BEYOND JEFFREY COMBS

What about the most recent “Re-animator” film, were you happy with the way it turned out?
You know, I was in many ways, even though it’s a strange hybrid. Because it was made in Spain, you kind of go, “Where are we?” It’s non-specific in its locale, which is a shame because I think the Lovecraft material is very specific, in terms of where it’s at. But on the other hand, shooting in Spain gave us a lot more production value. We were able to take over an abandoned prison and get these big, massive sort of epic shots, with hordes of inmates filing by.

The prison setting seemed to give it a nice focus.
Yeah, I really liked that idea of: “Let’s see what Herbert’s been doing”, because he’s been behind bars this whole time. It hasn’t stopped him. My biggest thing behind that was making sure the progression of Herbert’s work was really clear and made sense. Why were the previous experiments not quite right? That’s an idea that Brian (Yuzna, the director) and I have been kicking around for years and years: capturing the soul. That’s what has been missing. Herbert’s fatal flaw has always been, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. The brain and the soul are interchangeable, right?” It’s all quantifiable for him, there’s no emotion in it.

That’s a more interesting flaw than most film “bad guys” are given. Antagonists are usually declared “evil”, and that’s about it as far as motivation is concerned.
Right, and the way I approach it Herbert’s never been the “bad guy”. I see him as a relentless scientist pursuing his goal, and I think that’s what people admire in him. He is a force to be reckoned with, it doesn’t matter what his circumstances are. The real challenge was to show that he’s essentially the same person, but at the same time the things he’s experienced need to have changed him, to have given him more gravity. I didn’t want him to be quite as manic as he was in the first film. I felt he would be more coiled and embittered inside. Just…a cobra; still obsessed after all these years. Ultimately with this third film, I just wanted to capture the tone of the first one. You can never top it, but you can kind of get in the neighborhood. There were reasons for it, but I thought with the second one we missed the mark a little bit, so it was nice to get back to the original sort of drive. With the next film, if there is one, I would really like to explore who Herbert is, where he came from.

It seems like you’d be the ideal person to direct a 4th “Re-Animator”.
It does. That would be a good idea. But honestly, I haven’t heard any talk about a fourth one. There were five years between the first and the second one, and a good ten years until the next film. That’s what’s really stunning to me about it, reprising a role that I had originally done in ‘85.

Do you have any problems with Hollywood’s recent trend of doing big budget remakes for low budget horror films (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Dawn of the Dead”, etc…)?
It doesn’t bother me. In a way, it’s such a waste of time because I feel these guys just don’t get it. I wouldn’t even go see the “Stepford Wives”. What do you mean you’re going to turn it into a comedy? The original is a much better movie.

It seems that they do these remakes but carefully remove any social or political subtext. They remove the teeth.
Right! “The Haunting”: The whole idea of the original “Haunting” is that it’s a psychological terror. You never see the entity that is haunting them. Whereas in the remake you’re seeing all of this CGI nonsense. Come on! It’s not about that at all, what are you doing? Some guy actually went to a meeting and said “I want to remake the ‘Haunting’…but with special effects!” If anybody was sitting there they should have said, “Wait a minute, that’s not the ‘Haunting’.” Rarely are they done right or done better. Probably at some point they’ll remake “Re-Animator”.

The 60 million dollar version, with some bland, “Dawson’s Creek” reject playing Herbert West.
Some Johnny Depp type…wait, Johnny Depp would probably make a good Herbert West. But all of the physical tricks that we did in “Re-Animator”, which are almost quaint parlor tricks now, they’ll CGI-it up and make it all more elaborate. They won’t get the Grand Guignol thing. They won’t get that “more is more” Stuart Gordon quality, to the point where it just gets absurd. They’ll miss that fine line we were dancing between serious and camp. Humor and Ghoulishness.

Is it that lack of satire that makes the horror films coming out of Hollywood so awful?
They tend to be awful because there is no personal vision within the studios. There’s no one person overseeing it all and having their point of view conveyed accurately and completely throughout the movie.

How much have focus groups played a role in this?
Therein lies another problem. There is this attempt to quantify everything. Apparently no one can figure things out on their own. They’re thinking, “Gee is that good or not, did I like it? Let’s ask groups.” So it’s not about fine tuning, it’s about finding the lowest common denominator. Always. And then you never have anything that stands on its own. I think that’s why Peter Jackson is such a great director: he retains control. He won’t shoot a movie anywhere other than New Zealand, because he knows that when he shoots it down there there’s not going to be a bunch of suits standing around, getting in the way.

How the hell was he able to pull that off?
Because he’s a genius. It was great seeing him in action on “The Frighteners”.

Have you stayed in contact with him at all?
No, I haven’t talked to Peter in years and years. We had a great working relationship, we collaborated really well, but that’s the way it is sometimes.

Is it true that one of your early films involved a scene with John Cassavetes?
Yeah, man. It was only a day gig, but to have a scene with him and to look into those deep eyes, intense eyes.

You must have gone into student mode.
Yeah, I know. Even then, to me, he was such an icon, you know? When you do just one day on a movie, they’ve got a running start on everything and it’s like your first day of school. You kind of show up and you don’t know the dynamics, you don’t know anybody. So you just kind of try not to step on anyone’s lines or disrupt whatever is going on. Whatever John Cassavetes wants he’s gonna get from me, you know? I was just awestruck with his personal power. It was really a good little film acting lesson. To this day I remember him zeroing in on me and delivering…I’m just sitting there thinking “This is most excellent. This is how this is done.”




Posted on November 12, 2004 in Interviews by

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