Stuart Gordon’s insane and innovative stage production RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL. All I have to say is WOW!
Now, this may come as a surprise, but I’m not a musical guy. But I am a horror guy, and in recent years, some beloved 80’s horror properties have been given the musical stage treatment. Croneberg’s THE FLY (reportedly awful), THE EVIL DEAD (reportedly decent) - I have to imagine that RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and FRIGHT NIGHT the musicals can’t be far off. But none of these productions have a real theater pedigree, and that’s what I think will set RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL apart from the pack. This story plays great as a play/musical, in some ways helping to flesh out and improve upon the film version. And this is largely thanks to the director Stuart Gordon.
For those who are unaware, Gordon has a background in theater and in fact was only dragged into the world of cinema to direct the film version of RE-ANIMATOR back in 1984. The results are well documented and known by horror fans as RE-ANIMATOR is now seen as a classic in the genre. For the uninitiated, RE-ANIMATOR is a Frankenstein-inspired story written originally by H.P. Lovecraft, and the film version is a madcap zombie freak-out featuring an unforgettable performance by Jeffrey Combs as the maniacally driven Dr. Herbert West. It’s the stuff of legends and if you haven’t seen it get off your computer and do so now. But who am I kidding, you’ve seen it.
Anyway – the musical. The cast is uniformly great, the songs are funny and tuneful and the production is minimal but surprisingly effective. It’s almost as if Gordon originally conceived it for the stage and adapted it for the film version 25 odd years ago. What really impresses is the innovation with the gore gags, the standout being Jesse Merlin playing the evil Dr. Hill as a zombie who carries his own severed head around in the final act! While he sings! It really must be seen to be believed and it truly honors the late David Gale’s performance in the original film.
There are other great gags, lots of spraying blood and some surprising elements that improve upon the film – the love story between protagonist Dan Cain and Megan Halsey, for instance, works better with songs. Naturally, being a stage production there are disadvantages, and as good as newcomer Graham Skipper is as West, he can’t hold a candle to Jeffrey Combs’ perfectly modulated performance. But anyone who loves the movie is going to find this to be a blast, whether they have an affinity for musicals or not. I haven’t seen any other horror musicals, but I can say with ignorant authority that this is the one to beat. See it if it travels, and if it doesn’t, come to L.A. You can crash on my couch.