Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us Y is for Yuzna! If there is anyone more under-appreciated on this list than Brian Yuzna, I don’t know who it might be. It’s almost as though if you didn’t actually grow up watching horror movies on VHS in the 80s then Yuzna’s work is just not on your radar. And that, for a true horror connoisseur-in-training, is an abysmal shame. Beginning with his work as a hands-on producer for 1985’s Re-Animator — which launched his ongoing collaboration with writer/director Stuart Gordon — right up to his last collaboration with Japanese special effects guru Screaming Mad George on 2003’s Beyond Re-Animator, nearly every work on his resume is worth taking a look at. After 2003, his work is more hit-or-miss, especially as a director, but still interesting on almost every occasion. But since these ABCs of Horror columns are mostly geared toward suggesting horror films that new viewers should seek out, let’s start sorting out a few choice picks that Yuzna directed himself. If there’s any single characteristic of a Brian Yuzna film that makes him stand out from the crowd, it’s a willingness to indulge in over-the-top visuals and gore — sometimes at the expense of story logic. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially as his use of practical effects — usually by Screaming Mad George — produced some of the most twisted and disturbing visuals in 80s and 90s horror cinema. Second to his use of surrealist effects is Yuzna’s use of dark humor and satire when it comes to forging a cinematic identity. In 1989, these elements were both on full display in his directorial debut, Society, and the first of his two Re-Animator sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (not to mention in his work developing the story and producing that year’s hit family film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!!). Society is actually a pretty influential and popular film among other filmmakers, but as far as the viewing public goes, it’s out of print and features performances that border on amateurish, and effects that will scar your mind. There’s a subversive element to the film that helps to gird up the acting and really is what makes the film special. The film stars Baywatch‘s Billy Warlock as Bill Whitney, a high school jock running for class president while dealing with paranoid fears about his family. Of course, if everybody really is out to get you, you’re not paranoid, are you? Despite being part of a local upper-upper-class family, Bill doesn’t feel like he belongs and thinks that there are strange sexual things going on behind closed doors. His parents disapprove of his friends and his activities, and despite his therapist’s assurances, he can’t reconcile his paranoia with reality. And once he starts getting glimpses of bizarre physical contortions, he begins to doubt his sanity. But it turns out the sexual perversity and classist condescension are real and, true to Yuzna’s tastes, the big reveal at the end is one of the most disturbing, surreal orgies that you’re ever going to see. And it’s all practical effects, which makes it all the more impressive and fun. If you can find a copy of this, I’d recommend watching it; just be warned — this is one weird fucking movie. Bride of Re-Animator is a noble follow-up to the original that doubles down on the black humor and gore, but lacks a little originality in the plot. On the plus side, however, we do have the return of Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, and David Gale, all from Re-Animator, reprising their roles and taking them to some darkly entertaining places. While there’s not a ton of substance here, Jeffrey Combs sells the role of Herbert West so totally that any kind of eventual reboot is doomed to suffer by comparison. His manic energy and sociopathic rationalizations, building on what he had done in the first film, establishes Combs as a genre superstar. We should probably just skip over the forgettable Clint Howard project, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation — which abandons the killer Santa motif to tell a story of a witch coven and their bizarre Christmas rituals — and discuss what is probably Yuzna’s best film: Return of the Living Dead III (1993). Working from a script by John Penney, Yuzna pretty much abandons everything that was established in the first two Return movies (here’s a discussion of the first film) and crafts a heavy metal Romeo & Juliet variation on the traditional zombie film. This is a divisive film amongst fans of the Return films, as it ditches the goofy humor and zombie obsession with eating brains for what is essentially an embrace of grim doomed romance with gore and self-mutilation as the key elements. Melinda Clarke stars as Julie Walker, who dies in a motorcycle accident and is brought back to “life” by her boyfriend Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) after they witnessed his father, Colonel John Reynolds (Kent McCord) experimenting with Trioxin gas and corpses. The rest of the film is spent with the young lovers trying to avoid capture and keep Julie from being weaponized with the other zombie experiments going on. The real strength of this story, though, is in Clarke’s performance as Julie, who is slowly slipping away as the film goes on, and is forced to begin self-mutilating in order to feel and avoid giving in to the building hunger and loss of identity that comes with zombification. It’s dark, bleak, and romantic in a punk apocalyptic way, and I highly recommend it. This same year, Yuzna produced and contributed to an H.P. Lovecraft anthology called Necronomicon, and if you can find it, grab it. Yuzna is responsible for the framing story, which features Jeffrey Combs as H.P. Lovecraft, who has slipped into a forbidden part of a mysterious library to copy stories from the fabled dark tome, which we get to watch as three short film segments. The first two pieces are strong enough to make this a nice Lovecraft tribute, but Yuzna’s chapter, “Whispers,” is easily the best and is one of the most entertaining — and disturbing — of his Lovecraft adaptations. The rest of the Nineties for Yuzna are a little muddled, with two horrific (if you have dental anxieties) The Dentist films (starring Corbin Bernsen!?!) and a very intriguing alien abduction drama, Progeny, before he moved to Spain and launched a new production company, Fantastic Factory, specifically geared toward producing low-budget horror for the international market. Unfortunately, not a lot of these films are widely available or have received a lot of good press. The first Fantastic Factory film, though, is Yuzna’s adaptation of the comic book by Tim Vigil and David Quinn (Quinn co-wrote the screenplay), Faust, Love of the Damned (2000), and it’s a solid piece of work that embraces the perverse and the weird in a way that Yuzna hadn’t done since Necronomicon. This film is the epitome of “Guilty Pleasure” as it follows John Jasper (Mark Frost) as he sells his soul to the devil (Andrew Divoff) in exchange for revenge after his girlfriend is murdered in front of his eyes. Again, Screaming Mad George is on-board for the effects and there are at least two moments in the telling of this story where your eyes will be assaulted by things you never would have imagined seeing. As an added bonus, Jeffrey Combs returns, but this time around he’s playing a tough rogue cop that he inhabits so totally that I almost didn’t even recognize him. I’m a huge Combs fan, and I’ve seen a lot of his films (even the barely seen Doctor Strange homage Doctor Mordrid for Full Moon Entertainment in 1992), but this was an extreme change of pace that he pulls off effortlessly. The soundtrack is also worth a mention here, with a heavy dose of Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly, Nailbomb) and other metal bands, making it a very distinctive piece of work. The last film that I’m going to recommend here is Yuzna’s third dip into the Re-Animator pool: Beyond Re-Animator (2003). It’s the weakest of the three films, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. Jeffrey Combs returns as Dr. Herbert West again, but this time he’s been in prison for 13 years, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. The film provides an interesting updating of the whole Re-Animator formula, while Screaming Mad George brings even more disturbing practical effects to life that will haunt your nightmares. The film is mostly forgettable, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts, and leaves the ending open for more potential Re-Anima-Fun somewhere in the future. Yuzna had an entire second Re-Animator trilogy of films planned out as of 2006, but as usual, funding issues seem to have killed the projects. Which is really too bad. I mean, what kind of world do we live in where we can’t get new Re-Animator projects off the ground on a regular basis? The world makes me sad. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses 31 Days of Halloween 2015: Day 9 - Return of the Living Dead III - Psycho Drive-In October 9, 2015 […] of the Living Dead III 1993, USA. Directed by Brian Yuzna. Written by John Penney. Starring Mindy Clarke, J. Trevor Edmond, Kent McCord, Sarah […] Log in to Reply ABCs of Horror 2016 Day 4: C is for Jeffrey Combs - Psycho Drive-In October 4, 2016 […] praises the last time we did our ABCs of Horror when talking about the films of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna (which covered everything mentioned above except Necronomicon, Lurking Fear, Dunwich Horror, and […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.