Tag Archives: Richard Stanley

CAPSULE: LOST SOUL – THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ‘THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU’ (2014)

DIRECTOR: David Gregory

FEATURING: , Fairuza Balk, Edward R. Pressman, Robert Shaye, Tim Zimmermann, Rob Morrow, Marco Hofschneider, Graham Humphreys

PLOT: A documentary on the troubled production of 1996’s flop The Island of Dr. Moreau.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While there are more than a few weird stories featured in the film, a documentary about a film that ultimately did not get made is in itself not that weird anymore—there’s practically an entire genre now.

COMMENTS: The 90’s adaptation of H. G. Welles’ The Island of Dr. Moreau has the reputation of being among one of ‘the worst films ever made’.  That is an overstatement; the film’s actually a pretty decent time-waster, on its own terms. However, it is not among the greatest films ever made, and certainly not among ‘s best work (though I’d watch it over Reindeer Games anytime). At times, Moreau is an entertaining, muddled batshit mess, though it wasn’t intended to be.

It was meant to be the major studio debut of Richard Stanley, who, after making Hardware and Dust Devil (two films that I believe should be List Candidates), was poised to make the ultimate version of Moreau. Instead, it became a nightmare of production which ended up with Stanley tossed off of the film and replaced with veteran director Frankenheimer—yet the nightmare continued.

For years, stories have bounced around what actually happened. Lost Soul attempts to finally set the record straight about Moreau, to give a glimpse at what Stanley originally envisioned and to present what actually happened, as well as can be established from all of the guilty parties who consented to be interviewed. It’s a fascinating “unmaking-of” documentary that’s also illuminates the age-old conflict of Art vs. Business.

While it is a good accounting of the production, it isn’t by any means the whole story: noticeably absent from the doc is any input from , or , and Stanley doesn’t quite completely come clean about his state of mind at the time… but what’s there is suitably fascinating and quite damning. Actor Rob Morrow’s account of his experience, which I believe is the first time that he’s spoken at length about the film in any setting, is one highlight.

Filmmaking has largely become demystified over the past 30 years, but after watching Lost Soul, you will wonder how anything even halfway decent ever makes it out of the Studio Process.

DISC INFO: Severin Films has handled the recent releases of Stanley’s films to home video in grand fashion (great transfers with excellent extras), so of course there’s no exception with Lost Soul. For the hardcore Stanley/H.G. Wells/Moreau fan, the 3-disc ‘House of Pain’ Edition is the one to go for. The documentary is on Blu-ray disc, along with outtakes from several of the interviews (for those who couldn’t get enough of the already dishy stuff used, check out what’s dished in what they DIDN’T use…); a gallery of concept art by artist Graham Humphries with commentary with Stanley; an audio interview with , who was intended to have a cameo in the film; an archival interview with John Frankenheimer; plus several smaller featurettes. The second disc— “The Wells Files”— is a DVD with the featurette “H.G. Wells On Film” with scholar Sylvia Hardy and another with Stanley talking about Wells’ work, and specifically on the themes in “Moreau” that attracted him. The most notable feature is a recently discovered German silent film, Insel Der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost) which appears to be the earliest film adaptation of Welles’ story (and which maintains the tradition of deviating wildly from its source material). There’s also an Easter Egg hidden on this disc… The third disc is a bonus CD-ROM, an audiobook recording of Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” read by Richard Stanley. If that’s too much immersion, then just go for either the 1 disc Blu-ray or DVD edition (buy), which only feature the movie & movie related extras, eschewing the bonus discs material on Wells.

Richard Stanley

The Island of Dr. Moreau script – Screenplay by Richard Stanley, Michael Herr and Walon Green

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: “The creation of the H.G. Wells’ story’s third official screen incarnation was beset by disasters even more bizarre than the delirious mess of a feature finally released in 1996, with stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer reportedly rivaling even Mother Nature as destructive on-set forces… David Gregory’s pic can hardly help but fascinate with its mix of archival materials and surviving-collaborator testimonies.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, , ,

FEATURING: , André Hennicke, Peg Poett, Virginia Newcomb, Enola Penny, Amanda Marquardt, Jeremy Gladen, Liberty Larson, Christopher Sachs, Nicole Fabbri

PLOT: In a dilapidated old theater, a macabre human puppet hosts six Grand Guignol-style tales of terror.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Theater Bizarre is similar to other portmanteau horror anthologies, but speeds past them into the realm of the weird with colorful eccentric characters and bizarre story situations.

Still from The Theater Bizarre (2011)

COMMENTS: First-rate makeup, eerie sets and props, and racy, gory stories with unpredictable endings make The Theatre Bizarre a real standout in the genre of horror anthologies. When an emboldened patron of the dramatic arts (Virginia Newcomb) spots an open door to a decrepit told theater down a questionable back street, her curiosity gets the better of her. She enters, takes a seat, and is treated to a series of six sinister stories of sexual obsession and madness, hosted by an uncanny animated human puppet (Udo Kier). Attempting to cultivate his patron’s fear, the puppet presents each demented segment like a circus ringmaster exhibiting a freak show of abominations, with each tale more horribly harrowing and outrageous than the last.

When they meet “The Mother of Toads,” an unwary student of anthropology and his fiancee touring the French countryside are lured into the lair of changeling witch with an offer to peruse rare books. Suffering from an unusual condition, she has an ulterior motive and a strange design in store for both of them. The inquisitive pair are in for the cultural shock of a lifetime.

The psychological tension of unrequited love goes through the roof in “I Love You,” and reality bends and warps when a smothering but inadequate lover plunges beyond the bounds of reason when confronted by the prospect of a breakup.

In “Wet Dreams,” George Romero’s zombie movie makeup artist Tom Savini (who also directs) plays a Freudian psychologist and marriage counselor who turns the tables on a philandering client when he helps a couple step to the other side of the mirror to realize their darkest fantasies.

“The Accident” relates the story of a little girl learning the harsh realities of death after witnessing the aftermath of fatal traffic accident. This serious effort is neither macabre nor racy, and stands out from the other stories in The Theatre Bizarre for its dreamlike filming style and quiet contemplative atmosphere.

“Vision Stains” introduces a psychotic “experience junkie” who kills other women, drains the vitreous fluid from their eyes and injects it into her own to steal their memories. But when she chooses an “exceptional” victim, she takes a ride straight to hell.

Their addiction to elaborate confections cements an uneasy alliance between an oddball beatnik couple in “Sweets”. The glutenous duo’s precarious hold on their shaky union is challenged to the extreme when they join an exclusive club for twisted food perverts whose appetites are esoteric in the extreme.

As a whole, The Theatre Bizarre is a bit uneven. Its segments are diverse and feature unique directorial and writing styles, but each terror tale is memorable, colorful and over-the-top without being campy or silly. The Theatre Bizarre is a portmanteau-style anthology in the tradition of Creepshow or Tales From The Crypt; but with its adult themes and abundant nudity, it’s definitely not a children’s movie. Lurid, salacious, chilling, and bloody as hell, The Theatre Bizarre is the most memorable horror anthology I have seen to date.

All of the directors have done prior work in horror cinema: Richard Stanley (Dust Devil, Hardware), Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock, Life is Hot in Cracktown), Tom Savini (the 1990 version of Night of the Living Dead), Douglas Buck (Cutting Moments), David Gregory (Plague Town), Karim Hussain (Subconscious Cruelty), and Jeremy Kasten (The Attic Expeditions, Wizard of Gore).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“These elements may be shocking and even bizarre. But, like a lot of midnight-movie provocations, they soon turn predictable.”–Mark Jenkins, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Richard Stanley

FEATURING: , Stacey Travis, Lemmy, voice of Iggy Pop

PLOT: A desert wanderer in a post-apocalyptic wasteland discovers a relic.  It’s the dismembered skeleton of a cyborg used by the government in the war that destroyed civilization, and when a man conveniently buys the creepy-looking thing for his metal sculptress girlfriend (!!!), she pieces it back together and unleashes a mechanical nightmare upon both of them.

Still from Hardware (1990)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hardware suffers from a terrible bout of conventionalism.  It’s essentially a post-apocalyptic version of Alien set in the confines of a ratty apartment complex.  There’s nothing truly weird about it, other than the cast, which is lousy with hard rock stars.

COMMENTS: Well, it must be said outright that this movie wasn’t bad.  It was breezy, very streamlined.  This is a cyberpunk horror movie about a robot run amok, simple as that.  Usually, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi likes to wax poetic and lament on our ever-dwindling lack of human compassion and kindness toward our Mother Earth.  And I don’t have a problem with that, but when your movie is actually about a killer robot and not about the fate of man’s heart as we hurtle deeper into the future, perhaps being an armchair philosopher is not par for the course.  The plot is based on a story in the British comic staple “2000 A.D”. called “SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale”, and it certainly takes the cyberpunk vibe from that series and really goes with it despite a $1.5 million budget.

Well, it’s the 21’st century (THE FUTURE!!!!), and America is devastated by an undisclosed nuclear disaster.  People have to make a living any way they can, and many times that includes scavenging the technology of the past.  One disturbing fellow, called a Zone Tripper, finds the menacing remains of a robot (it is called a cyborg, but since there there are no organic mechanisms implemented into the device, let’s just assume they wanted it to sound cooler than just a plain ol’ robot) in the distant, post-apocalyptic desert.  This intimidating fellow comes to sell his scrap at the typical oddball junk broker Continue reading CAPSULE: HARDWARE (1990)